Oxford Hills head coach Mark Soehren hugs his son and quarterback Eli after Saturday’s Class A state championship football game against Thornton Academy at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Brewster Burns photo

Championships are not won overnight.

The process of building Oxford Hills football team into a squad capable of winning the school’s first Class A title took years. That journey culminated Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland with a redemptive 21-7 win against Thornton Academy.

When Mark Soehren took over as varsity coach in 2012, the Vikings were coming off a three-year stretch when they went 2-22. They had not made the playoffs or had a winning season since 2005.

Slowly, they made some progress. In 2019, Soehren’s squad went 6-5. It was the first year of the eight-team statewide Class A and they advanced to the semifinal, losing to eventual champion Bonny Eagle. In 2021, Oxford Hills advanced to the state championship for just the second time in school history, and first since 1999, but lost to a senior-laden and very talented Thornton squad 42-27.

This time around, it was Oxford Hills loaded with experienced seniors. This time, the path to a championship was completed.

“I could go on for a half an hour about that but, yeah, it’s been an incredibly long journey,” Soehren said. “There’s been a lot of bad times and we just said we’re going to trust the process and work hard and have kids buy in.”


Soehren shared the victory with his son Elias, the team’s standout quarterback.

“Watching my dad while growing up and him not getting (a championship) and then embracing him right here when we got one, it was pretty emotional,” Elias Soehren said.

Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal could appreciate Oxford Hills’ accomplishment. Kezal has won five state titles. His first in 2012 came in his 13th season.

“Mark’s done the things the right way there,” Kezal said. “There’s a process to the whole thing. I’m happy for Mark. And to be able to do it with your son, that’s a special moment.”

HUNTER TARDIFF made the pivotal play in the Class A game when he returned an interception 17 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter for what became the game’s final score.

Tardiff is the son of former Oxford Hills standout Jeremy Tardiff, the 1994 Fitzpatrick Trophy winner.


“I feel like my whole life my father has pushed me as hard as he could for this moment right here and he helped coach these boys up through the years and we’ve worked for this since we were this big,” Hunter Tardiff said, holding his hand at his waist. “We worked for this day-in and day-out all season and it prevailed. I don’t even know what to say at this point I’m just so flabbergasted.”

THORNTON HAD limited success but did have some standout performers.

Running back Hayden Whitney carried the ball 26 times for 132 hard yards.

Henry Lausier had two interceptions, two kickoff returns of over 40 yards, and also caught three passes for 96 yards including the 66-yarder for Thornton’s only touchdown.

“He’s a dynamite player for us and that’s why he’s a captain of our team,” Kezal said of Lausier.

Adam Savage of Skowhegan breaks away for a large gain in the first quarter against Portland in the Class B football state final. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

SKOWHEGAN’S ADAM SAVAGE didn’t get credit for his 74 yard run, which he took to the end zone, on the River Hawks’ third offensive play because of a holding penalty. But the 6-foot-7 quarterback said that play did make a statement early in what would be Skowhegan’s 20-14 win against Portland – the school’s first state title since 1978.


“A hundred percent. Even though it got called back it just shows we had the right game plan. We knew they were running man (defense). We ran away from the man. We overloaded one side and ran away from it and it showed. We just game-planned well,” Savage said.

Savage, who had a nearly 70-yard run nullified by another penalty on the very next snap, finished with 154 yards on 26 carries, completed 8 of 9 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, intercepted two passes and made a number of tackles.

Savage was clearly the star but when asked why Skowhegan’s offense dominated in the first half en route to a 20-6 lead at the break, he leaned his large frame down and lowered his voice to provide the answer.

“Our offensive line. Hands down. We’ve got some big boys. We’ve got some boys who work hard. Our right guard Mikey Welch is probably one of the smallest guards in the state and he has so much heart. He just goes out there and plays with everything he has every game. We just have an amazing front line.”

AMONG SKOWHEGAN’S bigger lineman are seniors Collin LePage and Brayden Carr. LePage is a strong 6-foot-5 player while Carr is nearly as tall and is in the 300-pound range.

LePage, a tackle on offense and defensive end, played most of the game on a badly sprained left ankle. With the ankle heavily taped (and then taped some more), he often had to skip across the field to get to his position and take pressure off the injured joint.


“I was just trying to keep it from stiffening up on me to stay in the game,” LePage said. “I’m a senior. It’s my last game. I wasn’t coming out of this one, I’ll tell you that.”

Carr, who lives in the small town of Harmony is called Big Country by teammates. He was often a lead blocker for Savage on off tackle runs as a pulling guard.

“I knew coming in, I didn’t have any doubt in my mind that we would be more physical up front and faster than they were,” Carr said.

One play late in the second quarter stood out, not for the distance covered but rather because of the way Carr came through the hole, was searching for someone to hit and was never engaged by the Portland defense.

“We call him Big Country for a reason,” Savage said. “You don’t want to mess with him. He’s pretty big.”

PORTLAND COACH JASON MacLEOD said he could feel the momentum shift in Portland’s favor when the Bulldogs cut the lead to 20-14 with 49 seconds left in the third quarter on a Kennedy Charles run followed by a two-point run by Andrew Brewer.

“We got the stop, converted the fourth down pass and punched it in with the two-point conversion so we certainly thought we had momentum on our side and then we got another stop and came down the field,” said MacLeod, who has led Portland to an 18-4 record over the past two seasons.

Portland advanced the ball from its own 31 to the Skowhegan 34 with a bit under five minutes to play. On third-and-nine while being pressured, Charles threw a high-lofted pass to the right side of the field that Savage was able to easily intercept.

“At the end of the day they made the plays when it was most important and created turnovers when it was most important. I was really impressed with what they did in all three phases of the game,” MacLeod said.

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