PORTLAND — Another year, another gold ball for the West.
Lawrence High School led at the half, but in the end, on sun-splashed Saturday afternoon, it wasn’t quite enough to bring a Class A football state championship back to Fairfield.
Andrew Libby rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown on 27 carries, and Thornton Academy capitalized on turnovers and big plays to beat Lawrence 37-23 before about 6,000 fans at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Thornton (11-1) won its first Class A state title since 1988. Lawrence (11-1) fell in the state championship game for the second consecutive season.
“It’s frustrating,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said. “We’re certainly proud of all the guys, and they are proud of each other. It’s tough. If we get a few bounces here and there, it might’ve been a different game.”
Indeed, the bounces — most of them anyway — went the Golden Trojans’ way Saturday.
Nick Kenney rushed for 66 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries to lead Thornton, which made it six straight Class A titles for the West. Spencer Carey completed 7 of 15 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown for Lawrence.
The Bulldogs opened the game with a bang, when senior Jake Doolan took the opening kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown.
However, Lawrence turned the ball over four times, and the Trojans made them pay, particularly in the second half. Lawrence finished the season with nine turnovers in its last two games. The Bulldogs overcame the miscues in a 20-10 victory over Cony in the Pine Tree Conference Class A championship game. They couldn’t overcome them Saturday.
“We played well, but we made some turnovers that cost us,” Carey said. “(Thornton) capitalized on them. It was the difference. You can get lucky once.”
Thornton Academy erased a 14-13 halftime deficit with a pair of lightning-quick scores midway through the third quarter to go ahead for good.
Carey fumbled with 7 minutes, 18 seconds left in the third quarter to give Thornton the ball at the Lawrence 30-yard line. Thornton quarterback Eric Christensen rushed for a 30-yard touchdown on the next play, giving the Trojans a 22-17 lead.
“Eric is pretty quick,” Thornton coach Kevin Kezal said. “Once he gets rolling, he’s pretty quick.”
The Trojans struck again 1:08 later when Libby returned a punt 48 yards for a touchdown. He rushed for the two-point conversion, and the Trojans went up 30-17.
“The ball came up, I had great blocks up front (and) then it was just getting in,” Libby said.
Added Kezal: “We told them it would be a 48-minute game. We weren’t panicking at halftime. We knew it’d be a tough game. We just regrouped and made some big plays in the second half.”
Lawrence, which lost 49-27 to Cheverus last season in the state championship game, didn’t go away. The Bulldogs pulled within a score when Josh Doolan raced 54 yards for a touchdown with 10:43 left in the fourth.
Lawrence got the ball back and reached the Thornton 35-yard line midway through the quarter, but the Thornton defense held
Libby then put the game out of reach when he capped a seven-play, 65-yard drive with a 4-yard touchdown run with 3:14 left.
“He gets a lot of tough yards,” Kezal said. “He had a whale of a game.”
Jake Doolan gave the Bulldogs momentum when he found a seam up the middle and returned the opening kickoff 88 yards for a score.
“We were hoping for something like that,” Hersom said. “We wanted to keep that momentum.”
Lawrence did and took a 7-6 lead into the second quarter. The Bulldogs padded their lead when Carey threw a 30-yard touchdown pass to Aaron Lafrance with 7:55 left in the second quarter.
The Trojans answered when Christensen threw a 48-yard touchdown pass to Dakota Tarbox about two minutes later.
The Trojans surged ahead 16-14 when Quinlan O’Brien blocked a punt in the end zone for a safety with 2:46 left in the second quarter.
Lawrence finished the half with an impressive drive that ended with a 36-yard field goal by Chad Martin to take a 17-16 lead into halftime.
“We had our chances and we didn’t quit,” Hersom said. “We made some plays, but it just wasn’t enough.”
Added Libby: “It means a lot knowing we won this. We had to realize (that) we can do this, we can do this. We could come back and win this game.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640