SACO – Any questions about Thornton Academy’s stature in the new-look Western Class A football conference were quickly answered Saturday in its opener.

The Trojans pulled away in the second half to defeat Bonny Eagle 20-6 in the first game on the artificial surface of the renovated Paul Hill Stadium.

Nick Kenney rushed for 119 yards in the second half, while the Trojans’ defense produced several big plays to beat the favored Scots.

“I’m proud of our kids,” said Trojans Coach Kevin Kezal. “I thought our young kids grew up a lot today.”

Playing one of the toughest schedules in the conference — beginning with the highly regarded Scots — the Trojans showed they should still be considered a force.

“This is huge for us,” said Tyler Danley, one of Thornton’s few two-way players. “(Bonny Eagle) is going to be a great team. This sets the bar for us, it gives us something to work for every week.”

The Scots, meanwhile, also have much to work on. They hurt themselves with penalties (nine for 82 yards), fumbles (losing two in the second half, one at the goal line) and dropped passes.

“We hurt ourselves and you can’t do that against a good team like Thornton,” said Bonny Eagle Coach Kevin Cooper. “Penalties, turnovers, too many mistakes to win (a Western Class A) football game.”

Bonny Eagle scored first on a 1-yard plunge by quarterback Tyson Goodale with 6:55 left in the first quarter. At that time, the Scots also were dominating the Trojans defensively.

Then, on Thornton’s drive following Goodale’s touchdown, Bonny Eagle committed two penalties — the second a pass interference call on fourth down — to give the Trojans life. Kenney, who rushed for 136 yards, scored on a 9-yard run and Brandon Briggs kicked the PAT to give Thornton a 7-6 lead and a lift into halftime.

“It was what we needed,” said quarterback Eric Christensen. “It got all of us pumped.”

And the Trojans’ offense had a different look in the second half. Taking advantage of Bonny Eagle’s aggressiveness, Thornton was able to break Kenney free up the middle with quick hits.

Christensen, meanwhile, completed just one pass in the first half but was 5 of 7 in the second half.

“It just all came together for us,” said Christensen.

The defense started it. Bonny Eagle drove to the Trojans’ 29 but lost a fumble that was recovered by Luke Libby of Thornton.

The Trojans then drove 71 yards in six plays, with Christensen hitting Andrew Libby for a 22-yard touchdown down the middle. Briggs’ PAT made it 14-6 with six minutes left in the third.

Thornton defensive back Josh Cyr then stepped up with a big hit on Goodale on third down, leaving the Scots 1 yard shy of a first down and forcing a punt. “Huge play,” said Kezal. “Especially in a one-score game, forcing them to punt.”

Kenney broke loose for 21 yards on first down to the Thornton 33. Christensen passed to Andrew Libby for 8, then Kenney scored on a 36-yard burst, cutting to the right and outrunning the secondary.

“Nick’s a slasher,” said Kezal. “If he finds a hole, he goes.”

But it was left to Thornton’s defense to make one last stand. The Scots drove from their 26 to the Trojans’ 14 when, on fourth down, Goodale found Matt Burnell open at the 2. As Burnell spun from a tackler, Andrew Libby reached in and knocked the ball out — with Cyr picking it up and returning it to the 18.

“Scoop and score,” said Cyr. “But once I got it I just didn’t want to fumble and give the ball back to their offense.”

Overall, it was a huge win for the Trojans, who were inconsistent in their preseason scrimmages while Kezal tried to find the right combinations on the line.

For the Scots, the loss just means they’ve got to regroup.

“First of all, it was the season opener,” said Cooper. “We weren’t playing for a Western Maine championship. We’re 0-1 and now we’ve got to get back to business. Our goal is to make the playoffs.

“We’ve got to go back and learn from our mistakes.”

Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at:

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Twitter: MikeLowePPH