SACO — Thornton Academy is headed back to defend its Class A football championship after a convincing 38-8 semifinal win against Sanford on Friday night.

The second-seeded Golden Trojans were effective and efficient in all phases of the game.

Thornton’s Hayden Whitney ran for three touchdowns and 122 yards in the first half. Despite persistent showers, quarterback Ryan O’Keefe was spot-on (9 of 13, 184 yards) in a passing game that featured Carlos Eboli (seven catches, 147 yards, 1 touchdown). The defense shut down Sanford’s 224-pound power back, Jordan Bissonnette (11 carries, 32 yards), and kicker J.P. Baez made all five point-after attempts and drilled a 27-yard field goal just before halftime for a 38-0 lead.

“Offensively, we wanted to hold onto the ball and not turn it over. I thought we did a great job. We didn’t fumble. I thought Ryan managed the game really well,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal. “He threw the ball out of bounds when he had to, ran the ball a couple times. And obviously he made some great throws, too. Defensively, you want to keep the ball in front, not give up any big plays and limit bad penalties.”

In short, Thornton (8-2) looked ready for its rematch against No. 1 Oxford Hills (10-0) on Nov. 19 at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium. Top-ranked Oxford Hills beat Bonny Eagle, 36-0, in its semifinal Friday night. Thornton won last year’s title game, 42-27, to cap a perfect season.

The Vikings won this year’s regular-season meeting, 25-20, in a Week 2 game in Saco. The next week, Thornton lost to Bedford, New Hampshire, to slip to 1-2, and then barely escaped against Kennebunk with a 15-13 win.


“After Week 3, it was like, we have a long way to go,” Kezal said. “I credit these kids. It was one week at a time. It wasn’t always pretty. It took us awhile to hit our stride. … We get another shot at (Oxford Hills). It will be a heck of a challenge.”

Thornton’s senior outside linebacker, Mac Lowe, said, “We’ll get there any way we can and that’s exactly what we’ve done. We’ll practice hard this week and prepare for Oxford Hills and hopefully take it home again.”

Lowe broke the game open when he stepped in front of a Bissonnette swing pass and raced untouched for a 31-yard interception return. With Baez’s kick, it was 21-0, just 21 seconds after Whitney’s second touchdown run.

Before the half was done, O’Keefe and Eboli had hooked up for a touchdown on a 30-yard wide receiver screen, and Whitney went in standing behind pulling guard Matthew Kimball for an 11-yard touchdown.

The game didn’t look like it would be so lopsided after the first two possessions. Sanford (6-5) got a sack from Adrian Zea that led to a defensive stop, and then was able to get a first down and push the ball into Thornton territory before turning it over on downs.

“If we could have written it up, that’s the way we would have wanted it to start, for sure,” said Sanford Coach Mike Fallon. “But they responded really well. They score fast. They’re just really, really good.”

Bissonnette played much of the game at quarterback and completed 5 of 8 passes for 91 yards, including a late score to LJ McFarland and a 2-point conversion pass to Makai Bougie.

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