This time, Oxford Hills started fast, overcame its first-half mistakes, and went home with its first football state championship.

In a rematch of the 2021 Class A state final, top-ranked Oxford Hills got two touchdown runs from senior quarterback Eli Soehren and a strong performance from its defense to beat second-ranked Thornton Academy 21-7 on Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

“We definitely put mistakes behind us. Keep on playing football. Get it done,” said Soehren.

Oxford Hills finished 11-0, with two wins against defending champion Thornton (8-3), which made its seventh trip to the state final in 10 seasons.

A year ago, Soehren threw a pick-six interception just four minutes into the game and Thornton stormed to a 21-0 lead en route to a 42-27 victory. Earlier this season, Oxford Hills won 25-20 at Thornton.

“I feel like our confidence was higher this year, getting that Week 2 win,” said Oxford Hills captain Zach Louvat. “But I think we just believed in ourselves the whole season. We knew we could do it and we ended up doing it in the end.”


Oxford Hills got ahead early, then leaned on its defense, which forced three turnovers, made a trio of fourth-down stops, and applied relentless pressure on Thornton quarterback Ryan O’Keefe, who completed 14 of 29 passes for 196 yards, with a touchdown and two interceptions.

That pressure led to a pass slightly off target that Vikings linebacker Hunter Tardiff returned 17 yards for a touchdown with 5:13 left in the third quarter, giving Vikings a 21-7 lead.

“That was a game-changer,” said Oxford Hills Coach Mark Soehren, who took over the program in 2012.

In the regular season, Tardiff dropped a couple of similar opportunities.

“I just couldn’t capitalize them in smaller games where it wasn’t that big of a deal, but I’m glad when I got the chance here, I did it,” Tardiff said.

Thornton’s third turnover stopped a drive with just under six minutes remaining. Finn Winnigan and Dallys Eastman sacked O’Keefe with force, causing a fumble that Louvat recovered.


Neither team was able to mount much offense in the second half. For the game, Oxford Hills had a 371-304 edge in yardage. The Vikings gained 303 yards in the first half – mostly in the passing game – while taking a 14-7 lead that could easily have been larger.

Soehren completed 15 of 26 passes for 259 yards and ran for two 1-yard touchdowns, but also had two passes intercepted by Henry Lausier.

The Vikings marched 72 yards in nine plays on the opening drive, highlighted by a 29-yard run by Trey Morrison (9 carries, 56 yards) that set up Soehren’s first touchdown with 6:33 left in the first quarter.

After stopping Thornton’s first possession on downs at its own 28, Oxford Hills quickly was back in scoring territory. On first down from the Thornton 12, Soehren underthrew a pass to the corner intended for 6-foot-6 Teigan Pelletier (6 catches, 102 yards), allowing Lausier to turn good coverage into an interception.

“You can always be frustrated with throwing an interception, but it’s the state game, you might as well not get mad about it,” Soehren said. “Play the game. I just love football.”

Four plays later, Lausier caught a well-thrown pass from O’Keefe between safeties Soehren and Tanner Bickford and broke away for a 66-yard score.

Oxford Hills answered right back. Soehren connected with Grayson Foster for a 72-yard gain to the 8 and ran it in two plays later.

The Vikings had another chance to add points late in the first half, driving from their own 1 to the Thornton 10. They passed up a 27-yard field goal on fourth-and-3, and a Soehren completion to Foster was a yard short.

“Our kids played hard, and I’m so proud of our kids and how hard they played and where they came from and where we are now,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal, referring to his team’s 1-2 start. “We went in at halftime and felt real good about things, down seven, and we had the ball first (to start the second half). Just give (Oxford Hills) credit defensively. They’re a really good defensive club.”

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