Offensive tackle Dane Giguere (70) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Payton Jones in the second quarter of Thornton Academy’s 28-27 win over Marshwood on Saturday in Saco. (ANTHONY LOMBARDI/Journal Tribune)

SACO – If only for an afternoon, the case for an expansion of the state’s top football class holds merit. 

Defending Class A state champion Thornton Academy overcame another second-half deficit and snuffed out reigning Class B champion Marshwood’s attempt at a two-point conversion with 18 seconds on the clock for a 28-27 victory in Saco on Saturday. 

“We expected them to come out hitting hard,” said Thornton Academy quarterback Kobe Gaudette. “They’re a really strong team and a strong program. At the end of the day we came out on top, but who knows, tomorrow it could be different.” 

Pursued by Marshwood defenders, Thornton Academy wide receiver Hayden Pomerleau runs for a long gain, part of a 24-second touchdown drive in the first halfís closing seconds. Thornton went on to defeat Marshwood 28-27 on Saturday in Saco. (CARL D. WALSH/Portland Press Herald)

While Marshwood (1-1) won’t get a crack at Thornton Academy (2-0) tomorrow or at any point again this season, the Hawks showed that they can play with any team in the state. Recent reclassification in high school football shrunk Class A to eight teams in one statewide division. Each team plays the other seven plus two interclass games. 

Saturday’s tilt was one such affair. 

“Great high school football game,” said Thornton Academy head coach Kevin Kezal. “It was two teams battling right to the last play … We just made one more play than they did.” 

After Thornton Academy took a 28-21 lead on a Hayden Pomerleau 75-yard touchdown run with 1:43 left in the fourth quarter, Marshwood marched down the field behind the accuracy of quarterback Connor Caverly. The senior completed a 6-yard touchdown pass to Cameron Cornett on third down to pull the Hawks to within one.  

Marshwood attempted a two-point conversion on a quick pitch to the left, a play that had been so effective to either side all game, but Thornton defensive back Sam Edborg read the play and crashed down, setting the edge for linebacker Costa Gikas and defensive end Daniel Tarbox to make the stop just short of the goal line.  

Marshwood running back John Valentine tries to stretch the ball into the end zone, but was ruled down during a final seconds, two-point conversion play. Thornton linebacker Costa Gikas celebrates as he receives the official’s call. Thornton Academy defeated Marshwood 28-27 on Saturday in Saco. (CARL D. WALSH/Portland Press Herald)

“You’re stepping up and playing the Class A champions and a chance to show your team and your program,” said Marshwood head coach Alex Rotsko. “I thought we did a great job. I thought our execution was pretty good. Our effort was great.”  

Marshwood entered this season winners of four of the last five Class B titles. Thornton Academy has won four of the last seven Gold Balls in Class A.  

Caverly’s quarterback sneak with 40 seconds until halftime put the Hawks up 13-0, and a team that didn’t trail once last year on its way to a perfect season found itself needing to rally for a second straight week. 

“We made some adjustments offensively,” Gaudette said. “And it worked.”

After finding little success in the power run game, Thornton attacked Marshwood on the edge with counters to shifty wide receiver Hayden Pomerleau. The junior, who quarterbacked the junior varsity team last season before breaking his hand halfway through the year, provided the Golden Trojans’ offense with the jolt it needed before the half. 

On the first play of TA’s drive following Caverly’s touchdown, Pomerleau took a handoff 43 yards to the Marshwood 27-yard line. Fourteen seconds later, Gaudette found Payton Jones for a 12-yard touchdown catch and run. 

Momentum appeared to shift back to Marshwood’s favor when Tarbox fumbled the second-half kickoff, but Thornton Academy’s defense didn’t break and Tarbox blocked Marshall Smaracko’s field goal attempt. 

“When they got all the way down to the 2-yard line, I was feeling like it was my fault,” Tarbox said. “I know that I had to do something to help the team. Getting through there and blocking that kick really got us going.” 

The block was one of several miscues that Marshwood made throughout that hurt its chances at the upset. A lost fumble deep in enemy territory in the second that Thornton Academy’s Tanner Lynn recovered ended a promising drive, and running back John Valentine dropped a touchdown reception on the play before the blocked field goal. 

“Against good football teams you can’t make as many mistakes as we did,” said Rotsko. 

A Pomerleau 5-yard touchdown run cut the margin to 21-14 and a 60-yard touchdown pass from Gaudette to Pomerleau early in the fourth knotted the score. Pomerleau finished with one catch for 60 yards and a touchdown and six carries for 127 yards and two touchdowns. His second rushing touchdown, a 75-yard race down the left sideline gave Thornton the lead for good with 1:43 remaining.  

Thornton Academy wide receiver Hayden Pomerleau is congratulated by teammates after scoring the fourth quarter go-ahead touchdown. Thornton then stopped Marshwood on a two-point conversion attempt in the closing seconds to hold onto a 28-27 victory on Saturday in Saco. (CARL D. WALSH/Portland Press Herald)

“(Hayden’s) a good one. He’s still learning but he grew up tonight,” Kezal said. “It was a playoff-like atmosphere. I’m really proud of our kids … It was a great game.” 

Prior to kickoff, Thornton Academy honored legendary coach Bob Cote, who died in July at the age of 88, with a moment of silence and a joint performance by the St. Louis Alumni Band and the Thornton Academy pep band. Cote compiled a 173-74-8 career record as a high school football coach, spending time at both Thornton Academy and St. Louis High School. 

Kezal said he spoke with his players about what Cote meant to the school and to football in Maine. Thornton Academy Athletic Director Gary Stevens told the Journal Tribune earlier this week that the Cote family has been rooted in the Saco-Biddeford area for years and the ceremony was a small gesture to recognize that legacy of service and excellence. 

Outside the locker room after the game, in true Cote fashion, Tarbox credited his opponent and spoke about family. 

“Marshwood is definitely a team that should be playing Class A football – definitely a powerhouse, for sure,” he said. “But we’re always together. This is like my family, these boys. Nothing makes me feel better than getting a win out there with them.” 


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