Oxford Hills players celebrate with the gold ball after defeating Thornton Academy 21-7 in the Class A final on Nov. 19 to claim the school’s first football state title at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Portland Press Herald

Oxford Hills rolled through its 2022 football schedule not only undefeated, but with near-complete domination.

The Vikings went 11-0, and seven of those victories were by 31 or more points. They scored 34 or more points eight times. They held opponents to eight points or less six times, and they only allowed 20 points once.

Oxford Hills’ offense averaged 37.9 points per game and its defense gave up only 10.1 per game. Its average margin of victory was 28.7 points — in other words, four touchdowns.

The Vikings’ schedule wasn’t full of a bunch of slouches, either. Each of their foes finished the regular season with winning records, and five of their nine opponents won at least one postseason game (there might have been more, but four of those nine teams faced each other in the Class A quarterfinals).

The season concluded with Oxford Hills winning the first state championship in program history. It’s also the first Class A football title for a team from Androscoggin, Franklin or Oxford county in 35 years, dating back to Lewiston’s 1987 championship.

The reason the Vikings’ state title is the Sun Journal’s top sports story of 2022 goes beyond domination — Leavitt football, the No. 2 story of 2022, also dominated — and is more about what their state championship represents: a decade of patience, dedication and continual improvement under a coaching staff led by head coach Mark Soehren, as the program rose from its all-too-common spot near the bottom of the standings to the top of the state’s largest classification.


While the Vikings aced and earned extra credit on pretty much every test they faced this year, a few of their victories reveal something about the elevated stature of the program:

• Sept. 10: Oxford Hills 25, Thornton 20

In recent years, as the Vikings have continually improved, they have overtaken foes who earlier seemed out of their league. The Golden Trojans were the last of these nemeses.

Thornton was the only team to beat Oxford Hills in 2021, which the Trojans did twice, including in the state championship game.

When the teams met in Saco in the second week of the 2022 season, the contest was viewed as a rematch of the 2021 title game as well as a potential — if not likely — preview of a showdown in the Class A championship a few months later.

The Vikings took an early lead in the September game, but then lost starting quarterback and the 2021 Class A and Gatorade state player of the year Eli Soehren (who also was a key player for the defense as a safety and the team’s kicker and punter) to injury later in the first quarter. Lincoln Merrill, another of the state’s top players, also suffered an injury in the game.


The impact of their absences was significant, but not insurmountable. Backup quarterback Brady Truman was excellent, and the offense received clutch plays from Tanner Bickford, Teigan Pelletier and Trey Morrison.

The defense, despite playing without Merrill and Soehren, was stingy. With less than five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, Thornton had a 20-19 lead and the ball in the red zone. Trojans running back Hayden Whitney broke through the defense and might have been on his way to a touchdown, but Truman caught Whitney by the ankles and forced a fumble that was recovered by Hunter Tardiff at the Vikings’ 6-yard line.

On the next play, Truman connected with Bickford for a 94-yard touchdown pass that gave Oxford Hills the 25-20 lead.

“In this tough circumstance, there were kids who stepped up and made plays,” Mark Soehren said.

The victory was a statement about the Oxford Hills football program: Without key players, the Vikings still had enough talent to beat the state’s powerhouse program on its home field.

• Sept. 23: Oxford Hills 28, Portland 16


The Bulldogs were Oxford Hills’ first nemesis in its rise to the top of Class A.

Portland ended the Vikings’ season in 2016. Oxford Hills won the teams’ regular season meeting in 2017, but later in the season the Bulldogs again won the teams’ playoff matchup.

The Vikings took a huge step forward in 2018, going 6-2 in the regular season, but one of those losses was to Portland, 17-14, in a matchup of 6-1 teams in Week 7. Both teams won their A North semifinal games decisively and met again in the regional final. That game went to overtime, and, again, Portland won, 21-14.

Class A North ceased to exist after that season. The Maine Principals’ Association’s football committee decreased the number of teams in Class A to eight, and Portland dropped down to Class B, where it struggled in 2019 but has since become one of the top teams in B South — and reached this year’s Class B state title game.

Oxford Hills remained in Class A, where it played a much more difficult schedule but continued to make strides, to the point that when the Vikings and the Bulldogs met in Week 4 this season, it would have been a significant upset if Portland won. While the 12-point margin was the Vikings’ second-closest game of the 2022 season, they led 20-0 at halftime and 28-8 before the Bulldogs added a touchdown and 2-point conversion in the fourth quarter.

That this victory wasn’t a statement victory for the 2022 Vikings made a huge statement about the improvement of the Oxford Hills program.


• Oct. 7: Oxford Hills 41, Bonny Eagle 17

From 2012 through 2021, Class A state titles were won by either Thornton (five), Bonny Eagle (three) or Scarborough (one).

The Vikings beat the Scots 31-22 in 2018. It was their first win over one of the beasts of Class A, and with the benefit of hindsight, possibly a hint that Oxford Hills was closing the gap. The following year, the Vikings dropped a 33-21 game to Bonny Eagle, which went on to win the state championship.

Last season, the teams, both undefeated, met in Paris in late September. Oxford Hills allowed a first-quarter touchdown, then shut down the Scots the remainder of the game and earned a 19-6 win. They faced off again in the Class A semifinals, and the Vikings won even more decisively, 34-7.

Oxford Hills was the favorite when the teams played in Week 6 this season. The measuring stick, though, was no longer focused on how the Vikings stacked up with the Scots, but if the Scots stacked up well enough to challenge the Vikings.

For much of the game, the answer appeared to be, yes, they did.


Bonny Eagle limited Oxford Hills to six points in the first half, after which the Vikings led 6-3. The Scots twice answered Oxford Hills touchdowns with TDs of their own in the third quarter and stayed within three points at 20-17. But the Vikings added another score in the third and then two more in the fourth quarter, pulling away for a 24-point win.

Like a year earlier, Oxford Hills was more dominant in the teams’ second matchup, shutting out the Scots 36-0 in the semifinals — the Vikings’ fourth consecutive win over Bonny Eagle.

• Nov. 19: Oxford Hills 21, Thornton 7

In the 2021 Class A title game, the Golden Trojans scored their first touchdown on an interception return. The Vikings punted the ball away on their next two possessions, and the Thornton offense turned those into two scores, building a 21-0 lead with 10 minutes left in the first half, on their way to a 42-27 victory.

To win that game, the Vikings would have needed to play at a level close to perfect.

Oxford Hills didn’t play its best game in the 2022 title game. Thornton was good enough to stick around, but the Vikings were too superior for a few mistakes to derail their quest to earn the program’s first state championship.


Oxford Hills was officially at the top, with no more nemesis to take down.

“It’s been an incredibly long journey,” Mark Soehren said after the Class A final. “I mean, we took over, I think we had won three games in four years. Coach (Nate) Danforth, Coach (Joe) Oufiero had been here forever, and they went through the good times and the bad times — and there have been a lot of bad times. We just sort of sat and we said we’re going to trust the process, we’re going to work hard, and the kids will buy in … and the things that we’ve done and asked the kids to do, they’ve done.”

The next challenge for the Vikings is staying at or near the top.


Editor’s note: The top 10 area sports stories of 2022 were voted on by the Sun Journal sports staff.

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