Thornton Academy had the backfield talent heading into the season to be a state title contender. The Golden Trojans had the receivers and the defense. The question was did the team have the talent in the offensive line to take Thornton where it wanted to go
A 20-13 win over Cheverus for the Western Maine Class A football championship last Saturday answered those questions. That was one hurdle cleared. The final one comes Saturday.
The offensive line comprised of center Bobby Begin, guards David LaPauloue and Michael Granger and tackles Connor McCrum and Ian Paul knocked the Stags off the ball so running back Andrew Libby could shred the defense.
Ashton Lord, who shares duties with McCrum at left tackle, also played a key role.
Thornton is in its first state championship game since winning in 1988. The Golden Trojans (10-1) play Lawrence High (11-0) at 11:06 a.m. Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
The team had only one starter back (LaPauloue) in its offensive line. Begin and LaPauloue were defensive starters a year ago so they were accustomed to the hard knocks of Class A. McCrum was too as the starting tight end. The others were new to being starters.
“They developed sooner than we thought,” said head coach Kevin Kezal of the offensive line. “They are big and athletic kids who move pretty well. They’ve done a great job.”
Fullback Nick Kenney is a beneficiary of the blocking as is Libby, quarterback Eric Christensen and wing back Dylan Morton. They are the chief ballcarriers for the team.
“The line has done a really good job winning the scrimmage,” said Kenney, the team’s leading rusher. “They’re really good blockers and they have good size so you can use them as a shield when you’re carrying the ball. I thought Saturday was their best game of the season. They all stepped up their performances.”
The coaching staff saw a renewed sense of purpose from the whole team in the regional semifinals against Scarborough. Thornton learned from the mistakes of the regular-season game with Cheverus in Week 7.
“We played a very physical game against Scarborough and continued it against Cheverus, ” said Paul.
The line started clicking early in the season.
“We definitely came together pretty quickly,” said Lord, a sophomore.
Begin, LaPauloue and Granger have been teammates since the seventh grade.
“We’ve been playing together for a while,” said Begin. “We know each other so well. We help each other make reads and calls. It all works out well. Our chemistry really helps.”
The line was in the weight room in January after returning to school from Christmas break last year.
“We worked out all throughout the school year,” said Begin, a tri-captain with McCrum and Christensen. “During last summer, we lifted weights three mornings a week. We pushed each other to do better. It helped us get stronger for the season. When we do all the right things, we’re opening holes and protecting Eric. We didn’t make any mistakes against Cheverus.”
When the Golden Trojans go with double tight ends, it makes for a very imposing line. Tight ends Dakota Tarbox and Cody Lynn are both 6-foot-3 and in the 225-pound range. LaPauloue is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds while McCrum is 6-foot-3, 230.
Thornton knows it will need the same effort against Lawrence which is playing in its second straight state final. As Thornton had a sour taste in its mouth after losing to Cheverus last year in the regional final so too did the Bulldogs after losing in last year’s state final.
“We have to come out with the same intensity we had in the Cheverus game and hit Lawrence hard,” said McCrum.
The linemen go over their assignments before every game with line coach Nick Tabor.
“We know what we have to do. Coach Tabor makes sure of that. He gets us pumped up,” said Begin.