Cheverus and Thornton Academy separated themselves from the rest of Western Class A football early in the season.
They’ve clearly been the two best teams, and now for the second consecutive year will meet for the regional championship at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Cheverus High.
The top-ranked Stags (10-0) have had a bull’s-eye on their backs, yet only second-seeded Thornton Academy (9-1) has come close to hitting it.
Just under a month ago in their regular-season meeting, Cheverus downed the Golden Trojans 28-14 at Saco.
The score was 7-7 at halftime. Cheverus scored 14 points in the third quarter, Thornton pulled within 21-14 early in the fourth, then the Stags returned an interception for a touchdown to seal it with just over five minutes remaining.
A year ago in the regional final, Thornton led 3-0 at halftime before losing 21-10.
“We were one score away with five minutes left,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal of the regular-season game. “I felt we got into a funk at certain points during the game. It’s just a matter of playing hard for 48 minutes. My kids will do that.”
Cheverus also will look to play an error-free game and keep emotions in check. That’s usually not a problem for a John Wolfgram-coached team, but lately the Stags have fallen short.
They had four personal fouls against Portland in last week’s semifinals and fumbled twice deep in their own territory. The week before against Deering, Cheverus fumbled deep in its territory early in the game.
Each time the defense rose to stuff the threats, and the Stags went on to lopsided wins. The defense is the backbone of the Stags, and the offense, despite the recent mistakes, is strong.
But Thornton can match Cheverus’ offense.
“We’re going to stick to what we do best,” said Cheverus quarterback Liam Fitzpatrick. “We want to play a complete game.”
Both teams are good at spreading the ball around on offense. They have plenty of threats.
“We do a lot of the same stuff,” said Kezal. “They do it in different formations than we do. They’re running the same stuff as they have. Cheverus does a great job. At this point in the season, it’s not about making changes. It’s executing and playing physical football.”
Both teams are skilled at capitalizing on a defense’s weakness. That’s why both might use certain plays one week and not the next.
Cheverus hurt Thornton early in the first game by throwing to tight end Ryan Casale, but could go a couple games without throwing to Casale, looking instead for the wide receivers. Thornton throws more than Cheverus, but not by a lot.
One thing is certain about their offenses: Running back Donald Goodrich of Cheverus and Andrew Libby of Thornton will get the ball a lot.
Goodrich, positioned in a split backfield, will get the ball on sweeps. Fullbacks Cody O’Brien and Brent Green are effective running up the middle. Fitzpatrick has good speed, and has been effective on rolling out and running.
The Golden Trojans like to move Libby around in the backfield. He also will take snaps in the wildcat. Quarterback Eric Christensen is a strong passer and, at 220 pounds, a bruising runner. Fullback Nick Kenney is the team’s leading rusher. Christensen likes to throw to Dakota Tarbox and Cody Lynn, both big targets, and Libby out of the backfield.
The winner will advance to next Saturday’s state championship game at Fitzpatrick Stadium against the winner of the Eastern Maine final between Lawrence and Cony. Cheverus is seeking its third straight state title.
The Stags have won 34 straight games. After losing to Cheverus, Thornton has been looking at this game as a chance to redeem itself. The Golden Trojans know they didn’t play their best the first time.
“We want to play a physical game like we did last week against Scarborough,” said Christensen.
“If we do that, we’ll be in good shape.”
Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at: [email protected]