SACO — Zach Matthews had a message for his Bedford High football team as it left New Hampshire to take on Thornton Academy in the latest battle of the states.

The Bulldogs had something to learn, and something to prove.

“Some people would look at it and say for us in New Hampshire, it doesn’t count for us or against us in the standings. So some people would say ‘Oh, that game doesn’t matter,'” Matthews said. “For us, we treated it as an experience for our kids to see what it was like to get on a bus, go on a long road trip like you would in college, and play a really good opponent.”

Bedford passed the test. The Bulldogs played dominant defense and came up with a key third-quarter scoring drive Saturday afternoon to defeat the three-time defending Class A champion Golden Trojans, 16-10.

Thornton Academy fell to 1-2 and has lost consecutive games for the first time since losing its regular-season finale and then its opening-round playoff game in 2016.

“Like last week, we just needed to finish some drives off,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal, whose team was coming off a loss to Oxford Hills. “We’re close, we’re just not getting over the hump to beat a really good football team.”


This fall marks the first time New Hampshire teams are playing Maine in the regular season. New Hampshire teams lead the series 3-1, with one more game remaining – Oxford Hills at Portsmouth/Oyster River on Oct. 21.

The Bulldogs (2-1) were eager to score another victory for their state.

“One hundred percent,” said Bedford safety Dom Tagliaferro, who had two interceptions. “It was really good to come out on top and represent New Hampshire well.”

It wasn’t easy. Defenses dominated in a physical battle, with both teams recording three turnovers, combining for 12 tackles for loss and making big plays and momentum-halting stops to keep the momentum needle hanging in the middle.

“It was a fistfight for sure,” Thornton senior linebacker Mac Lowe said.

Lowe made a play that seemed to turn the game with Thornton trailing 7-3 early in the third quarter, coming off the edge and making a leaping interception of a screen pass that gave the Trojans the ball at the Bedford 36. Two plays later, Hayden Whitney got free around the left side for a 26-yard touchdown run that put Thornton up 10-7 with 9:54 left in the third.


“All week, I’ve been practicing outside reads, waiting for that,” Lowe said. “We needed something to happen. It gave extra fire to our offense to get something done.”

Bedford responded. A big tackle by Thornton’s Caden True for a loss of 2 put the Bulldogs in a third-and-12 hole from their 20, but Danny Black (8 of 15, 125 yards) escaped pressure and hit Tagliaferro for 52 yards to the Thornton 28. Four plays later, Ledger Russell (21 carries, 96 yards) bounced off a defender and plunged into the end zone from a yard out for a 14-10 lead with 5:58 to go in the third.

“It kind of changed our whole team’s mood,” Russell said. “After a long play like that, everyone was hyped up. I was hyped up.”

Bedford’s defense didn’t let the Golden Trojans regain control. Thornton threatened two drives later when Ryan O’Keefe found Xander Cantara for 53 yards to the Bedford 12, but the Bulldogs forced a turnover on downs with Drake Sutton’s fourth-down sack.

The Bulldogs seemed to ice the game when O’Keefe was called for intentional grounding in the end zone for a safety with 1:28 to play, but Thornton Academy recovered the onside kick. Bedford held tight again, with Tagliaferro’s second interception finally sealing it.

“I had a feeling watching film that it was going to be a defensive battle, and it certainly was that,” said Matthews, whose team also got a 20-yard touchdown pass from Black to Colby Snow. “We were able today to get a couple more stops and make a couple more plays. Tough battle, but we’ll take it.”

Meanwhile, the powerful Trojans are in the unfamiliar position of trying to climb out from a losing record.

“I have a lot of confidence in this team,” Lowe said. “I think there’s a fire in us that’s starting to burn.”

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.