SOUTH BERWICK — Trailing by four at halftime, the Thornton Academy football team knew it would have to make adjustments to come back against Marshwood. And not just on the field.

“We had to stop sabotaging ourselves,” said senior linebacker Cody Ruff. “We had to stay focused on the next play. No matter what happens, the next play is the most important play.”

Aided by outstanding special teams play, the Trojans took control in the second half and pulled away from the Hawks, 33-17, in an interclass matchup between two of the best high school football programs in the state, both perennial championship contenders.

Thornton (2-0) scored four touchdowns in the second half, three by quarterback Jack Emerson, who finished with four. Three were set up by long kick returns; the fourth by a long interception return.

“The kicking game was big in the second half,” said Marshwood Coach Alex Rotsko. “Those big plays hurt. And that was the difference.”

The first half ended with Marshwood (1-1) ahead 10-6, the lead courtesy of a 21-yard shovel pass from Aiden Sullivan to Cameron Cornett on fourth-and-goal. Cornell weaved his way through several defenders, then plowed his way in from the 3.


But the kickoff to open the third quarter was returned 64 yards by Thornton’s Alex St. John to the 22. That set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Hayden Whitney three plays later. The PAT kick was wide, leaving Thornton with a 12-10 lead.

After giving up a first down, the Trojans forced a punt, that was returned 70 yards down the right sideline by Anthony Jones to the 19. Emerson scored on an 18-yard dash up the middle and also rushed for the 2-point conversion, and it was suddenly 20-10.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Dontea Noel returned a punt 52 yards to the Marshwood 18. Four plays later, Emerson, who rushed for 92 yards, scored from the 7 to make it 26-10.

“We spend a lot of time on that, we consider those offensive plays,” Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal said of the return game. “We’re going to work on those a lot, get our athletes on the field for those. Certainly, plays like that will get you going.”

Both offensively and defensively.

“Those are huge momentum boosts for us,” said Ruff, who had an interception in the third quarter. “The morale goes up. We work on those all the time and it’s great to see all that hard work pay off.”


The kick returns left Thornton’s offense with short fields to navigate. And the Trojans are very dangerous in that situation.

“When we have those big plays like that, we just band together,” said Emerson. “Like Cody said, it’s just a huge momentum boost.”

Emerson’s final touchdown, a 4-yard run with 4:24 left, came after a 73-yard interception return by Camden Fecteau.

Kezal saw this as a big win for this Trojans. “That’s a very good team and they don’t lose often on this field,” he noted.

And the Hawks pushed the Trojans. Trailing by 20-10, they moved to a first down at the Thornton 30 before Ruff intercepted a tipped ball at the 19. Later, with the score 26-10, Marshwood had a first down at the Thornton 15, but a 15-yard penalty stopped that drive.

“We hung with them for most of the game,” said Rotsko.

For the Trojans, the victory was nice, but more work is to be done.

“After two games, pretty good,” said Ruff. “But we can always get better.”

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