SACO — During Thornton Academy’s football practice Wednesday, quarterback Austin McCrum handed off to a couple running backs and showed his strong arm on passes.

The Trojans feature plenty of options, but lately their recipe for success has been to hand the ball to Greg Ruff, who rushed for nearly 500 yards over the past two weeks in playoff victories against Scarborough and Bonny Eagle.

Ruff, a 6-foot, 210-pound senior and three-year starter at safety, is in his first season as Thornton’s featured running back. He is an obvious key for the Trojans (9-1) in the Class A state championship game Saturday against Portland (10-0) at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

“Once a hole opens up, he gets through it very quickly,” said Bonny Eagle Coach Kevin Cooper, whose Scots were defeated by Thornton 24-14 in last week’s South title game. Ruff rushed for 276 yards.

“He’s very hard to bring down. It’s usually going to take more than one guy to get him on the ground.”

Bonny Eagle and Thornton were tied 7-7 until Ruff’s 68-yard touchdown run in the third quarter. He later scored on a 63-yard run.

In the 35-0 South semifinal win over Scarborough two weeks ago, Ruff gained 207 yards, including a 69-yard touchdown run to begin the game.

“You don’t have to hold (a block) for long,” said Thornton senior guard Elijiah Ayotte. “He hits the hole hard and just gets going.”

A running back named Ruff breaking big gains at key moments sounds familiar for the Trojans.

In the 2014 state championship game, Thornton trailed Windham 14-7 at halftime. Running back Demel Ruff, Greg’s older brother, crashed through a hole and broke free for a 46-yard run to tie the game in the third quarter.

The Trojans then cruised to a 35-14 win.

Last year Greg Ruff ran the ball some, usually when Thornton was using its full-backfield set.

This year, with Demel graduated, Greg Ruff was supposed to share running back duties, but an injury to Michael Laverriere in late September put Ruff full-time in the backfield.

“I always liked playing safety more but this year, playing running back has been the greatest thing,” Ruff said. “I kind of hopped right in.”

Hopped, learned and then found daylight.

In 10 games, Ruff has rushed for 1,374 yards and 19 touchdowns on 168 carries.

“He has grown into the position,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal. “The second half of the season he’s carried the ball more, and has gotten better reading his blocks and hitting the hole.

“He’s a student of the game. He understands, having played safety as a starter for three years. He’s played a lot of football.”

Bonny Eagle’s Cooper first noticed Ruff on defense.

“It’s extremely hard for a receiver to block him and that makes a huge factor in the run game,” Cooper said. “He really limits the outside runs to his side of the field.”

Ruff also has one interception, which he returned 25 yards for a touchdown.

When Thornton is on offense, Ruff usually gets the ball. He had 27 carries last week.

“You get a little tired, but the adrenaline from the game keeps you going,” Ruff said.

That adrenaline will kick in again Saturday, when Ruff is likely to be handed the football often.

“This time of year you have to be able to run the football,” Kezal said, “and Greg has done a great job with that.”