SACO—The Thornton Academy football team, a regional finalist in 2011, is as highly touted as anyone coming into the 2012 season and for one day at least, the Golden Trojans lived up to billing.
Unfortunately for the Deering Rams, it came at their expense.
Saturday afternoon at Dr. Paul S. Hill Jr. Stadium, Thornton Academy controlled play virtually the whole way, took an early lead, broke the game open in the second half and went on to a 44-14 triumph, handing Deering its first opening game loss since 2005.
The Golden Trojans racked up 444 yards of offense, got two game-breaking plays from junior standout Andrew Libby, a 91-yard TD pass from senior quarterback Eric Christensen to classmate Dakota Tarbox and a solid 48-minute defensive effort to kick off their season in style, giving the Rams an idea where they stand at this early juncture.
“We never gave up,” said Deering coach Jon Gallant. “We had stretches where we were really good, but we didn’t capitalize and finish. Against a good team, you can’t do that. We did stupid stuff. It’s a matter of taking this and learning and using what happened today to fuel us next week.”
Last year, Thornton Academy went to Deering and knocked the Rams from the unbeaten ranks with a 28-21 decision.
Deering’s last win over the Golden Trojans came in the 2010 Western Class A quarterfinals, 56-18.
Saturday, Thornton Academy took command early and never looked back.
The Rams got the ball first, but a false start penalty short-circuited their hopes and they went three-and-out.
The hosts then drove and took the lead for good.
The Golden Trojans moved 56 yards and five plays in a little over two minutes. Christensen and senior Nick Kenney both ran twice to move the ball to the Deering 21 where Christensen lofted a pass to junior Cody Lynn, who came down with the ball in the end zone. Senior Brandon Briggs added the point-after and Thornton Academy had a quick 7-0 advantage.
The Rams again went three-and-out and the Golden Trojans marched from their 41 deep into Deering territory. A 15-yard pass from Christensen to Tarbox moved the ball across midfield. A clutch 15-yard scramble by Christensen on fourth-and-10 put the ball at the 10, but a bad snap backed the hosts up and they had to settle for a 26-yard Briggs field goal, which made it 10-0 with just 11.5 seconds remaining in the quarter.
In the first 12 minutes, Thornton Academy outgained the Rams, 108 yards to 3.
Deering did a much better job defensively in the second quarter, but Libby struck on special teams just 48 seconds into the new stanza.
After Deering’s offense went three-and-out for a third straight time, sophomore Jacob Coon’s punt was taken by Libby on the run at the Golden Trojans’ 43 and Libby broke to the right sideline, stayed inbounds and outraced the pursuit for a 57-yard score. Briggs’ extra point made it 17-0 Thornton Academy with 11:12 still to go in the first half.
That would be it for scoring before halftime.
The Rams did have a golden opportunity just after Libby’s TD when senior Dominic Lauture returned the kickoff 46 yards and a facemask penalty was tacked on, giving Deering possession at the Golden Trojans’ 34. A 14-yard Lauture run set up first-and-goal from the 9, but on third down, a pass from junior quarterback Mike Marzilli to Lauture resulted in a five-yard loss. On fourth-and-goal, Marzilli tried to run, but only gained three yards and Deering had to give ball back on downs.
The teams traded punts from there and it was on to halftime.
The Rams offense managed 85 yards in the second quarter, while Thornton Academy was held to 21.
In the third period, Deering momentarily made it a contest, but Libby broke another big play and the Golden Trojans rolled from there.
After the teams traded punts to start the second half, the Golden Trojans were looking to drive when Christensen was intercepted by Rams senior Kenny Sweet, who returned the ball 47 yards to the Thornton Academy 4 before he was finally stopped.
Two Sweet rushes gained just two yards, so Deering went to the air and Marzilli found senior James Doyle for a 2-yard scoring pass for the Rams’ first points of the season. Coon’s extra point cut the deficit to 17-7 with 6:38 to play in the third quarter.
If Deering had gotten a defensive stop, perhaps it could have made things interesting the rest of the way, but on third-and-1 from the 35, Libby took a handoff, bounced off a mass of humanity at the line, then broke free. Nobody catches Libby from behind and he strolled into the end zone to complete a game-turning 65-yard scoring run. Briggs kicked the extra point to make it 24-7, which was how the third period ended.
“We answered,” said Golden Trojans coach Kevin Kezal. “That’s what we talk about. That was huge. If we went three-and-out and they got the ball, they’d have all the emotion. He had great blocking and he split the two defenders and he went.”
Late in the third, Thornton Academy began a drive at its 47. Despite a bad snap which set up a second-and-23, the hosts managed to move the ball (thanks in large part to a late hit penalty on the Rams and a 27-yard pass from Christensen to Tarbox) down to the Deering 2 as time expired.
On the first play of the fourth quarter, Kenney barreled in from 2-yards out and Briggs’ extra point gave the Golden Trojans a 31-7 advantage and even more breathing room.
From there, it was academic.
After a Libby interception denied a Rams’ threat, Thornton Academy began at its 6. After Libby rushed for three yards, Christensen went play action and found Tarbox wide open behind the defense. Tarbox showed a nice burst of speed and was able to outrun the Deering secondary all the way to the end zone to complete a stirring 91-yard pass and catch. The extra point pushed the lead to 38-7 with 8:27 to play.
The Rams bounced right back thanks to a big play of their own. Sweet broke free for a 70-yard run before he was caught from behind by Libby at the 9. Three plays later, Marzilli snuck in from the 1 and Coon’s extra point made it 38-14 with 7:04 to go.
The hosts then brought in their reserves and that group drove for one final score. The running of sophomore backup quarterback C.J. Michaud and senior Josh Coffin moved the ball down the field and Coffin scored from 2-yards out with 2:51 left. Kezal instructed Michaud to take a knee on the two-point conversion and that sportsmanlike gesture kept the score at 44-14, which is how the game ended.
Statistically, the Golden Trojans impressed across the board. Kenney rushed 19 times for 93 yards and a score. Libby gained 75 yards (65 on the one TD run) on seven attempts. Christensen rushed six times and gained 41 yards. Senior Dylan Morton had three attempts, good for 6 yards. Coffin wound up gaining 48 yards and scoring once on four tries. Michaud had two attempts for 19 yards, junior Jesse Meikle two for 15 and senior Alex Rizeakos carried the ball once and lost a yard.
Through the air, Christensen completed 5-of-12 attempts, good for 159 yards and two TDs. Tarbox had a huge day, catching three balls for 133 yards and a TD. Lynn had one TD catch for 21 yards and Libby had once reception for 5 yards. Defensively, Libby picked off a pass, sophomore D’Andre Morgan recovered a fumble and junior Cody Meserve had a sack.
Thornton Academy knows that it’s getting high praise from the pundits, but is focusing on the task at hand going forward.
“This was a good start for us,” said Kezal. “We don’t care about the preseason (ranking). We worry about the postseason one. It’s great having the press. We’re happy to have it, but we’ll take it one week at a time. It’s a tough league.”
Deering’s offense was paced by Lauture (12 rushes for 95 yards) and Sweet (eight rushes for 91 yards). Marzilli gained 15 yards on nine attempts and scored a touchdown. Senior Adam Rodriguez ran once for zero yards, while sophomore Fritz Gemmer had no yards on two tries. Through the air, Marzilli finished 5-of-11 for 40 yards with an interception and a touchdown. The Rams were penalized five times for 45 yards. Sweet had an interception.
“It took us awhile,” said Gallant. “Our line wasn’t ready. After the first quarter, they came out and really started to take it personally to work harder and give the backs a chance. We have a lot of guys out here that this was the first game that counts. (Thornton’s) one of the top teams for a reason. They have everybody back. They have a great program. They have great players. They have 80 kids on the sidelines. They have great community support and a great facility. A lot of pride here.”
Kezal likes Deering’s upside.
“Deering’s going to win some games,” Kezal said. “They have some quality players. They have size up front. We felt it would be a tough opener for us. Their athleticism concerned us. They have really good football players.”
While Thornton Academy is at Gorham Friday, Deering will play its home opener against an 0-1 Sanford squad coming off a 43-6 home loss to two-time defending champion Cheverus.
The Rams and newly-named Spartans didn’t meet last year.
“It will be the first time in three weeks we’ll be on our home field,” said Gallant. “We hardly get to practice on it. We look forward to any time we can play a game, home or away. We’ll let it all go on Friday night. We have ability if we work hard. “
D- 0 0 7 7- 14
TA- 10 7 7 20- 44
TA- Lynn 2 pass from Christiansen (Briggs kick)
TA- Briggs 26 FG
TA- Libby 57 punt return (Briggs kick)
D- Doyle 2 pass from Marzilli (Coon kick)
TA- Libby 65 run (Briggs kick)
TA- Kenney 2 run (Briggs kick)
TA- Tarbox 91 pass from Christiansen (Briggs kick)
D- Marzilli 1 run (Coon kick)
TA- Coffin 2 run (no conversion attempt)