SACO — Maybe it was only the first game of the season but it sure didn’t feel that way.

Thornton Academy, riding a strong second half by Ashley Howe, rallied past McAuley 37-34 at a packed Linnell Gymnasium on Friday night.

The Trojans overcame an eight-point halftime deficit with tenacious defense and 13 points from Howe over the final two quarters, including a back-breaking three-point play off an offensive rebound with 1:02 remaining.

The Trojans, who snapped McAuley’s 56-game winning streak on this court last year, didn’t want to put too much into the win but they also knew it was special.

“This means we’re 1-0,” said Coach Eric Marston. “At the same time it is McAuley and the girls are certainly happy beating the four-time state champs.”

“All day in school we were walking around, ‘Hey Thornton is playing McAuley tonight,’ ” said Howe. “There was so much hype. It was like a great playoff match-up. It was a great win against a great team.”

The game featured several subplots, the most intriguing revolving around Victoria Lux, Thornton’s 6-foot-1 center who played at McAuley the last three years. Lux finished with eight points, six in the last quarter, nine rebounds and five blocked shots.

Her five-foot turnaround jumper with 1:43 remaining put the Trojans ahead for good, 32-30.

Playing against her former team made the game “more exciting, more interesting. It was a little more hyped,” she said.

The game lived up to that hype. Both teams went at each other with a fierce defensive intensity. And it was Thornton’s defense that turned the game around in the third quarter.

The Trojans scuffled offensively throughout the first half, trailing 20-12 at the break. In the locker room at the half, Marston told his players they had to start turning that defense into offense. And they did.

The Trojans rattled McAuley, which has only one starter back from last year’s championship team, at the start of the third quarter and the Lions really never recovered.

“We just lost our focus on everything,” said Lions Coach Bill Goodman. “I’ve got to do a better job of getting the kids ready to face that.”

McAuley turned the ball over on its first six possessions of the third quarter with Thornton going on a 10-0 run, Howe scoring eight points. McAuley settled back in to lead by one entering the fourth, then took a 28-24 lead on two Jess Willerson foul shots with 5:43 remaining.

Willerson, a 6-2 junior center who transferred to McAuley from Cheverus this fall, scored 13 points to lead the Lions.

Two Katie McCrum foul shots and a steal and layup by Howe tied it, then freshman Alex Hart hit a floater from the left elbow to give the Trojans a 30-28 lead. McAuley tied it on two foul shots by Ayla Tartre with 2:10 left.

But Lux scored on a spinning left-hander with 1:43 remaining to give the Trojans a 32-30 lead. After another McAuley turnover, Howe grabbed her own miss, scored and was fouled. She hit the free throw with 1:02 left for a five-point lead.

“That was just two pretty good programs going at each other,” said Marston. “It was nice to see the girls come together, especially at the end.”