An undefeated juggernaut clashing with a team that grew into a contender. That’s the Class A state championship matchup for the second year in a row.

However, the roles have reversed this season, with Oxford Hills (10-0) playing the part of the unbeaten behemoth. Thornton Academy (8-2), meanwhile, features a roster that doesn’t resemble the one that marched to a 42-27 victory over the Vikings in last year’s Class A state final to cap off an undefeated season.

“We were very senior-laden last year at our starting positions,” Thornton coach Kevin Kezal said. “I think we graduated 25 seniors last year, many of whom had a huge role for us in that state title team last year.”

Hayden Whitney of Thornton Academy breaks away on a run in the first half against Oxford Hills earlier this season. Stopping Whitney will be key for the Vikings’ defense in Saturday’s state title game. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

There has already been one rematch of last year’s title game, a 25-20 road win for the Vikings in Week 2. That dropped the Golden Trojans to 1-1, and they followed that up with a 16-10 loss to New Hampshire foe Bedford to give Thornton a rare losing record.

“We knew coming in (to the season) it was going to be tough, and then after that we were just going to have to grow as a team,” Kezal said.

Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said his team was also trying to break in some new starters in that early season matchup.


“After a full season and playoff experience and traveling to New Hampshire to play an unknown team (a 48-13 win over Portsmouth/Oyster River), the players have grown considerably,” Soehren said.

The two teams have taken their own paths back to the title-game rematch. The Vikings have outscored teams 329-78 since that first meeting with Thornton, while the Golden Trojans have out-paced opponents 277-61 on their seven-game winning streak.

Kezal said he expected the team’s defense to be its strength, with four starters back, and it has been, allowing just 15 touchdowns all season.

“The issues we had early was we were really young in the secondary. And when you face an Oxford Hills team early, they exploited our youth and inexperience,” Kezal said.

“I think our front inside six has done a great job all season. They’ve been pretty good against the run all season. It’s that back five that has grown,” he added. “We’re doing a better job of keeping the ball in front. Hopefully it transfers over to Saturday but, boy, (Oxford Hills is) really good.”

Vikings senior QB Eli Soehren was forced out of that first meeting after a first-half injury, and junior backup Brady Truman filled in for the rest of that game and for a few weeks after without the offense missing a beat.


It helps when a quarterback is throwing to a receiving corps led by Teigan Pelletier, Tanner Bickford and Lincoln Merrill — all of whom are over 6-feet tall.

“They all look like clones of each other,” Kezal said. “They’re all really good football players.”

Kezal said he’s also been impressed with Vikings running back Trey Morrison.

The Thornton offense is led by returning starting running back Hayden Whitney. Kezal said featuring Whitney was part of the Trojans figuring out their identity. Ryan O’Keefe has taken the reins at quarterback after splitting time with Caden True for much of the season.

“They train hard in the offseason, so they are strong and fast,” Mark Soehren said of the Trojans. “They are well-coached and know who they are as a team and they play with confidence.”

While the Trojan defense will look to slow down Oxford Hills’ high-powered offense, Soehren said the Vikings will need to keep Thornton’s special teams quiet. They experienced first-hand how dangerous the Trojans’ returners can be in the first meeting when True returned a kickoff 88 yards for a score.

“We have to stop their special teams from making big plays and we have to hold on to the ball,” Mark Soehren said. “We need to just execute our offense and defense and not try to do too much.”

The Vikings will be looking for their first state title, while the Trojans have won five since 2012 — all under Kezal. A turned-over roster means Thornton can’t lean much on title-winning experience, but Kezal said this year’s squad is looking to win a championship of its own.

Soehren noted that while his program hasn’t won a gold ball yet, many players on this year’s roster played in state finals in football and basketball last year, as well as American Legion baseball over the summer.

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