Maine High School Football's 2019 preview

September 1, 2019

Welcome to the 2019 Maine High School Football preview. As painfully short as our Maine summers are, we have been eagerly anticipating the 2019 football season for some time. There hasn’t been this much of a shake-up since the 2013 move to four classes. 21 teams will find themselves in new conferences and/or classes this season. We’re also welcoming the inaugural season of 8-man football in Maine. So let’s get things started!

*****A LOOK BACK ON 2018*****
Under the sun at Hill Stadium in Saco, the 29th Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic was very much an Eastern Maine domination as the boys in red won 40-14. Eight separate players accounted for the eight touchdowns. Messalonskee’s Austin Pelletier would pick up East MVP honors while Thornton Academy’s Cam Houde was given the West MVP honors.

In Class A both the North and the South had plenty of strength amongst their leading teams. On the Northern half it was 7-1 Portland that was able to keep their pace ahead of 6-2 Oxford Hills and 6-2 Cheverus. For Oxford Hills, this was their highest regular season finish in twenty years. For Portland, this was their third first-place finish in four years. On the South side the Thornton Academy Golden Trojans finished in first place at 8-0, followed by 6-1 Scarborough, 5-3 Bonny Eagle, and 5-3 Sanford. Scarborough saw their week-five homecoming game against Massabesic cancelled due to reported cases of the virus that causes hand, foot, and mouth disease. Another cancellation would occur as South Portland forfeited their Southern regional quarterfinal game against Bonny Eagle due to safety concerns regarding South Portland’s low numbers. Portland beat Oxford Hills 21-14 in overtime to secure their fifth state championship appearance in the last six years. Meanwhile, Thornton Academy defeated Scarborough 53-21. This set up a replay of the 2015 state championship game between Thornton Academy and Portland. The Saturday morning championship game was all Golden Trojans domination as Thornton Academy defeated Portland 49-14 for their fourth gold ball in the last seven years.

Class B had a few surprises in store during the regular season. Despite Cony going 7-1, it was 5-3 Skowhegan that finished the regular season in first in the North. In the South, Kennebunk went 8-0 and finished in first for the second time in three years, followed closely by 7-1 Marshwood. Despite Skowhegan and Cony finishing as high as they did, a familiar face emerged as 3rd place Brunswick defeated Lawrence 14-10 in their fifth regional final appearance in six years, earning the Dragons a fourth trip to state in five years. Over on the South side, Kennebunk and Marshwood would eventually square off in the regional final where Marshwood avenged their week-eight defeat with a 14-13 victory and a fifth trip to state in seven years. The Hawks would emerge victorious with a 49-0 shutout of Brunswick and the title of back-to-back Class B champions.

In Class C, after the exhilaration of Maine Central Institute’s 2017 state championship run, the 7-1 Huskies picked up right where they left off as they edged out a 7-1 Hermon team for the top spot in the North. In the South, 7-1 Leavitt edge out 7-1 Fryeburg Academy for first place in the conference. Come playoff time, it was fourth-ranked Nokomis who would defeat Maine Central Institute and Hermon on the road to earn a trip to Portland. In the Southern brackets, Leavitt and Fryeburg Academy went through the quarterfinal and semifinal match-ups with ease to set up a regional final that Fryeburg Academy won 20-13. This set up a state championship game between a Nokomis team playing in their first ever football state championship against a Raiders teams that last won a title in 1965 when there was no unified state championship game. In the Saturday afternoon game, Fryeburg Academy held a lead until the final few minutes of the fourth quarter when Nokomis’ Tyler Pelletier returned a punt 68 yards for the go-ahead 13-12 score and a gold ball trophy for the Warriors.

In Class D, it was another repeat conference domination by Foxcroft Academy in the North and Wells in the South. Both teams swept their regular season schedule, and both teams swept their playoff games en route to the state championship. Due to snow across the state the game, which was the Friday night match-up at the University of Maine, was moved to Saturday night. Like the 2017 Class D championship, the 2018 game ended with another Wells victory as they defeated Foxcroft Academy 55-20. The win gave Wells their 28th consecutive victory and back-to-back-to-back state titles.

The second year of the developmental Class E featured nine teams, with newcomers Freeport and Dirigo that both went 7-1 and led the charge going into their title game. Playing a week between the state championships, the Falcons hosted the title game against Dirigo and brought home the Class E title with a 28-13 win.

Due to forecasted cold temperatures, the 107th annual Portland vs Deering Thanksgiving Day Turkey Bowl game was moved from Thursday to Wednesday morning. However, the change didn’t phase Portland as the Bulldogs defeated Deering 45-0 to win their fourth Turkey Bowl game in the past five years. During the end-of-season award procession, Wells’ Tyler Bridge brought home the 48th James J. Fitzpatrick trophy as the top senior football student-athlete in Maine. The Gatorade Maine Football Player of the Year would go to Thornton Academy’s Anthony Bracamonte. And last but not least, the Frank J. Gaziano Offensive Lineman award would go to Bonny Eagle’s Aidan McGlone, while the Defensive Lineman award went to Thornton Academy’s Thomas Palmer.

Belfast - Brian Goff (rookie)
Cape Elizabeth - Sean Green (rookie)
Lewiston - Darren Hartley
Madison - Paul Withee
Maranacook - Jordan DeMillo (rookie)
Mattanawcook Academy - Brad Bishop
Messalonskee - Walter Polky
Mountain Valley - Devin Roberts (rookie)
Mount Ararat - Frank True
Mt. Blue - Scott Franzose
Noble - Keenon Blindow (rookie)
Portland - Jason McLeod
South Portland - Aaron Filieo
Traip Academy - Eric Lane (rookie)
Westbrook - Brandon Dorsett (rookie)
Yarmouth - Jim Hartman

5 years - B.L. Lippert, Cony
5 years - Andrew Shorey, Dexter
5 years - Ryan Snell, Medomak Valley
5 years - Paul St. Pierre, Freeport
5 years - Joe White, Gardiner
10 years - Jason Darling, Morse
10 years - Lance Johnson, Scarborough
10 years - Dave Sterling, Edward Little
15 years - Dan Cooper, Brunswick
15 years - John Hersom, Lawrence
20 years - Brian Curit, Biddeford
20 years - Kevin Kezal, Thornton Academy
25 years - Joe Sankey, Bucksport
35 years - Mike Siviski, Winslow

28 - Wells (last loss was 10/21/2016)
11 - Thornton Academy (last loss was 11/10/2017)
8 - Freeport (last loss was 9/7/2018)
4 - Marshwood (last loss was 10/19/2018)
4 - Nokomis (last loss was 10/19/2018)

29* - Telstar (last actual win was 10/25/2013 if you disregard forfeit wins on 10/11/2014 and 10/7/2017)
28 - Gray-New Gloucester (last win was 10/2/2015)
17 - Orono (last win was 11/4/2016)
11 - Messalonskee (last win was 10/6/2017)
9 - Windham (last win was 11/10/2017)
7 - Westbrook (last win was 8/31/2018)
6 - Bangor (last win was 9/7/2018)
6 - South Portland (last win was 9/7/2018)
5 - Old Town (last win was 9/14/2018)
5 - Stearns (last win was 9/14/2018)
4 - Hampden Academy (last win was 9/21/2018)

No one topic garnered as much heated discussion this past winter as football realignment. Unlike years past though, the bulk of the change happened between Class A and Class B. A common theme throughout much of the state was declining populations, declining enrollments throughout the majority of the schools, and shrinking squad sizes. For some communities the change has been slight but survivable. In other communities the change has been seismic in its impacts.

Citing competitive imbalances in Class A, the enrollment lines were redrawn several times before everyone agreed upon a solution. Instead of having an 18-team Class A as was initially discussed, it was changed to the eight largest football-playing schools in Maine; Bangor, Bonny Eagle, Edward Little, Lewiston, Oxford Hills, Sanford, Scarborough, and Thornton Academy. The change didn’t just impact Class A though. Class B grew to two eleven-team conferences. At first glance you may notice that every team in Southern Class B in 2019 played in Southern Class A a decade ago. Northern Class B gained a few new faces in a unified Falmouth/Greely co-op team, Windham, and Gardiner. If there were two positives to come out of the realignment, it was the elimination of the playoff bye week and the return of a full eight-team bracket in Class A and in both Class B conferences. State champions in both Class A and Class B will once again have to play all twelve weeks.

Class C changed very little. The same eleven teams in the North are returning for a third straight year. The South will see as shake-up as Freeport, Poland, and Wells are returning to the fold. Class D’s only addition was Camden Hills, who are playing down a class and are not eligible. And last but not least is the new 8-man classification, which is drawing seven former class D schools, two former class C schools, and a former Class B schools. The class will be split into the five smallest schools (Boothbay, Old Orchard Beach, Sacopee Valley, Telstar, and Traip Academy) and the five largest schools (Ellsworth, Gray-New Gloucester, Maranacook, Mt. Ararat, and Yarmouth).

When the MPA voted to approve 8-man football as a sanctioned classification in April, it was a move long and painfully overdue. In an era of population shifts, reduced enrollments, and the much talked about decline in football participation across the country this seemed like a no-brainer. Even though Maine is the only state in the New England region to officially recognize the variant and give it its own classification, it does put Maine alongside 25 other states that officially recognize and play such variants as 6-man, 8-man, and 9-man football.

While the pre-season reception has been lukewarm at best in most of Maine, schools and its football players have bought into it and embraced it as a positive alternative to the traditional 11-man version. Players throughout the ten communities giving it a chance have provided many quotes eager about the upcoming season and have understood their pioneering presence, despite the jokes and general ignorance voiced on social media.

So now that it’s just four days away from "officially" being here, what should we expect?

For starters, this is not the same as the Arena Football seen on television. This also has absolutely no similarities to 7-on-7 passing drills held over the summer. While there’s one reduced ball carrier eligible position on offense and three fewer defenders on defense, you shouldn’t be expecting a pass-happy game either. Some of the best 8-man schools in the country still get it done with punishing ground games that utilize all the same time-tested lessons in the 11-man game. Blue-collar football is just as prevent at this level. And sure, there may be a few high-scoring games. However, don’t expect it to be any higher ratio-wise than you’ll find in any of the other four classes. Yet while the extra space will provide more opportunities for backs and receivers, it is going to put pressure on defenders to make one-on-one tackles without relying upon a mass of gang-tackler to stop an opponent. With fewer linemen, coaches may be reluctant to risk kicking a field goal or punting for fear of a block. This could mean coaches may go for it on fourth down at a higher level.

For some that might be way too much to comprehend or accept, and that’s fine. People likely overreacted when the forward pass was codified too. Football is not going back to an era of ten or twenty or thirty or fifth years ago. So we say stop living in the past and accept the realities of the present. Others across the country have. It still allowed communities, no matter how small, to experience the game without sacrificing or surrendering their community identity or hometown pride.

In 2017, the MPA agreed to drop the use of Crabtree Points in determining football rankings and adopt the familiar (if commonly misunderstood) Heal Points. After a two-year trial, the MPA has decided to go back to Crabtree Points.

So, what is it exactly and how are they calculated?

Quite simply, Crabtree Points are the sum of a team’s winning percentage and the average of all their opponents winning percentages. They are much, much simpler to figure out. What once took a spreadsheet to tabulate can be easily done by calculator. So what makes them different? Heal Points place a great importance on defeating opponents who have won a lot of games.

Using 2018 as an example, 3-5 Gardiner was ranked higher than 6-2 Morse in large part because Gardiner defeated Morse, 7-1 Cony, and 7-1 Freeport. When it comes to Crabtree calculations, while having a tough schedule helps there is no point differential between defeating a 1-5 opponent and a 5-1 opponent. For a team to finish with a higher ranking, they are going to need to win more games than they lose. Using the aforementioned teams, Morse would have finished with 117.187 points and been ranked well higher than Gardiner’s 98.437 points.

Over the past few years the Greely Rangers have fielded one of the smallest Class B teams despite being one of the larger schools in the classification. You would need to go back to the early half of this decade to find Rangers teams that had more than 30 players on their roster. Still, they’ve been consistently competitive even with their relatively few numbers on their sideline. Since 2010 the Rangers have won 48 of 85 games, made the playoffs the past eight consecutive years, and went to the regional semifinals the last four years. But when longtime Ranger coach David Higgins stepped down at the conclusion of the 2018 season it seemed to be the first nail in the coffin of the program. Fortunately for those Greely students that still want to play football, the neighboring community of Falmouth has welcomed them into the Yachtsmen’s fold. Greely’s administration has stated they will look at both 8-man and 11-man football as an option to return Rangers football to Cumberland if the numbers are there.

Approximately 130 miles to the North and nine months later, Orono High School made the very painful announcement that their varsity season was over with only nine days until the start of the season. Like Greely, low varsity numbers was the cause. Unlike Greely, the situation on the field wasn’t positive. Orono was coming into 2019 on a 17-game losing streak, the third such longest active streak in the state, which began with a 21-15 loss to Dexter in the 2016 Northern Class D regional semifinals. Hampered by low numbers (at one point had as few as 14 players), in the last two years they have been outscored 669 to 148 and went into running time in half of their contests. They tried to give it a noble effort this pre-season, but with only 18 players on the roster and only two of them experienced on the line, the school did the right thing and made the announcement they did.

There remains a fair level of uncertainty for what the future holds in both communities. Unlikely Greely, Orono has a large middle-school team but they will not be varsity-ready for at least two years. Also unlike Greely, it is unknown if Orono will co-op with any nearby school to in 2020.

The Class 8-Man championship will be held a week prior to the other four state games at a to-be-announced-later location. Class B will have their state championship on Friday, November 22nd at the University of Maine campus. In previous Class B title games, Brunswick defeated Kennebunk (2016) and Cony defeated Kennebunk (2013). The rest of the state championship games will be held on Saturday, November 23rd, at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland for Class A, C, and D.

*****WHAT TO EXPECT FROM US IN 2019*****
We at Maine High School Football will continue our efforts to help bring Maine High School Football to you and to help bring Maine High School Football to the world. In addition to the sharing of news and stories from around Maine and national media outlets during the regular season and playoffs, you can expect the following features from us;
- Every Friday and Saturday we’ll have a running post of scores and updates from the state. Once all games in a respective conference have gone final, we’ll update our Crabtree Points so you can know where everybody is at in the rankings.
- Every Sunday night we’ll post highlights, factoids, thoughts, and opinions on the week that was with casting an eye towards the upcoming week’s action.
- Every Monday night we return a staff favorite as we gather our favorite quotes from around the state as part of the “He said it” segment.
- Every Tuesday night we will announce our selections for the Four Stars of the Week, selected from accredited media reports as well as feedback from coaches and administrators.
- Every Wednesday night we will present our objective, but not entirely serious, look at the top teams in the state through the Maine Power Ranking Top Ten list.