The Scots hoist this year’s gold ball, their newest piece of hardware. Adam Birt / American Journal

PORTLAND—”We’re the best team in the State,” said Bonny Eagle head coach Kevin Cooper.

Normally, Cooper doesn’t talk like a Roman general standing atop a steaming heap of barbarian corpses…but can you blame him? BE’s State Championship battle vs. Thornton Academy was so freshly decided, his young soldiers’ victory shouts still echoed through Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Final score: 34-21 BE.

Cam Gardner gets in on an early tackle. Adam Birt / American Journal

Nope. Normally, Cooper’s as cordial as coaches come. He’s quick to praise opposing teams – their play, their players, their leadership. So for him to declare: “We’re the best team in the State.” (notice the period) – well, damnit, BE must just be the best team in the State. No two ways about it.

“Anybody that ranks teams – whether MBR or VarsityMaine – we’re the best team in the State,” Cooper said. “We played four games against [top] teams. We’re 3-1. No matter what happens tonight in the Class B game, we’re the best team in the State. We should be ranked No. 1.”

Bonny Eagle, who entered the bracketing as the two-seed, stared down most of Maine’s best outfits this fall: The Scots interred Scarborough (No. 3 in Class A) 18-7 in the regular season, then 14-7 in the tournament semis. BE came up just short in their Oct. 5 matchup with first-place Thornton, but (clearly) earned a W vs. the Trojans when it really counted.

Also worth noting: Back in week three, the Scots ground the B South two-seed, Kennebunk, to a 42-21 pulp. The only top squad BE didn’t take on in 2019 was B South’s No. 1, Marshwood.

Thornton snuck past the Hawks 28-27 in the regular season, however, and Bonny Eagle’s title-bout triumph over TA can fairly be called “decisive” (if not something stronger, like “criminal”). So in boiling the autumn down, we can place the Scots above Marshwood without risking our reputations.

In other words, Cooper knows what he’s talking about, and when he stakes out – at least till 2020 – his boys’ territory, it’s well-deserved.

Jake Humphrey dashes along for BE. Adam Birt / American Journal

“We’re walking out of here with a gold ball; I would say yes,” Cooper said, asked if it was BE’s best game of the year.

“Yeah – and that’s what we planned on doing,” power-runner Nate Ferris said, “playing our best game on November 23rd, like we’ve been saying all year. We’ve just been building up to it and building up. And we executed.”

Ferris had two TDs on the day.

“When we got to the locker room at Fitzy,” said star runningback Zach Maturo, “we were all focused, calm and ready to go. But once we heard [assistant coach Ben Ledue] give a loud pregame talk to the lineman in the other room, we were all hyped and ready to win every play.”

Maturo also contributed a pair of touchdowns in the conquest.

Bonny Eagle bested Thornton in every phase of Saturday’s dustup. “It’s mentality, honestly,” Scots QB Keegan Meredith said, asked about the team’s prep-work. “I felt, personally – I think our team did – that we should’ve won the first time, you know? And we just learned from that. We fixed the stuff that we should’ve done better last time, and that’s what happens. That’s what we did to prepare.”

Alex Dyer lines up for a snap. Adam Birt / American Journal

Okay, let’s rehash the Oct. 5 game for a moment. The Scots held the edge in that outing: They scored first, and TA played catchup; they scored again, and TA played catchup again. Not until midway through the last quarter did the Trojans manage to seize the lead.

So what happened?

“We’ve been talking turnovers all year long,” Cooper said. “It’s something we didn’t do very well early in the year – we turned it over; we turned it over against Thornton Academy. We felt that was a big reason why we lost that football game.”

“So you keep preaching it,” Cooper said. “You keep trying to coach it and you hope that kids buy in. Our kids bought in. Our kids protected the ball today; when they ran the ball, they were securing it. We weren’t going to give it over to these guys, except for when we kicked it. And we always talk to our guys about getting to the ball and trying to get it out. We made a couple great plays where we forced turnovers – those weren’t Thornton Academy juggling the ball and dropping it. We’re ripping the ball the ball out. That’s a credit to our guys, being able to do that.”

“We noticed that the quarterback wasn’t holding the ball,” said junior Dawson Bradway, in on many a crucial defensive play. “Coach told us, ‘Rip that ball out’ – and that’s what we did. It worked; turnovers won the game.”

TA turned the ball over five times on Saturday; Bonny Eagle did so once.

Keegan Meredith breaks into a QB keeper for the Scots. Adam Birt / American Journal

“We knew we were the better team,” Ferris said.“We knew we just had to play all four quarters – unlike we did last game. Everyone came out, executed, played a full 48, and we got the job done.”

TA’s opening kickoff portended ugly things (for them): It sailed short, and out-of-bounds at the sideline; the Trojans backed up five yards and tried again. Maturo fielded Thornton’s do-over, and returned 21 yards for first and 10 at BE’s own 38. From there, Ferris slogged for two and Meredith for another two.

Third and six at the 42, and Meredith slung for Shaun Brilliant. Something screwed the Scots up, though – miscommunication? It looked like miscommunication – and Meredith’s pass flew way long.

Bonny Eagle lined up to punt, but Maturo’s a fake-punter extraordinaire, and fake the punt he did. He ran – but he fumbled. Trojan Hayden Pomerleau recovered: First and 10, TA, at the Scots’ 40. Uh oh.

Trojans QB Kobe Gaudette carried for four, and he carried for one, ushering his boys to third and five at the Scots’ 35. Then Gaudette passed, aiming for – well, it doesn’t matter, does it? Because Nick Klein intercepted Gaudette and returned 30 yards into Thornton territory.

First and 10, Scots, at the TA 45. Maturo carried for nine, BE slid backwards 10 on a holding flag, Maturo carried for 13. Ferris ran for 12, Maturo for seven, Ferris for nine, Maturo for 12. First and goal at the TA one: Maturo powered over the line for six and Cam MacDonald split the uprights for one more.

7-zip.

Alex Dyer (8) and Dawson Bradway (23) take down a TA carrier. Adam Birt / American Journal

MacDonald kicked off, landing the ball deep; Isaiah Jones returned from the Thornton five out to their 21, where Bradway brought him down. Cam Gardner held standout TA runningback Isaac Ofielu to a mere one, but Pomerleau followed up with a dash for 14; Gardner and Eli LeBlanc held Ofielu to four – but Gaudette then slipped through the pack, ditched a diving Scots tackler and broke away for a long, long touchdown run, a 60-yarder. Bonny Eagler Jake Humphrey blocked the Trojans’ point-after attempt, however, and the score lodged at 7-6.

The Trojans’ next kickoff landed OB; once more, they back up five and tried again. Maturo grabbed the ball – and jetted upfield 71 yards. First and 10 at the Thornton 16. Meredith kept, gaining five; Ferris crawled ahead a couple more and a TA facemask handed the Scots half the distance. A pair of Ferris runs resulted in a lost yard, but Meredith hit Ferris with a short pass and Ferris curled leftward and over the Trojans’ goal line. MacDonald nailed the PAT: 14-6.

“The first one was just improv, honesty,” Meredith said, asked about his TD throws. “It was designed, coaches said, ‘Throw it to Hump on the slant,’ and he got jammed pretty good, couldn’t come of the line. I just found Nate, and he turned, ran, touchdown.”

“There was just good blocking,” Ferris said, asked about the tally. “I just had to hit the hole – and just like last week, credit to the line. They did their thing all frickin’ day.”

“Our offensive line did an awesome job today,” Cooper said, “being able to open up holes, give Nate, give Zach some creases. We thought we could attack [Thornton] in multiple areas, try to stretch them out in the outside run, then come up back inside, kind of mix that up. Be able to throw over the top – obviously, when you’ve got a weapon like Jacob Humphrey, you’ve got a chance throw over the top at any time. So we just try to do what we do, mix up the offense and let our weapons make plays.”

Zach Maturo powers ahead, neverminding the desperate Thornton hands grabbing at him. Adam Birt / American Journal

Thornton’s next series extended into the second quarter, and culminated in a touchdown – this one a 28-yard Gaudette hurl to Costa Gikas. A flag flew during the play, and initially the ball looked like it would come back. But after a strangely long confab at midfield, the officials nullified not the TD, but the infraction. Gaudette ran a successful two-point conversion and the scoreboard ticked ahead to 14-14.

So far, TA had secured points on a big play, and a waived infraction. No team can rely on lucky breaks, though. If the Trojans hoped to keep pace with the Scots – if the Trojans hoped to overtake the Scots – they needed to do more than roll boxcars a couple times.

They wouldn’t.

“When we were tied, the boys didn’t care,” Maturo said. “The next drive, the lineman got it done and we eventually scored and didn’t look back.”

Bonny Eagle slowly chewed through yardage on their next drive: Humphrey returned the kickoff seven yards; Maturo ran for five, Ferris for six, Meredith for two. Meredith hit Humphrey for a seven-yard hookup. And so on and so forth until four minutes, give or take, remained in the half.

A holding flag cost the Scots 10, and soon they found themselves sizing up a fourth and seven at TA’s 38. Too far away for MacDonald to try a field goal, BE went for it. Alas, Meredith suffered a sack and Bonny Eagle turned over control on downs.

The Scots didn’t go long without possession: On first down, Gaudette unwound into a pass for Gikas, but threw long. Savvy and nimble, Humphrey read Gaudette’s body language, read the ball’s trajectory and laid out horizontally in midair, somehow – somehow! – getting his fingertips on the ball and reeling it in. INT.

Nate Ferris rumbles around a TA defender en route to his first score of the day. Adam Birt / American Journal

“TA, that was a great play they ran, and luckily the ball was thrown a little bit short and I could go and make a play on it,” Humphrey said. “Once Kobe turned his shoulders, I knew kind of where the ball was going, so I could start moving that way.”

Bonny Eagle churned, through next two minutes, upfield. Meredith ran for one, Maturo ran for 23; Meredith hit Ferris for six, then threw incomplete for Maturo. Maturo ran for eight.

Trojan Daniel Tarbox batted one Meredith pass; Trojan Sam Edborg interrupted another: Third and 10 at the TA 33. Meredith lofted up a long ball – and connected with Humphrey, leaping, in the TA end zone. MacDonald nailed the point-after and BE advanced to 21-14.

Humphrey described the TD. “Coach audibled it, pretty much before the play,” he said. “Shaun ran a great route to get the safety to bite all the way down on him. So that left me one-on-one with Peyton Jones, who’s a great player, great athlete, but I was able to come free and Keegan, perfect ball – which is awesome; he’s the best quarterback in the State, obviously – so I was able to go make the play and catch it.”

“I just throw it, lead him and hopefully [Hump] comes under it and makes a play,” Meredith said. “That’s what we’ve been doing all season, and it seemed to work. Worked in the State Championship.”

Now the Scots began to really lock down the day. The team’s defense turned out huge stops with assembly-line regularity and an artist’s flair. Maturo stripped Ofielu of the ball, stole it from him, on TA’s very next drive. An endless list of Scots turned in tackles: Ferris, LeBlanc, Bradway, Garison Emerson, Alex Dyer, Will Horton, etc.

Nick Klein runs back his interception. Adam Birt / American Journal

“TA normally runs power, and once we started stopping that, they couldn’t really do much,” Humphrey said. “Our defense is great – all these boys are the best.”

“Defensively, we played a lot better than we did in the first game,” Bradway said. “I think we went into that game unprepared. They ran power on us, one after another; we’d stop it and then let it go. So the main thing we did this week was stop power. We knew that was going to win us the game.”

“We have the best corners in the State,” Meredith said. “So it’s easier when you can just man ‘em up on, you know, Peyton Jones, Pomerleau. It becomes a nine-man game at that point, so then we’ve just got to stop the run, stop the power. Once we did that, it just became easy on defense.”

“We were just planning on stopping power on their inside run-game, and that’s what we did” Ferris said. “Everyone did their job, filled their gaps…and it was easy.”

“It was easy,” Ferris reiterated. He sounded entirely confident – and yet, a little surprised, too.

“They’re unbelievable,” was all Cooper could find, at first, to say about his defense. Then: “We’re tough, we’re resilient; we bounced back after a little bit of adversity. Our kids played physical, they played smart, they left it all out here. You really can’t ask any more of them from what they did in this game, how they prepared this week. There’s not a lot of secret potions to be able to stop a guy like Isaac Ofielu, you’ve just got to toughen up and go tackle a big, strong runningback. Our kids did that today.”

Nick Klein intercepts for the Scots. Adam Birt / American Journal

Gardner sacked Gaudette for a loss of seven in the early fourth. Moments later, Thornton fumbled and Ferris recovered. From first and 10 at the Trojans’ 35, Meredith stallioned for 14 and Ferris for nine. Ferris capped the series with an 11-yard run and a dive inside the TA pylon: six more BE points.

Props to Trojan Julian Bailey Cottle for blocking MacDonald’s PAT attempt, but saving one point wasn’t going to save Thornton’s life.

Three snaps into their next possession, the Trojans coughed up control yet again. Klein laid the initial hit on Gaudette, who lost his grip on the ball. Gaudette bobbled – he might have recovered, but Ferris swung in for another pummel. The ball hit the turf and Bradway scooped it up, scooped it up and ran.

A fistful of plays later – most of them Maturo runs – Maturo rolled into Thornton’s inner sanctum for his second touchdown of the day. MacDonald added the extra point and Bonny Eagle stood ahead 34-14.

“I was just having fun,” Maturo said. “Those touchdowns were fun as hell.”

Nate Ferris barrels forward. Adam Birt / American Journal

The Trojans did deliver some late-game jitters to the Scots’ side of the field: With roughly 2:00 remaining, Gaudette found Pomerleau for a long passing TD down the middle. TA then successfully onside-kicked. First and 10 at the 50. Gaudette ran for 20, then lined up quick and spiked a snap, stopping the clock. But Thornton couldn’t assemble the plays they needed after that, and turned the ball over on downs with under a minute to go.

BE kneeled the time away. Both teams finish the autumn at 11-1 – but the Scots finish on top.

The Scots last won States in 2016; prior to that, it was 2013. (Then 2008, 2007, 2005 and 2004.)

“My freshman year was cool,” Maturo said, looking back on 2016. “Me, Nate and a couple others of us got to see Nick Thorne and them get it done. But this year was ours, and I knew this group of guys weren’t going to lose – especially with the great coaches we have.”

“We showed our kids a lot of video from 2013,” Cooper said. “2013, our team got beat by Thornton Academy down at Thornton Academy that year, had to play them in the Western Maine Final, and beat them, that year, at our place in the Western Maine Final. Then we had to go play Cheverus in the State game, that was coming off a State Championship, unbeaten streak – a lot of similarities to this year. So that’s kind of what we focused on, all during the week. And kids today, they like those connections, especially when you can build them through football. So our kids really bought in.”

“I feel great, I couldn’t feel better,” Ferris said. “I don’t really even know what to say. It’s emotional. We’ve been working for this for so long. I just want to celebrate.”

“I feel amazing,” Humphrey said. “Best feeling in the world, right now.”

“It’s awesome,” Cooper said. “It’s awesome. It’s a great experience, to be with these kids, who I love; to be able to win a Championship with these guys is something that we’ll never forget.”

BE center Garrett Gonyea launches into a block after snapping. Adam Birt / American Journal

Zach Maturo powers over the TA goal line for BE’s first sixer. Adam Birt / American Journal

Bonny Eagler Cam MacDonald kicks off following his boys’ first score. Adam Birt / American Journal

BE QB Keegan Meredith reels in a snap. Adam Birt / American Journal

Bonny Eaglers Cam Gardner (14), Nick Klein (9), Dawson Bradway (23) and Garison Emerson (15) combine to smother a TA runner. Adam Birt / American Journal

Bonny Eagle’s John Dugan breaks off the line as a snap gets underway. Adam Birt / American Journal

Zach Maturo zips upfield. Adam Birt / American Journal

Nate Ferris stiffarms a would-be TA tackler. Adam Birt / American Journal

Jake Humphrey reels in a pass TD. Adam Birt / American Journal

Jake Humphrey celebrates after his catch/TD. Adam Birt / American Journal

Alex Dyer looks for a Trojan to piledrive. Adam Birt / American Journal

Garison Emerson breaks into motion. Adam Birt / American Journal

Dawson Bradway sets up for the snap. Adam Birt / American Journal

Jake Humphrey interrupts a TA reception attempt, preventing a touchdown. Adam Birt / American Journal

Nate Ferris roars with satisfaction after forcing a TA fumble. Adam Birt / American Journal

Keegan Meredith slogs ahead with the ball, a gaggle of Trojans in tow. Adam Birt / American Journal

Nate Ferris gets inside the pylon for his second touchdown of the day. Adam Birt / American Journal

Comments are not available on this story.