SACO – Dakota Tarbox couldn’t resist doing what he had been coached not to do. He looked over his shoulder. Not once but twice.

“I did and I shouldn’t have,” said Tarbox, the 6-foot-4 wide receiver for Thornton Academy’s football team. “I had to see if anyone could catch me.”

Confessions come much more easily when your team beats Deering High in the season opener 44-14 and you’re a senior with a major role. Tarbox caught an Eric Christensen pass and turned upfield for a 91-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter. He was chased, but no one had the speed or the angle to run him down.

Not that Tarbox could know this. He turned his head to look. That moment might become the visual to Thornton Academy’s season. Tarbox and his teammates are good enough to run from everyone else on their schedule. Whether they can or not is another matter.

“They can see the path,” said Coach Kevin Kezal, referring to the commitment to win, reach the playoffs and win again until there are no games left to play. In the next breath he reminds that his team is full of 16-, 17- and 18-year-old boys. When does someone outgrow the urge to wander off mentally?

The first game was played. Seven more follow for the regular season. This team has a goal but it’s not yet in sight.

When Thornton Academy ran onto its turf Saturday, teenage boys looked like men. Months of weight lifting together, months of talking and dreaming, and a summer of practicing together toned minds and bodies. Last season the team didn’t quite catch up to the expectations. Some did believe this team could win a state championship in 2011.

Instead a very good Cheverus team ushered Thornton Academy out of the playoffs. “That is kind of like a splinter under our skin,” said Tarbox. “We were like a bunch of kids who couldn’t believe our season was over. This year we are more mature.”

They didn’t make a show of beating their chests before or after beating Deering. Of course they celebrated the win. The team’s respect for Deering was that high, even if the score was one-sided. Two years ago Deering came onto this field and won, letting the air out of a high school football team that thought it was very good. Tarbox was a sophomore that day. He hasn’t forgotten.

Late in Saturday’s game, Tarbox had another reception for 27 yards to the Deering 4. That was the catch that goes onto a highlight video. Defensive backs Dominic Lauture and Kenny Sweet jumped high with Tarbox. In real time it appeared three pairs of hands were on the ball as they returned to the turf.

Tarbox wouldn’t let go. The catch was his alone. Two plays later, teammate Nick Kenney was in the end zone. In the first half, Tarbox kept a scoring drive alive with a catch on third down. From his position at linebacker, he dropped Deering quarterback Mike Marzilli for a loss, forcing a punt.

Certainly, Tarbox alone wasn’t the show. Teammates stepped up and did what has become expected in this town hungry for a football championship. Then there was Brandon Briggs, the slight 6-foot, 155-pound kicker who boomed kickoff after kickoff into the end zone for touchbacks. Deering return men simply looked up, following the flight of the ball over their heads without moving another muscle.

Just another example of someone working on their game over the summer, said Kezal. A senior playing football for only the second season, Briggs has added 10 yards to his kickoffs.

“They talked about being better all summer,” said Luke Libby, a 2012 graduate and one of the state’s top linemen last year. “They worked at it. I was around. I saw it.”

His brother Andrew returned for his junior season to score a couple of touchdowns Saturday. A 59-yard punt return when he turned the corner and ran down the right sideline, and a 66-yard run up the middle of the field after finding a small hole at the line of scrimmage.

Andrew Libby never looked back.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be contacted at 791-6412 or at:

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