PORTLAND — Finally, Hunter Tardiff had a pick-six. Finally, Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School was a state champion.

The junior linebacker’s touchdown gave Oxford Hills a two-score lead that held up as the Vikings claimed the school’s first football state championship with a 21-7 win over Thornton Academy in the Class A state final Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

“This is amazing. We’ve worked so hard for this, and our school deserves one,” senior quarterback Eli Soehren said. “It’s great to come out with this, and I love those dudes.”

Saturday’s victory caps a perfect 11-0 season by the Vikings.

Oxford Hills had a few chances to build a two-score cushion before Tardiff’s TD, but Thornton continued to hang around.

The Vikings, who held a 14-7 halftime lead, went three-and-out on their first drive of the second half, and then Eli Soehren’s 53-yard punt pinned the Golden Trojans at their own 3-yard line.

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Thornton battled its way to the 18 on four runs and a reception by running back Hayden Whitney — on one of those runs, Whitney almost broke for a long gain and possibly a touchdown until Oxford Hills’ Conner Cram pulled him down after only a 4-yard gain.

Oxford Hills’ Hunter Tardiff steps in front of pass intended for Thornton’s Henry Lausier and makes an interception that he returned for a touchdown in the third quarter of Saturday’s Class A state championship football game at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Brewster Burns photo

On third-and-11 from the 18, Tardiff stepped in front of a pass by Thornton quarterback Ryan O’Keefe and ran the ball 17 yards through open field to the end zone to extend the Vikings lead, finally, to two scores, 21-7, with 5:13 remaining in the third quarter.

“That’s a game-changer,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said.

“It went right in my hands and there was nobody to stop me from getting into that end zone,” Tardiff said.

“It felt great,” Tardiff added. “It’s just a different feeling than I’ve ever had playing football before. Nothing like that’s ever happened to me.”

There were a few chuckles from teammates and coaches about Tardiff returning an interception for a touchdown because they had given him a hard time for dropping a few similar opportunities earlier in the season.

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“That was crazy,” Grayson Foster, who also had an interception for Oxford Hills, said. “It’s funny because he’s had like 12 chances this year to get a pick-six, and, of course, he does it in the state game.”

Hunter Tardiff (28) of Oxford Hills is swarmed by teammates Teigan Pelletier, left, Tanner Bickford (9) and Grayson Foster (2) after returning an interception for a touchdown during the third quarter of the Class A state championship football game Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

Adding to the moment is that Tardiff is the son of Jeremy Tardiff, a former Oxford Hills player who won the 1994 Fitzpatrick Award and is often mentioned among the best high school football players in the state’s history. The legend’s kid made a legendary play to help seal the Oxford Hills football program’s first state championship.

“He’s just all over the place. Physical, tough, coachable,” Vikings defensive coordinator Nate Danforth, who played with Jeremy Tardiff at Oxford Hills, said of Hunter Tardiff. “His dad coaches him at home, I coach him when he’s here. So he gets coached up a lot.”

The Oxford Hills defense held Thornton scoreless the rest of the game.

First, the Vikings forced a turnover on downs at their own 8 — Thornton’s Henry Lausier returned the kickoff after Tardiff’s touchdown to midfield, one of many big plays he made in Saturday’s game, and then the offense advanced the ball deep into Oxford Hills territory.

The Trojans’ next possession ended when Vikings defensive lineman Finn Winning, who put pressure on O’Keefe throughout the game, forced a fumble on a QB sack that was recovered by teammate Zach Louvat with 5:39 remaining in the game.

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The defense finished off the win with another turnover on downs in the final minute of the game. The Vikings held the defending state champs scoreless for the final three quarters.

Oxford Hills’ offense outgained Thornton’s 371-304, with 303 of the Vikings’ yards coming in the first half.

Oxford Hills opened the game with a 72-yard touchdown drive highlighted by a 29-yard run by Trey Morrison down to the Thornton 3. Eli Soehren ran the ball twice from there, a 2-yard gain and then a 1-yard touchdown.

The Vikings, who fell behind by three scores in last year’s state final, had an early 7-0 lead.

After the Vikings defense forced its first turnover on downs, the offense drove to the Trojans’ 12 and seemed poised to take a two-score lead, but Soehren underthrew a pass to the corner of the end zone and it was intercepted by Lausier — the first of his two interceptions in the first half.

On the ensuing possession, Lausier caught a 66-yard touchdown pass to even the score at 7-7.

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Oxford Hills answered. On its next offensive play, Foster beat his defender and caught a pass from Soehren for a 72-yard gain before he was stopped at the Thornton 8.

“When I caught the ball, I didn’t know how close I was to out of bounds, and I tiptoed it because I was right there on the sideline,” Foster said. “And I tried to keep going to make more yards. I wish I would have scored on it.”

Oxford Hills head coach Mark Soehren hugs his son and quarterback Eli after Saturday’s Class A state championship football game against Thornton Academy at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Brewster Burns photo

Soehren ran for 7 yards and then scored his second 1-yard touchdown run to put the Vikings back in the lead at 14-7 with 10:56 remaining in the second quarter.

Soehren completed 15 of 26 passes for 259 yards and two interceptions. He also ran for 57 yards and kicked three extra points.

And, soon after the final seconds ticked off the clock in the fourth quarter, he embraced Mark Soehren, his coach and his dad.

“Having my dad as the coach and embracing after we won that gold ball, it was just amazing. I was brought to tears,” Eli Soehren said. “… When you get him one, it’s an amazing feeling. I’m so glad for all of our coaches, like Coach Danforth, he’s been waiting for this for so long, and it’s just amazing.”

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