SACO—After turning heads a year ago with an eight-win season and a trip to the Western Class A semifinals, the Scarborough football team entered 2011 full of optimism.
After a convincing win over preseason favorite Windham on Opening Night, the Red Storm appeared primed for great things, but the team’s season soon took a disappointing turn and Scarborough entered Saturday afternoon’s showdown at once-beaten Thornton Academy in a must-win situation.
The Red Storm certainly gave their all, leading 7-0 early and 14-7 at halftime, but Scarborough’s offense went flat in the second half and the Golden Trojans’ running attack turned the tide.
Thornton Academy scored 21 unanswered points and went on to a 28-14 victory, improving to 6-1 in the process and dropping the Red Storm to the brink of playoff elimination at 2-5.
“It was a physical game up front and we couldn’t get much of a running game going in the second half,” said second-year Scarborough coach Lance Johnson. “We were forced to throw and it’s the story of our season, too many mistakes.”
After beating Windham in the opener, Scarborough fell at Sanford, 23-12, before bouncing back for a 42-0 home triumph over Biddeford. In that game, however, senior star running back Scott Thibeault suffered a back injury and his absence was noticeable over the past three weeks as the Red Storm were beaten by visiting Bonny Eagle (34-20), host Cheverus (38-0) and visiting Deering (14-7).
Thornton Academy, meanwhile, has lived up to its preseason billing as a top contender. The Golden Trojans opened with a 20-6 home win over Bonny Eagle. After a 20-16 setback at South Portland, Thornton Academy held off visiting Windham (7-0), rolled at Noble (42-14), rallied for a confidence-building 28-21 triumph at Deering, then held off upset-minded host Portland, 14-12.
The Golden Trojans had won all six previous meetings, including a 33-7 romp in Scarborough a year ago, but Saturday, the desperate Red Storm controlled play most of the first half.
The first two times Thornton Academy had the ball, it went three-and-out and had to punt. On Scarborough’s second possession, it took over at its 48 and quickly found the end zone.
After a pass interference penalty moved the ball into Golden Trojans’ territory, Thibeault burst through a hole on the left side and raced 37 yards for the game’s first touchdown. Junior Greg Viola booted the extra point and with 7 minutes to play in the opening stanza, the Red Storm was up, 7-0.
The hosts would answer, driving 79 yards on 11 plays, chewing up 5 minutes, 34 seconds to tie things up. Junior workhorse Nick Kenney did much of the damage, rushing six times for 26 yards. Junior quarterback Eric Christensen completed a pair of passes to move the chains and with 1:21 to go in the first, Christensen faked a handoff to his three-man backfield and found a wide open junior Dakota Tarbox behind the secondary for a 39-yard scoring play. Junior Brandon Briggs’ extra point made it a 7-7 game after one.
Scarborough drove to the Thornton Academy 8 early in the second period, but consecutive incomplete passes from sophomore quarterback Ben Greenberg gave the ball back to the Golden Trojans.
Thornton Academy then embarked on another long, time consuming drive, moving from its 8 as far as the Scarborough 31 before a holding penalty moved it back and Christensen was intercepted by Red Storm senior Kolbey Adams. Despite draining 6:29 from the clock on a 14-play drive, the Golden Trojans had nothing to show for it.
Taking over at midfield, Scarborough took advantage of the turnover and marched for the go ahead score.
A 13-yard Thibeault run got things started and on the next play, Greenberg found senior David Conceison for 36 yards to the Thornton Academy 10. After a bad snap backed the visitors to the 26, Greenberg threw incomplete, then was intercepted by senior John Remmes, but the pick was negated by a pass interference call.
The Red Storm got a new set of downs from the 13 and two plays later, Greenberg hit sophomore Charlie Raybine in the left flat and Raybine strolled into the end zone to complete a 10-yard scoring pass with 2:08 to go before halftime. Viola’s extra point put Scarborough up, 14-7.
The teams traded interceptions (Conceison for Scarborough, Remmes for Thornton Academy) before the clock ran out.
“It was a great first half,” Johnson said. “We took advantage of a couple opportunities. We made a couple throws and Scotty made one good run. We needed to do a little more.”
In the first 24 minutes, the Red Storm had a 169-163 edge in yardage and was sitting pretty, but the Golden Trojans were about to take the game away.
Scarborough got the ball first in the second half, but on the third play, Greenberg was picked again by Remmes, who returned it 15 yards to the Red Storm 19.
Six plays later, Thornton Academy was even as sophomore Andrew Libby capped the drive with an 8-yard run. Briggs’ extra point made it 14-14 with 7:34 left in the third quarter.
Scarborough promptly went three-and-out and the hosts took over at their 23. Nine plays and 3:55 later, the Golden Trojans were on top to stay.
A 17-yard Christensen-to-Tarbox pass got things going. After a 10-yard run by Kenney put the ball at the Red Storm 25, Christensen threw a jump ball toward the left front stripe of the end zone and Tarbox (who stands 6-foot-4) outleaped Scarborough senior Ben Alper for the touchdown catch. Briggs made it 21-14 with the extra point with 1:58 to go in the stanza.
As the third period gave way to the fourth, Scarborough moved into Thornton Academy territory, but the drive stalled at the 49. On fourth-and-4, the Red Storm set up to punt, but attempted a fake that resulted in an incomplete pass from Viola.
The Golden Trojans had a chance to seize control of the game, but on the first play, Kenney fumbled and Scarborough senior Conor McCann recovered. The Red Storm gave the ball right back, however, as Greenberg was sacked by junior Connor McCrum, fumbled and senior Marc Boissonnault recovered at the Thornton Academy 40.
This time, the Golden Trojans capitalized and drove 60 yards on nine plays in 3:48 to gain some breathing room. Kenney rushed twice for 20 yards to move the ball into Red Storm territory. A facemask penalty got Thornton Academy close and after Kenney ran 14 yards to the 1, Christensen did the rest, falling forward for a 1-yard TD run with 4:37 to play. Briggs’ extra point extended the lead to 28-14.
The next Scarborough possession ended with a Tarbox interception and the Golden Trojans ran out the final 3:56 to wrap up their 28-14 triumph.
“I think our kids played hard,” Johnson said. “They have all year. They’re great kids. It’s not the season we wanted, but they come to practice every day and work extremely hard. They’re extremely dedicated and do a great job trying to prepare. We just haven’t performed on game day.”
Thibeault overcame his back injury and a couple more maladies inflicted upon him during the game to rush for 112 yards and a TD on a dozen carries.
“With the type of injury (Scott) has, the doctor wouldn’t put him out there if he wasn’t healthy,” Johnson said. “He’s been sitting for four weeks. He hasn’t been getting hit in practice, that’s for sure. It’s good to see him back. He said he felt fine.”
The rest of the offense struggled as Greenberg finished 3-of-15 for 105 yards and a touchdown, with three interceptions. McCann caught a pass for 59 yards, Conceison had two receptions for 44 and Raybine one for 10 yards and a TD. Junior Dillon Russo, who was such a big part of the offense against Deering, only rushed three times for 3 yards. He also completed two passes for eight yards.
The Red Storm finished with 225 yards, but were done in by four turnovers.
Thornton Academy got 165 yards on 31 carries from Kenney. Libby gained 64 yards and scored a TD on 14 rushes. Christensen wound up 5-of-14 for 97 yards with two TDs and two interceptions. He also rushed eight times for 53 yards and a score. Tarbox had four catches for 87 yards and a touchdown.
The Golden Trojans had three turnovers, but gained 365 yards.
While Thornton Academy takes aim at the No. 2 playoff spot when it closes the regular season at home against winless Biddeford next weekend, Scarborough will go to 4-3 Gorham in a game that’s pivotal for both squads.
“I think there’s hope,” Johnson said. “It’s been a funny season. It depends on who wins and loses. (Windham’s win over South Portland Saturday was) a good thing. (Bonny Eagle’s win over Deering was) not. There are a couple 4-4 teams I think we can slide in front of with our strength of schedule.”
S- 7 7 0 0- 14
TA- 7 0 14 7- 28
S- Thibeault 52 run (Viola kick)
TA- Tarbox 39 pass from Christensen (Briggs kick)
S- Raybine 10 pass from Greenberg (Viola kick)
TA- Libby 8 run (Briggs kick)
TA- Tarbox 25 pass from Christensen (Briggs kick)
TA- Christensen 1 run (Briggs kick)