Thornton Academy had the backfield talent heading into the season to be a state title contender. The Golden Trojans had the receivers and the defense. The question was whether the team had the talent in the offensive line to take the Trojans where they wanted to go.

A 20-13 win over Cheverus for the Western Class A football championship last Saturday answered that question. That was one hurdle cleared.

The final one comes Saturday.

The offensive line – with center Bobby Begin, guards David LaPauloue and Michael Granger, and tackles Connor McCrum and Ian Paul – knocked the Stags off the ball so running back Andrew Libby could shred the defense.

Ashton Lord, who shares duties with McCrum at left tackle, also played a key role.

Thornton is in its first state championship game since winning in 1988. The Golden Trojans (10-1) play Lawrence High (11-0) Saturday at 11 a.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

The team began the season with only one starter back (LaPauloue) on its offensive line. Begin and LaPauloue were defensive starters a year ago so they were accustomed to the hard knocks of Class A. McCrum was, too, as a starting tight end. The others were new to being starters.

“They developed sooner than we thought,” said Coach Kevin Kezal of the offensive line. “They are big and athletic kids who move pretty well. They’ve done a great job.”

Fullback Nick Kenney is a beneficiary of the blocking, as is Libby, quarterback Eric Christensen and wingback Dylan Morton — the chief ballcarriers for the team.

“The line has done a really good job winning the scrimmage,” said Kenney, the team’s leading rusher. “They’re really good blockers and they have good size, so you can use them as a shield when you’re carrying the ball.

“I thought Saturday was their best game of the season. They all stepped up their performances.”

The coaching staff saw a renewed sense of purpose from the whole team in a 49-14 win over Scarborough in the regional semifinals. Thornton learned from the mistakes of the regular-season game with Cheverus in Week 7.

“We played a very physical game against Scarborough and continued it against Cheverus,” said Paul.

The line started clicking early in the season.

“We definitely came together pretty quickly,” said Lord, a sophomore.

Familiarity helped. Begin, LaPauloue and Granger have been teammates since seventh grade.

“We’ve been playing together for a while,” said Begin. “We know each other so well. We help each other make reads and calls. It all works out well. Our chemistry really helps.”

The linemen were in the weight room in January after returning to school from Christmas break last year.

“We worked out all throughout the school year,” said Begin, a tri-captain with McCrum and Christensen. “We pushed each other to do better. It helped us get stronger for the season. When we do all the right things, we’re opening holes and protecting Eric. We didn’t make any mistakes against Cheverus.”

When the Golden Trojans go with double tight ends, it makes for a very imposing line. Dakota Tarbox and Cody Lynn are both 6-foot-3 and in the 225-pound range. LaPauloue is 6-3, 250 pounds while McCrum is 6-3, 230.

Thornton knows it will need the same effort against Lawrence, the school from Fairfield playing in its second straight state final. As Thornton had a sour taste in its mouth after losing to Cheverus last year in the regional final. so too did the Bulldogs after losing in last year’s state final.

“We have to come out with the same intensity we had in the Cheverus game and hit Lawrence hard,” said McCrum.

 

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: tchard@pressherald.com

Twitter: TomChardPPH