Thornton Academy scored 10 straight points in the fourth quarter after relinquishing a 14-point halftime lead and defeated Portland 24-14 to win the Class A football state championship Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

The Trojans saw a 14-0 advantage disappear in the third quarter, nearly as quickly as it had taken to open the lead in the first quarter.

“We weathered the storm,” said Coach Kevin Kezal. “I thought our defense played great.”

Thornton (10-1) won its second straight championship and third in four seasons.

“It feels incredible,” said quarterback Austin McCrum.

McCrum scored the touchdown that provided a 10-point lead on a 5-yard run with 4:53 remaining. Early in the fourth quarter, Cam Cadorette’s 32-yard field goal broke a 14-14 tie.

McCrum’s run put it away, but not after Portland had climbed back into it.

Thornton was able to take the momentum after the Bulldogs (10-1), trailing 14-0 at halftime, tied it with 1:08 left in the third quarter.

McCrum’s strong passing and running, and an opportunistic defense in the fourth quarter turned the game in Thornton’s favor. The defense sacked Portland quarterback Issiah Bachelder three times late in the game.

“We kept our composure,” said McCrum. “Portland has a very good team and a great defense. We knew we would face adversity.”

Thornton’s strong special teams play and Portland’s problems on special teams combined to give the Golden Trojans a 14-0 first-quarter lead.

Thornton recovered a fumbled punt by Dylan Bolduc of Portland at the Thornton 32. After a motion penalty, McCrum passed to Ben Lambert for 17 yards. Thornton then converted on fourth-and-4 from the 15 when McCrum passed to Corey Hart for 7 yards.

Two plays later, Greg Ruff scored from the 6. Cadorette’s PAT made it 7-0.

The Bulldogs couldn’t move for a second straight series and had to punt. Lambert caught it near the Portland sideline and ran across the field, where his teammates had a wall of blockers. Lambert made a great move around the 20 to complete a 71-yard touchdown return. Cadorette’s boot made it 14-0.

The Bulldogs’ defense kept them in the game in the first half despite the offense getting only two first downs and crossing the 50 once.

“We’ve been a second-half team all season so we knew we were still in it,” said Nick Archambault of Portland.

Thornton took the second-half kickoff, and on fourth-and-inches on its 37 decided to go for it. Ruff was stopped for a 1-yard loss.

“We had only inches and I thought we could make it,” said Kezal.

Kezal said the other reason he went for it was that Portland hadn’t done anything on offense to that point. It nearly backfired on Thornton.

The Bulldogs seized the moment to get back into the game. After two first downs, Portland had the ball on the 15. On second down, Bachelder lofted a pass into the left corner of the end zone, where Jack Knop hauled it in.

The Bulldogs soon got the ball back, and on third down Bachelder passed to Knop for 34 yards. Moments later, Bachelder hit Bolduc for 13 yards to the 6. On second down, Joe Esposito scored from the 5 with 1:08 left in the third quarter. John Williams’ point after made it 14-14.

Portland couldn’t regain momentum after Thornton went ahead early in the fourth. A 28-yard pass from McCrum to Lambert set up Cadorette’s field goal. Bolduc nearly picked off the pass in the flat but just missed.

The Bulldogs then drove over midfield, but on third down linebacker Michael Laverriere intercepted for Thornton at the 27. The Bulldogs looked like they had held, but a personal foul allowed Thornton to keep possession.

Two plays later, McCrum ran 37 yards on a quarterback draw to the 15. He scored untouched on the same play on first down.

Portland had stopped McCrum’s running for three quarters.

“We shifted our formation to give them a different look,” said McCrum.

Thornton’s defense came up big in the final four minutes. The Trojans dropped Bachelder behind the line on passes three times, and defensive end Rome Pura, who was outstanding on defense and punting, deflected a pass.

“The kids played their hearts out,” said Portland Coach Jim Hartman. “We gave them two free touchdowns. That hitch pass by Thornton late in the game took our field position away.”

Thornton bottled up Portland’s running game for most of the action. Esposito, the second-leading rusher in Class A North and its Player of the Year, kept banging into the middle of the line and finally started getting some yards.

“This was a tough one,” said Esposito. “We just came up a little short. We had a great season and got Portland to the state final for the first time in 13 seasons. Hopefully we set an example for the underclassmen.”

Tom Chard can be reached at 791-6419 or:

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Twitter: TomChardPPH