SOUTH PORTLAND – Duncan Preston threw four touchdown passes and ran for 137 yards Friday night to lead South Portland to a 26-13 upset of defending Class A state champion Thornton Academy at Martin Memorial Field.

“We knew what we had to do,” said Preston, whose touchdown-saving tackle on a kickoff also resulted in the loss of Thornton’s all-purpose threat, Andrew Libby, for most of the game. “We worked for it all summer. We knew this was going to set the tone and make everybody else in the league realize what we are.”

Which is?

“I believe, and we all believe,” Preston said, “we are the best team in the conference, if not the state.”

The Red Riots certainly looked formidable, scoring on their first three possessions and then holding off a Thornton Academy squad that pulled within 18-13 early in the fourth quarter. A fourth-and-1 stop by the middle of the defensive line and the second of two interceptions by Hayden Owen ended Thornton’s final two drives.

“We were concerned a little bit about our depth but our kids did an amazing job,” said South Portland Coach Steve Stinson. “We were able to come up with some big defensive stops, a goal-line stop, and we were able to take away some of their momentum.”

Three years ago, South Portland knocked off Windham in the opener following Windham’s Class A state title.

“We’ve drawn Cheverus a couple times, too, but that hasn’t worked out,” Stinson said with a laugh. “For some reason they always give us the defending champ, like I did something wrong to somebody.”

On Friday night, South Portland messed up the coin flip (opting to kick off after Thornton deferred), failed on its first three conversion attempts and survived eight penalties. But Preston’s perfectly placed 19-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Susi salted the game away with a little more than four minutes remaining. A 2-point conversion pass to Jared Muller gave South Portland the final points.

“Give South Portland credit, they outplayed us,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal. “We knew they were a good team. They have great skill kids, a lot of kids back from last year who were hungry to win. We knew this was going to be a challenge.”

Coming off a 2-6 season, South Portland came out with something to prove. Muller, a 6-foot-5 tight end, leaped high to pull in a pass down the middle for a 25-yard score that capped a 13-play drive after South Portland withstood a 14-play Golden Trojans drive that stalled on the 40.

Libby, who carried eight times on Thornton’s opening drive, returned the kickoff 55 yards before Preston, the kicker, brought him down. Libby limped off the field and didn’t return.

“When any team loses one of their best players, it’s certainly a blow,” Stinson said. “Thornton has depth like no other team in the SMAA so they were able to withstand it a little better. They still had a lot of good football players out on the field.”

Jesse Meikle filled in for Libby and ran for 73 yards on 13 carries. Austin McCrum completed 12 of 26 passes, including scores of 28 yards to Cody Lynn in the second quarter and 25 yards to Carter Davis in the fourth.

Preston completed 16 of 21 passes for 238 yards and was intercepted once. Joey DiBiase broke two tackles on a screen pass that resulted in a 70-yard score and a 12-0 lead. Susi caught six passes for 71 yards and two scores, including an 18-yard slant that put South Portland ahead 18-0.

“We’ll learn from it and we’ll be back,” Kezal said. “One game does not a season make.”

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH


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