SACO—This one was over quickly.
One year after staging one of the epic games in recent high school football memory, Cheverus traveled to Hill Stadium for a rematch against defending Class A champion Thornton Academy Saturday afternoon, but while last year’s team made all the plays it needed to spring an upset win, this time around, it was all Golden Trojans.
After the Stags went three-and-out to start, Thornton Academy struck for the only points it would need, a 3-yard touchdown run from senior Greg Ruff (remember his name), for a quick 7-0 lead.
On their second possession, the Golden Trojans demonstrated their passing prowess as senior standout quarterback Austin McCrum hit senior Ben Lambert with a 30-yard scoring pass for a 14-0 advantage after one period.
Thornton Academy kept the pressure on in the second quarter, getting a 3-yard scoring run from Ruff and a 6-yard scamper from junior Michael Laverriere for a commanding 29-0 lead at halftime.
Then came the third period, which saw the Golden Trojans nearly surpass their first half points production, even with a mercy rule running clock.
After Ruff induced the running clock with a 4-yard TD run, junior Cameron Cadorette intercepted a pass and returned it 45 yards to paydirt. Lambert then broke free for a 52-yard scoring run and Ruff brought the curtain down with an 80-yard TD scamper.
Thornton Academy’s defense never let Cheverus breathe, holding the Stags to just 74 yards for the game, and went on to a decisive, statement-making 57-0 victory.
The defending champions, who look like a very safe bet to become repeat champions, improved to 2-0 and dropped Cheverus to 1-1 on the young season in the process.
“(Thornton Academy’s) good,” said Stags coach John Wolfgram, who suffered the most lopsided loss of his time with the program. “At this point of the season, we’re not as good as them. That’s just a fact. We lost a lot of kids and they have a lot of kids back. They’re talented and have resources and they’re better than us right now.”
A year ago, Thornton Academy broke through and won its second Class A championship in three seasons. The Golden Trojans returned an abundance of talent and dazzled in their opener, crushing visiting Sanford, 49-0.
Cheverus lost in agonizing fashion to Windham in the Eastern A Final in 2014 and after graduating Joe Fitzpatrick, who produced most of the team’s offense, and lineman extraordinaire Zordan Holman, who is now playing at the University of Connecticut, the Stags are expected to come back to the pack this autumn. Cheverus pulled away in the second half of its opener to down visiting Oxford Hills, 42-14.
The teams have created quite a rivalry over the past half dozen years.
In 2009, the Stags came to Saco for the Western A semifinals and stunned Thornton Academy, 36-7. The next meeting came in the 2011 regional final, which saw Cheverus erase a halftime deficit and prevail, 21-10. In the 2012 regular season, the Stags came to Thornton Academy, won 28-14, and tied the Class A record for consecutive victories with 31. The Golden Trojans got their revenge that November, however, shocking Cheverus in the regional final, 20-13, snapping the state-record streak at 34 wins. The Stags got a degree of payback in the 2013 regular season, romping, 56-7, at home.
Last year’s game was the most memorable, as Cheverus trailed early, then rallied to force overtime before prevailing in a shootout, 48-41.
Saturday, on a perfect afternoon for football, the Stags were hoping to produce some more Saco memories, but Thornton Academy left no doubt that it is simply playing at a different level right now.
The Golden Trojans won the opening coin toss and in their only act of kindness all day, deferred possession to the second half, giving Cheverus the ball first.
After senior Justin Johnston (who had a huge game on this field a year ago) ran for four yards on first down, junior Rylan Benedict was thrown for a two-yard loss by Ruff and senior Dan Baker, last week’s hero, was thrown for a one-yard loss by senior Jonah Wells.
After a punt, Thornton Academy started at its 47 and nine plays, 53 yards and 2 minutes, 51 seconds later, had the only points it would need.
While the Golden Trojans’ offense is renowned for McCrum’s passing wizardry, on this drive, they only threw three times while rushing six.
Laverriere got things started with an eight-yard dash. McCrum kept the ball for five yards to move the chains, then after a McCrum incomplete pass, Laverriere ran for five yards and McCrum hit Hart for 10 and a first down at the Stags’ 25. McCrum hit Lambert for six, then Laverriere ran for six- and 10-yards to set up a first-and-goal at the 3. Ruff barreled in from there and after Cadorette added the extra point, Thornton Academy was up, 7-0, with 7:09 to go in the opening stanza.
Cheverus went backwards on its second possession, as Golden Trojans junior Rome Pura batted down a pass attempt from senior quarterback Isaac Dunn on first down, Baker gained a yard on second down and on third down, Pura sacked Dunn for a 12-yard loss.
Thornton Academy got the ball back at the Stags’ 45 and three plays later, doubled its lead.
After McCrum hit Hart for eight yards and Ruff ran for two to move the chains, Cheverus jumped off-sides. McCrum then hit Lambert out of the backfield and Lambert exploded into the secondary and outran the pursuit to complete a 30-yard scoring play. With 3:53 left in the frame, Cadorette’s PAT made it 14-0. The drive needed just 1:43 to execute.
Dunn gained eight yards on a keeper to start the next Stags’ drive, but Johnston was held to no gain and Benedict was thrown for a one-yard loss, necessitating another punt.
As the first quarter gave way to the second, the Golden Trojans marched for what appeared to be another score, but they shot themselves in the foot instead.
A five-yard McCrum run, a four-yard McCrum-to-Lambert pass and a two-yard Ruff run moved the chains. Laverriere then rushed for a yard and McCrum gained three as the period ended.
In the first 12 minutes, Thornton Academy mustered 113 yards of offense, while Cheverus managed negative-three.
On the first play of the second quarter, Hart caught a nine-yard pass. Ruff then gained six and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on the Stags moved the ball to the Cheverus 22. Ruff appeared to gain 10 more yards, but a holding penalty backed the Golden Trojans to the 28. After Lambert ran for two, McCrum, after completing six straight passes, threw three in a row incomplete and for the first time, the Stags had held on defense.
Cheverus rode that momentum and produced its first threat.
On the next series, sophomore Jack Casale replaced Dunn under center and hit senior Kenny Drelich for seven yards. Johnston then broke free for 27 and a first down at the Thornton Academy 40 before Casale threw incomplete and was sacked for a two-yard loss by Wells and senior Isaac Patry. On third-and-long, freshman Tre Fletcher only gained two yards and the Stags had to punt.
The Golden Trojans started their next drive at their 20 with 8:03 to go in the half and got a first down on an eight-yard McCrum run and a six-yard scamper from Ruff. After McCrum ran for six more, a holding penalty again short-circuited Thornton Academy’s hopes, setting up second-and-15. After McCrum threw incomplete, he missed an open receiver on third down and the Golden Trojans had to punt.
Cheverus started at its 45 midway through the second quarter as Dunn returned to quarterback. Dunn was thrown for a five-yard loss, threw incomplete, then was sacked for a seven-yard loss by senior Evan Russell.
The Golden Trojans looked to have a short field when Hart returned the punt 42 yards, but an illegal block in the back penalty forced Thornton Academy to start at its 31.
That proved to be no problem.
The Golden Trojans rediscovered their offensive firepower and marched 69 yards in just two plays to extend the lead.
The first play was dazzling, as McCrum dropped back to pass, slipped, then still managed to launch a pass 50 yards in the air. Ruff had to alter his route while in full stride, but still managed to come down with the ball. He wasn’t tackled until he reached the Cheverus 3, completing a breathtaking 66-yard pass and catch. Ruff capped the drive with a 3-yard dive and after Cadorette added the extra point, Thornton Academy led, 21-0, with 4:02 to go before halftime.
The Stags again went three-and-out, as sophomore Max Coffin ran for no gain, Dunn lost a yard on a keeper and Baker picked up six, setting up fourth-and-5.
After a punt, the Golden Trojans essentially salted the win away.
The next scoring drive traversed 62 yards on six plays in 92 seconds. McCrum threw two incomplete passes to start, but on the second, an illegal hands to face penalty on Cheverus gave the hosts a first down. A holding penalty backed up Thornton Academy to its 36, but on a screen, McCrum hit Pura for 22 yards and on the next play, Ruff broke tackles and wasn’t brought down until he reached the Stags’ 10. After Ruff ran for six more, Laverriere took it over from 4-yards out and with 1:14 left in the half, instead of kicking an extra point, Cadorette split wide, McCrum took the snap and threw to Cadorette for the two-point conversion and a 29-0 lead.
Cheverus got a 12-yard run from Coffin on first down, but the next play resulted in a one-yard Coffin loss and Wolfgram was content to go into the locker room down four touchdowns.
In the first half, the Golden Trojans had 278 yards to just 35 for the Stags.
Things only got worse for Cheverus in the second half.
Thornton Academy started its initial third quarter drive on its 36 and four plays and 68 seconds later brought about the mercy rule.
After Laverriere ran for nine-yards, he broke free for 38 to the Stags’ 17. After Ruff ran for 13, he completed the drive with a 4-yard run with 10:43 to go in the frame. Cadorette’s PAT made it 36-0.
In a new rule this season, if a team leads by 35 or more points in the second half, the clock runs. That rule was implemented after the Ruff touchdown.
Cheverus could do nothing with its first possession of the second half, as with Casale under center and several starters on the bench for precautionary reasons, junior Michael O’Brien ran for a yard, senior Sam Thayer was held to no gain and after Casale hit O’Brien for 11 yards and a first down, Casale was picked by Cadorette, who returned the ball 45 yards for a score. Cadorette then added the point-after to make it 43-0 with 7:24 left in the third.
The Stags went three-and-out, as Thayer was held to no gain, Casale threw incomplete and sophomore Griffin Watson was thrown for an eight-yard loss.
With just over four minutes left in the period, Thornton Academy started at its 48 and needed one play to reach the magic 50 mark.
Lambert got the handoff, raced through a hole to the left side and outran the pursuit down the left sideline for a 52-yard touchdown. Cadorette’s PAT made it 50-0 with 3:51 to go in the quarter.
After three Cheverus plays picked up no yards, it had to punt and the Golden Trojans got the ball at their 25 with only 27.7 seconds remaining.
A mere 13 seconds later, Thornton Academy was in the end zone for the final time.
It would be Ruff going a full 80 yards, leaving all the Stags in his wake. Cadorette’s PAT with 14 seconds to go in the third made the score, 57-0.
The Golden Trojans managed 196 yards in the period, while Cheverus was held to just 3.
Mercifully, the fourth quarter went quickly.
The Stags did move the ball on their first possession, as runs of nine-yards and four-yards by sophomore Finn Cawley produced one first down and a five-yard O’Brien run followed by a six-yard Cawley scamper moved the chains again. After a questionable offensive pass interference penalty, Cheverus faced a first-and-25 and O’Brien ran for two yards, Cawley caught a pass for four and Casale threw two incomplete passes to turn the ball over on downs.
Thornton Academy got the ball with 5:09 to play and with the second string offense on the field, gained just five yards and had to punt.
The Stags put sophomore Perrin Conant under center for their final series. Conant hit sophomore Dominic Casale for a first down, but that was the last hurrah and time ran out on the Golden Trojans’ emphatic 57-0 victory.
“I was proud of how the kids competed,” said Wolfgram. “We took some kids out of there because I didn’t want to get anyone hurt. We can’t afford to get beat up. That’s the last thing we need.”
Cheverus only managed 74 yards of offense. Johnston led the way with 31 yards on three carries. Casale completed 3-of-8 passes for 22 yards and an interception.
The Stags only committed one turnover and were flagged four times for 45 yards.
Thornton Academy, conversely, had 478 yards of offense.
McCrum finished 8-of-15 for 155 yards and a touchdown. He also ran four times for 24 yards.
Ruff was the big star, rushing 11 times, gaining 155 yards and scoring four TDs.
“We just came out ready to play,” Ruff said. “Cheverus has beaten us the past two years. We got tired of losing. We came out hard. We had motivational videos all week. We wanted to come out and get this one. I just try to get as many yards as possible. One yard can be the difference.”
Laverriere had 83 yards and a TD on eight carries. Lambert ran twice for 54 yards and a touchdown and had three catches for 40 yards and a score. Hart was the top receiver, catching four balls for 93 yards.
The Golden Trojans didn’t turn the ball over, overcame four penalties for 38 yards and played a tremendous game defensively.
“We focused on stopping the run game first and making them pass,” Ruff said.
All in all, it was an amazing showing by the state’s best team, one that might have to scrimmage the likes of Bowdoin, Bates or Colby to truly get a test this autumn.
“We had a great week of practice and we came out and played good, physical football,” said Thornton Academy coach Kevin Kezal. “We got the ball to our playmakers. Greg and Michael ran the ball hard. I’m impressed how our offensive line has come along after replacing three All-Conference players.
“You have to prepare and get ready. Fortunately, we got out on them. We came into this game thinking it would be a one touchdown game and we’d have to make a play at the end. I’m impressed with how well the kids played the entire game. They’re still Cheverus. They have good players and play very disciplined football.”
Thornton Academy looks to improve to 3-0 when it visits 2-0 Deering Friday night. The following weekend, the Golden Trojans have a state game rematch when they play at Windham.
Thornton Academy doesn’t expect to be done in by overconfidence.
“We have to stay humble,” Ruff said. “We only talk about the next team. We don’t focus too far ahead. We take it one week at a time, that’s all.”
“I think our kids do a good job focusing on the week and trying to improve,” said Kezal. “There are some things we didn’t do well today and we’ll have to improve. We have a short week. We have a tough game coming up next week against a good Deering team.”
Cheverus will hope to rebound when it hosts 1-1 Edward Little Saturday.
“We’ll bounce back,” Wolfgram said. “I have high character kids.”
Cheverus senior Frankie Curran (52) and junior Rylan Benedict walk disconsolately off the field after a Thornton Academy touchdown during the Golden Trojans’ 57-0 victory Saturday afternoon.
Mike Strout photos.
Cheverus senior quarterback Isaac Dunn launches a throw downfield.
Cheverus freshman Tre Fletcher is brought down by Thornton Academy junior Rome Pura (40) and senior Ben Lambert.
Cheverus senior Dan Baker tries to elude a tackler.
Cheverus senior Sam Thayer looks for running room.
Cheverus freshman Tre Fletcher tackles Thornton Academy senior Corey Hart.
C- 0 0 0 0- 0
TA- 14 15 28 0- 57
TA- Ruff 3 run (Cadorette kick)
TA- Lambert 30 pass from McCrum (Cadorette kick)
TA- Ruff 3 run (Cadorette kick)
TA- Laverriere 6 run (McCrum pass to Cadorette)
TA- Ruff 4 run (Cadorette kick)
TA- Cadorette 45 interception return (Cadorette kick)
TA- Lambert 52 run (Cadorette kick)
TA- Ruff 80 run (Cadorette kick)