Football: Thornton Academy holds on, upsets Bonny Eagle in semis

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Connor Sirois dives a touchdown home for the Scots at TA.

SACO—When Bonny Eagle bested Thornton Academy in the regular season, the Scots hung 49 points on the Golden Trojans. But Saturday afternoon, Nov. 2’s playoffs rematch between the rivals would not turn out so favorably for Bonny Eagle: Despite two TDs by Alex Sprague and TDs by Connor Sirois and Kordell Menard, the Scots couldn’t quite keep pace with their hosts and ultimately fell, 28-24.

“This is a tough one,” Bonny Eagle head coach Kevin Cooper said. “[Thornton Academy] obviously took the first game to heart and got a lot better and were very ready for this game…They played better than us, they coached better than us, they certainly deserved to win the football game.”

Bonny Eagle won the coin toss and elected to defer. TA promptly kicked their offense into high gear and began a march upfield to open the action. The Trojans arrived at fourth and one on the Scots’ three following a successful pass from QB Kobe Gaudette to standout ball-carrier Anthony Bracamonte. But the Bonny Eagle defense turned in a huge stop, even forcing a fumble and raking in the recovery when TA gambled on fourth down. 

Luck soured on the Scots for quite some time after that. Bonny Eagle didn’t gain much ground on their first drive of the afternoon, which ended in a TA sack on Sirois, the Scots’ QB. The Trojans found the end zone on their follow-up possession, Bracamonte doing the honors. Critically, TA kicker Brady Forbes split the uprights on the PAT attempt. 7-0.

“Give our guys credit for being able to stand up and make a stop down there,” Cooper said of the Trojans’ opening possession. “Unfortunately, we couldn’t get the field position back, and after our punt, they still had good field position. Then, can’t keep them off the scoreboard in the second series.” 

The Scots’ next drive also ended inauspiciously: Sirois – who’s generally lights-out – threw the first of three interceptions, a painful pick-six to CJ LaBreck followed by a Forbes extra point. Sirois had been aiming for Menard, one of the State’s top receivers, and one who’d drawn ample blood vs. TA in the teams’ first matchup of the autumn. Apparently the Trojans learned a lot from that particular thrashing: Their coverage on Menard was tight on Saturday, and it served them especially well just then.

“It’s not easy playing from behind,” Cooper said. “You’ve got to take some risks. I think that contributed to the fact that Connor had more interceptions than what he’s used to.”

Bonny Eagle turned the ball over on downs on their next possession – but stole it immediately back when Menard earned a little revenge, picking off a Gaudette pass attempt near TA’s own 22. Down, but far from out, the Scots converted the turnover into points on tough running by Sirois and Sprague. It was Sprague who eventually capped the drive. Unfortunately, kicker Christian Napolitano – also lights-out in most situations – missed the PAT. 14-6.

In the third, Gaudette found Bracamonte for another TD, and again Forbes hit his mark, pushing the Trojans out front 21-6. Scot Will Whyte returned the ensuing kickoff brilliantly, reaching TA’s 46. But on first and 10, Sirois, trying again for Menard, found himself picked off once more by LaBreck. 

“CJ LaBreck is a greater player,” Cooper said. “Again, give Thornton Academy and their coaches credit, to be able to make an adjustment and put one of their best players on one of our best players. Made it hard to get the ball to Kordell.”

Happily, the Scots’ defense soon turned in another huge stop. When Trojan Grant Dow then missed the punt snap, Bonny Eagler Zach Maturo managed to throw himself on the ball, giving his boys practically ideal field position: first and goal at TA’s nine. Thorne covered the first five yards and Sprague the remaining four as the Scots grabbed their second touchdown of the day. Uncharacteristically, Napolitano missed this PAT attempt as well. 21-12.

TA answered at their next opportunity, Bracamonte completing a nine-play scoring possession with a five-yard slither up the middle and across Bonny Eagle’s goal line. Forbes was good for another extra point. 28-12. 

“The kid’s a tremendous player,” Cooper said, asked about the Scots’ needing to tie Bracamonte up. “He’s certainly a problem to deal with. The focus of our practice was really to stop him, first and foremost, and he still finds ways to squirm loose for some yards and getting in the end zone. Great job by the TA coaching staff.”

The Scots responded in kind, assembling a long drive on Sirois and Thorne runs and three big, beautiful Sirois passes: A graceful floater to Menard for 18, a bullet to Casey Maturo for nine and a bomb to Greg Emerson for 24. Sirois himself finished the push, driving from second and goal at TA’s two. His over-the-top dive for a two-point conversion attempt fell just short, however. 28-18: still a two-possession game. 

Maybe six and a half minutes remained on the clock; time was running out on Bonny Eagle’s hopes. Still, they logged another big defensive stand, the talents and efforts of Thorne, Aaran Hodgman, Zach Klein and Alex Smith all proving important. Following a Trojans’ punt, the Scots took over at their own 38.

“Our guys are going to fight,” Cooper said. “The fact that we were behind, that we lost today, was not because we weren’t willing to step up and battle. We just couldn’t make some plays, get us back in the ballgame. Unfortunately, we just [didn’t] quite have enough time to do so. At the point where it was, it was going to be tough to win, for sure. But our guys are going to battle the whole way. I’m proud of them for that.”

Bonny Eagle proceeded to assemble an expert, if desperate, series. Sprague turned in the biggest play, a 26-yard run, and a TA flag for roughing the passer handed the Scots extra yardage – enough to bring them to first and goal at the Trojans’ 10. Sirois shortly hooked up with Menard for a seven-yard TD throw. Alas, Napolitano’s third extra point attempt of the day turned into a third miss. 28-24.

“Making kicks is not always easy,” Cooper said. “It relies on 11 guys. A bunch of guys to block, a snapper and a holder. It just didn’t work out today.”

2:12 to go. Bonny Eagle attempted the onsides kick, but TA recovered. The Scots managed to force a three-and-out, thanks to huge tackles by Thorne, Klein and Napolitano, and Whyte. The Trojans punted.

The stand had chewed through more than a minute and a half, leaving Bonny Eagle a mere 24.7 seconds to work with. Sirois hurled twice to Sprague, connecting the second time; Sprague juked out of bounds to stop the clock. But on Sirois’s next attempt, he threw his third INT of the afternoon. The game slipped from the Scots’ grasp.

“I know Connor threw three picks,” Cooper said, asked who played well, “but I’ll take him as my quarterback anytime. Our guys up front battled…our o-line battled as good as they could. Nick and Alex ran as hard as they could.”

Bonny Eagle retires till next year at 7-2. Their other loss on the season came against Scarborough in week eight. TA will meet the Storm in the Regional Final on Friday night the 10th. 

Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME

Connor Sirois dives a touchdown home for the Scots at TA.

Bonny Eagler Nick Thorne crashes into a TA opponent.

Zach Maturo dashes after TA runningback Anthony Bracamonte.

Elation showing on his face, Alex Sprague turns the ball over to an official after scoring a touchdown for the Scots at TA on Saturday. In the background, teammate Kordell Menard signals the score.

Scot Kordell Menard carries, while teammate Alex Smith helps to clear a path.

Bonny Eagler Zach Klein clashes with a Trojan.

Sputtering and digging, Alex Sprague drives toward the end zone–he’ll soon get there–for Bonny Eagle vs. TA.

Kordell Menard reels in a pass for Bonny Eagle at Thornton on Saturday afternoon.

Scots center Aidan McGlone snaps the ball near the TA goal line.

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