Oxford Hills’ Eli Soehren looks for room to run as Thornton Academy’s Cody Ruff contains during the Class A state championship last November at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Brewster Burns photo

Thornton Academy and Oxford Hills may look a little different this year, but their missions remain the same — a return trip to the Class A state championship game in November.

The powerhouse football programs meet Saturday in Saco in a rematch of last year’s state title game — and, possibly, a preview of this year’s title game, though its only Week 2 and both teams have a lot of games left against some tough opponents.

Even with so much outside interest on this matchup, Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said his players aren’t acting like it’s much different from any other game.

“Certainly, when you’re playing Thornton, you know you’re playing Thornton,” Soehren said. “Each year is a different year, and I wouldn’t say there are any grudges. We want to beat the best teams, and they’re the best team until someone beats them for a state championship. As far as this week goes, that’s our concern. We’re not preparing as if this is bigger than the Cony game, but clearly there are some emotional aspects we need to address, and who they are is what we have to look at, as well. Being an elite team, you need to bring that every week. 

“The kids, I haven’t heard one thing about this game being any bigger or different than any other game. As coaches, we are preparing for a team that is well-coached, lifts, and is pretty dynamic. I don’t think there is any more nervous energy than normal.”

The Golden Trojans beat the Vikings twice last year, once in the regular season and again in the Class A title game.


Oxford Hills lost some key players to graduation — among them: Isaiah Oufiero, Wyatt Knightly, Matt Doucette and Trevor Danforth — but also returns several standouts from the 2021 squad, including quarterback Eli Soehren, Lincoln Merrill, Tanner Bickford and Zach Louvat.

Soehren, the 2021 Maine Gatorade Player of the Year, accumulated 344 yards of offense (215 passing, 129 rushing), scored two touchdowns and passed for one in Oxford Hills’ season-opening 42-6 win over Cony.

Mark Soehren saw some good things from his son and quarterback, but said that there areas of the passing game that Eli Soehren can improve. 

“The fall has been good,” Mark Soehren said. “He rolled his ankle on the third or fourth practice, so he was out for a week. I thought he was a little rusty in the game. His stats were good, but there were things throwing the ball that he could have done better. There were also things running that people wouldn’t have seen that were phenomenal. He read some blitzes and pulled it, like on his touchdown run — it was a post-snap read he saw and ran it in. Those are things that are tougher for people to see, even college coaches recruiting, that he does on a daily basis.”

The senior quarterback has been throwing the ball better in practices this week, Mark Soehren added.

Merrill, a linebacker and tight end, intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown in the first quarter against Cony. Bickford caught seven passes for 176 yards, including a 77-yard catch and run, and one score.


Zach Louvat is a stalwart on both lines, another senior lineman, Mekhi Hill, has been a “pleasant surprise,” according to Mark Soehren.

“Zach Louvat and Lincoln Merrill are captains and have done a fantastic job,” Soehren said. “Tanner Bickford is a kid coming back that we knew was going to be great. He didn’t get voted all-conference, but we knew how good he was.

“There’s another kid that came in, and we didn’t know where he was, named Mekhi Hill, and he is a senior. He’s been a starting defensive lineman and he earned that job on his own, and he also did a good job of blocking on offense so he might become a two-way starter for us.”

Thornton, meanwhile, lost a lot more players from last year’s team, and only two offensive starters and four defensive starters return.

However, the new faces picked up with the departed players left off. The Golden Trojans opened their season last week with a 35-0 win over Scarborough, which is has established itself as one of the top Class A teams in the state the past several years.

Thornton took control early. New quarterback Ryan O’Keefe led the offense on two scoring drives in the first two and a half minutes. O’Keefe finished with a pair of touchdown passes, 30 and 39 yards to Carlos Eboli and Henry Lausier, respectively.

Caden True and Harry Bunce had TD runs and Hayden Whitney, who surpassed 1,000 yards rushing last year, wrapped up the scoring with a 94-yard run.

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