PORTLAND, Maine — If this was the final Class A football championship of the three-division era, it was a rousing curtain call with momentum changes and huge plays aplenty.
As for the end result, it was sobering and familiar.
Thornton Academy scored two touchdowns in a 68-second span of the third quarter to take the lead for good Saturday, turning the corner to a 37-23 victory over Lawrence before 6,000 spectators at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Quarterback Eric Christensen’s 30-yard keeper and Andrew Libby’s 48-yard punt return reversed a 17-16 deficit to a 30-17 edge early in the second half.
“It’s a state championship game. We just started playing we were in one and earned our spot as champions,” Libby said. “There were a lot of huge changing points in the game, certainly. You just keep going forward.”
Lawrence made it a game once again on Josh Doolan’s second long touchdown of the day, a 54-yard run with 10:43 remaining. David LePauloue blocked Chad Martin’s extra point.
The Trojans later forced two incomplete passes from Spencer Carey to take over on downs at its own 35. Sparked by Dylan Morton’s 47-yard scamper on a reverse, Libby barreled into the end zone on fourth-and-1 from the 4 with 3:14 to play.
Thornton (11-1) won its first title since 1988, when it also defeated Lawrence (11-1).
“A lot of these guys have played for three years,” said Thornton coach Kevin Kezal, a Livermore Falls native. “As sophomores they got kind of beat up and lost in the first round of the playoffs. Last year we took a step forward and had a great 24 minutes (in the regional final at Cheverus) but just couldn’t finish. The next step was come over here and face adversity in the first half and overcome it.”
Lawrence led from Doolan’s 89-yard return of the opening kickoff and went up 14-6 on a 30-yard connection from Carey to Aaron Lafrance with 7:55 left in the half.
Christensen hit Dakota Tarbox for a 48-yard score to rally the Trojans. The quarterback also rushed for the two-point conversion.
The Bulldogs later stopped the Trojans on downs at the 4 but couldn’t recover from the poor field position. Quinlan O’Brien blocked Cole Robinson’s punt out of the back of the end zone to put Thornton in front.
Back came Lawrence, driving 59 yards in the final minute of the half with the help of a 39-yard bomb from Carey (7 for 17, 119 yards) to Lafrance.
Martin nailed a 36-yard field goal with room to spare to give Lawrence the lead at the halftime horn.
“They’re a good football team. A lot of those kids played in this game last year. They had a lot of kids back,” Kezal said. “They made a lot of big plays in the first half. One of the things we talked about at halftime was keep the ball in front of us and not get too excited.”
Thornton’s initial drive of the second half was stymied at the Lawrence 43. On the next play, however, Tarbox stripped the ball from Carey’s grasp, with the Trojans’ Cody Lynn recovering.
Christensen broke a tackle after the next snap and raced to the end zone, sending Thornton on its way.
“They capitalized when we turned it over, and when they turned it over we just couldn’t take advantage,” Carey said. “That’s why it’s a state game. We just had too many turnovers.”
Libby rushed for 68 of his game-high 113 yards in the second half.
Tarbox had another forced fumble in the late stages. LePauloue recovered.
“You’ve just got to know that play is over and keep moving forward,” Libby said of the early exchanges.
Lawrence lost in the final for the second straight year. The 2006 Bulldogs were one of only two Pine Tree Conference teams to win the game after it switched to its current format in 1987.