Thornton Academy running back Isaac Ofielu (28) breaks down an opening in the middle of Sanford’s defense during the Golden Trojans 27-13 win over the Spartans to open the high school football season. (ED DEXTER PHOTOGRAPHY)

SANFORD – Thornton Academy didn’t trail once last year on its way to a Class A state championship.

One game into this football season, the Golden Trojans have already had to rally twice. 

Thornton (1-0) used a suffocating defensive effort in the second half to erase a six-point deficit en route to a 27-13 win over the Sanford Spartans (0-1) on Friday in the first meeting between the programs at Alumni Stadium in Sanford.

“You’ve got to forget about last year. It’s a tough league,” said Thornton head coach Kevin Kezal. “We’ve got a lot of tough games and you’re going to be challenged. You’re going to have to respond.” 

Thirteen seconds into the first quarter the Golden Trojans found themselves down on the scoreboard courtesy of a 72-yard touchdown reception from Sanford running back Ethan Shain on the Spartans’ first play from scrimmage. Thornton answered with a Julien Bailey-Cottle 59-yard touchdown scamper on its first play from scrimmage and the game was locked at seven 37 seconds in. 

Sanford quarterback Xavier Levine used his quick feet and mature decision-making skills to keep the Spartans’ offense on the field in the first half. A 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Leyton Bickford, and a missed PAT, gave Sanford a 13-7 lead and sent the Spartans’ student section into chants of “We believe that we can win.”  

Sanford quarterback Xavier Levine drops back to pass during the Spartans season-opener against Thornton Academy. Levine finished 10-12 through the air for 111 yards and two touchdowns. The senior also rushed for 77 yards on 14 carries. (ED DEXTER PHOTOGRAPHY)

“This is probably one of the best performances we’ve had,” Levine said. “We all saw this game as an opportunity to play a great football team and to show what we have. Whether or not we won the game, I think we did that.” 

Levine finished 10-12 passing for 111 yards and two touchdowns. The senior also rushed for 77 yards on 14 carries. 

Thornton took control in the second half, reclaiming the lead for good on a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Payton Jones. A few minutes later Thornton quarterback Kobe Gaudette found Jones on a post route for a 25-yard touchdown reception to extend the margin to 21-13 heading to the fourth. 

While the Golden Trojans are loaded with offensive weapons, they are tasked with replacing last year’s Fitzpatrick Award finalist Anthony Bracamonte who paced Thornton’s attack. This season, guys like Jones will need to step up if the Golden Trojans will repeat as champs. 

“Payton is going to have to do a lot more for us this year. He’s a heck of a player,” Kezal said. “He was an all-conference player last year as a sophomore and we expect him to do a lot of good things for us.” 

In addition to Jones, running backs Isaac Ofielu, 16 carries for 102 yards and a touchdown, and Julien Bailey-Cottle, 10 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown, should all play larger roles. 

Even in defeat, Sanford head coach Mike Fallon applauded the Spartans’ effort. One series late in the game, where Sanford stopped the Thornton a few yards short of the endzone with just a couple of minutes on the clock, showed him the type of team he gets to lead this season. 

“That was a testimony to how much grit our kids have,” Fallon said. “Hopefully, we can build on that. It’s a positive start. We’d like to be 1-0 and not 0-1, but it’s positive energy so that’s a good thing … They played hard, they competed. You take down a couple of breakdowns here and there, who knows.” 

Thornton hosts defending Class B champion Marshwood (1-0) Sept. 14 at 1:30 p.m. at Hill Stadium. Sanford welcomes Oxford Hills/Buckfield into Alumni Stadium at 7 p.m. Friday. 


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