Kennebunk has had a nice turnaround season in Western Class A football. The Rams are in the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

Kennebunk (5-3), ranked seventh, will play No. 2 Thornton Academy (7-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Saco. A year ago, Kennebunk went 2-6.

In 10 seasons in Class A, Kennebunk has made the playoffs three times.

Early in the season, it didn’t appear the Rams were headed to the postseason.

“We got off to a terrible start,” said Coach Joe Rafferty, in his 34th season with the Rams. “We couldn’t explain it.”

Kennebunk dropped its opener to Scarborough 22-0, then lost 54-6 to Massabesic, which was recovering from a 45-14 loss to Portland in its opener.

“Neither of our opponents punted in the first two games,” said Rafferty.

The next week against Biddeford, Kennebunk started its comeback with a 19-6 victory. Tyler Elkington, one of the team’s offensive standouts, rushed for 116 yards on only eight carries and a touchdown, and quarterback Nick Emmons passed for 130 yards and a touchdown.

The win sparked the Rams, who closed the regular season with five victories in their final six games.

“It got contagious after that,” said Rafferty of winning.

Kennebunk beat South Portland 40-6 the following week, when running back Will Dumas scored three touchdowns. Kennebunk lost to Windham 17-14 in Week 5. The Rams reached the Windham 24 late in the game but turned the ball over on downs.

Kennebunk closed with victories against Gorham, 30-16; Bonny Eagle, 14-7; and Noble to secure a playoff berth, 14-8.

Emmons threw for 155 yards and two touchdowns, and Nicco DeLorenzo hauled in a 70-yard touchdown reception with 5:30 remaining to defeat the Knights.

Emmons has been healthy this season and a key, with several other players, in the team’s resurgence.

“We’re an option team and Nick has run the option very effectively,” said Rafferty.

Elkington has been a strong runner. Larson Coppinger has been a favorite target for Emmons. DeLorenzo has been effective running and receiving. Up front, Nick and Ben Bath have been strong two-way linemen with Richie Platts.

“We figured we had to win our last game to make the playoffs. We felt we could go anywhere from sixth (seed) through eighth,” said Rafferty.

Rafferty calls Thornton Academy a very talented team. The Rams know they will have to play their best game to be in contention against the Trojans in the fourth quarter.

PORTLAND COACH Jim Hartman said his team will have to eliminate the mistakes it made against South Portland last Saturday to beat Windham in a Western Class A quarterfinal at 1 p.m. Saturday at Windham.

It’s a matchup of the Nos. 4- and 5-ranked teams. The Bulldogs (5-3) are in the playoffs after a two-year absence.

The Bulldogs should be bolstered by the return of running back Jordan Floridino and tight end/defensive end Casey Mahoney. Floridino, a sophomore, will see his first offensive action since injuring his knee in last year’s Thanksgiving game against Deering. His presence gives the team more depth in the backfield.

Mahoney will see his first action in two games.

“We’re getting healthier, which is a good sign,” said Hartman. “Windham is a physically talented team. It will be a game of matchups.

Portland quarterback Ryan Ruhlin has gotten more comfortable as a passer late in the season. He completed 8 of 15 against South Portland.

NATIONAL DISTRIBUTORS Inc. of South Portland, the sponsor of the Frank J. Gaziano Memorial Offensive and Defensive Linemen Awards, announced an increase in its scholarships. The two winners will receive $5,000 each, and the four runners-up will receive $1,000, double the amount from previous years.

The award is named for Gaziano, the company founder who died in 2010 at age 92. Gaziano was an All-American lineman at Holy Cross, and played professionally with the Washington Redskins and Boston Yanks.

Applicants for the Gaziano Award must be seniors who have competed at the varsity level with distinction for a minimum of two years, and have strong academic and school citizenship records. Nominations for the awards will be accepted through Dec. 7.

The award and scholarship presentations will be announced at a banquet brunch Jan. 27 at 9 a.m. at the Augusta Civic Center.

The selection committee for the Gaziano Linemen Awards includes Peter DeSimon, Ed McAleney, Mike Haley, Charles Hews, Mike Marston, Pete Cloutier, Matt Perkins, Tim Rice, Mark Bonnevie, Dan O’Connell and Bob Sinclair.

For more information on the banquet or scholarship program, visit www.gaziano or contact the Frank J. Gaziano Linemen Awards Board of Directors at 773-1719 ext. 3303.

Staff Writer Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or at:

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Twitter: TomChardPPH