Nov. 10—They're in the same region, but Oxford Hills and Portland didn't face each other in the regular season.
The top two teams in Class A North will get their chance Saturday at 1 p.m. when they meet for the regional title at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland — the same place the winner will vie for the state championship next weekend.
The top-seeded Bulldogs (9-0) earned the top seed in A North and the privilege of hosting the game by going undefeated in the first year under head coach Sean Green, who led Cape Elizabeth to the 2021 Class C state title.
The second-seeded Vikings, meanwhile, are 8-2 but have yet to lose to a Class A team.
They have shown they have the talent on both sides of the ball to repeat as state champion. The key in Saturday's game will be cleaning things up and finishing their opportunities.
In Monday's 6-0 A North semifinal win over No. 3 Windham, Oxford Hills moved the ball well enough to score more than six points, but miscues — penalties and a fumble — derailed the offense's scoring opportunities.
"We need to take care of the ball better," Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren said. "We also missed some assignments on critical plays in that game. We need to clean that up. We need more points on the board. We have had a number of drives from the season that ended inside the 20 without a score. We need to execute better in the red zone."
Senior running back and linebacker Jake Carson said after Monday's game that the Oxford Hills offense might not have been ready for Windham's defensive aggression. The Vikings can expect more of that Saturday.
"They (Portland) are very aggressive and play an aggressive man defense," Soehren said. "We need to be ready for them to be coming after us every down."
Therefore, Soehren said, it will be important for the Vikings' offense to have "sustained mental consistency."
"We need to make sure we are aware of situations and think proactively on the field rather than just reacting to what happens in front of us," he said. "Portland will play with great effort all game and we need to be prepared for it."
The Vikings' offense has evolved over the course of the season, particularly the running game. Hunter Tardiff has been the lead back, but Carson has shown he can be equally productive. The duo has become as dangerous as the passing of Brady Truman and his many receiving weapons, which includes Nick Binette, Brayden Murch, Logan Spencer, Eli Laverdiere and Logan Bottomley.
Oxford Hills' strength this season might be its defense. Especially the front seven, which features Carson and Hunter Tardiff and linemen like Owen Marr, Alex Bartlett and Malaki Sparks. They are supported by solid defensive backs such as Carter Wyman, Binette and Murch.
The key for the defense, Soehren said, will be limiting Portland's big plays. The Bulldogs have size and athleticism and use "multiple formations with atypical motions."
"They have some explosive players, and we want to make sure they don't score on long plays," Soehren said.
Portland lost standout Reegan Buck to injury near the midpoint of the season, but skill players Aidan McGowan and Cordell Jones and quarterback Louis Thurston have kept the Bulldogs' offense playing at a high level.
"We've got to mentally prepare, we've got to come out ready," Carson said Monday. "Portland's a good team, Portland's physical; we've got to meet their physicality and play our game."
Soehren didn't seem too concerned about playing twice in one week. Besides, both teams played on Monday, and the amount of preparation shouldn't be much different than a normal week.
"We are treating it like a Friday night game. It's the same number of days to prepare in a regular week. We gave the players a very light Tuesday to recover from the game," he said, adding that the Vikings usually have lighter practices later in the season, anyway.
Saturday's Class A North title game matchup won't be their first regional final showdown. The Bulldogs edged the Vikings 21-14 in overtime in the 2018 A North final.
Portland also knocked Oxford Hills out of the 2016 and 2017 playoffs.
A lot has changed between the 2018 regional final and this year's. The Vikings have since climbed to the top of the state's largest classification and won last year's Class A state title.
Portland, meanwhile, dropped down to Class B following the 2018 season and last year earned the B South crown before falling to Skowhegan in the state final.
The Vikings also have gained a lot of experience in big games over the past five seasons. This is their third consecutive A North final, and they played Thornton and Bonny Eagle multiple times in 2021 and 2022. They faced defending Class C state champion and current Class C South finalist Leavitt — the undisputed No. 1 team in the Varsity Maine poll — this year.
"All of the big games we have played in help us," Soehren said. "Being familiar with pressure and having to play all four quarters is a huge help. We have been tested this year in our regular season, as well. All of it should help us prepare for the big moments that happen in playoff games in November."
This season is the first since 2018 that Class A has enough teams to have regional playoffs and regional champions. The winner of the Oxford Hills-Portland matchup will face the A South champion, either Thornton or Bonny Eagle, in the Class A title game next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Game preview: Ramblers have chance at redemption vs. Wells in D South final
Varsity Maine football poll: Leavitt, Oxford Hills keep high rankings ahead of regional finals