Back in August, many who follow the game of high school football boldly proclaimed who they believed would be the contenders and pretenders for the upcoming season. If you follow this space weekly, you may have come across a piece I wrote around this same time. In hindsight, I should have added the disclaimer the column would self-combust once the first football was kicked off Labor Day weekend. With many of the picks I was spot on, however, some were completely erroneous. Go back and check out my prognostication for class B states, then again maybe not.
That being said there were a handful of teams which didn’t live up to preseason expectations. Injuries may have derailed their season, turmoil may have developed, or perhaps the best explanation for some may be they just simply were not as good as anticipated. With the regular season complete and all eyes turned to the next four weekends of play-off football, I thought it would be fun to take a look at some of the more pleasant surprises of the 2015 season.
The Class A North season played out for the most part to expectation. The one surprise could possibly be Portland. The Bulldogs were primed to be very strong but I’m not sure many expected this team to be undefeated heading into the play-offs. Portland is a bit of a throw back, you won’t see a lot of glitz and glamour with this team. They simply line up and pound the rock, classic who’s tougher than who football.
Portland’s cross-town rival Deering has also been somewhat of a surprise this season. The Rams, who have experienced a coaching carousel in recent years turned to Cape Elizabeth assistant coach Jason Jackson to turn around its fortunes. Deering, competing in Class A south have earned a first round bye as the number two seed with a 6-2 record.
Class B, both north and south, as expected has featured the most competitive balance of all classes. In the north, three teams finished the regular season 7-1. Brunswick and Brewer were expected to be near the top, but the third team, Skowhegan is a bit of a surprise. Skowhegan missed the play-offs a year ago and admittedly I had them on the outside looking in again this season. This was not so much a slight to the Indians as it spoke to the depth of talent within the conference.
The south features tradition laden programs such as Marshwood and Biddeford. However, a school known more for futbol than football sits atop the standings. Falmouth has parlayed a physical offensive line and stout defense into securing a top seed into the play-offs. Despite their upset loss to neighboring Greely in the season finale, the Yachtsmen, while expected to be near the top, are the surprise team in class B south. By the way, is it just me or do the words yachtsmen and football in the same sentence just not jive?
Many, self included, predicted a dominant run through the regular season by the Winslow Black Raiders. They certainly have lived up to expectations. The defending state champs have some company at the top with the upstart Old Town Coyotes, a team that missed the play-offs a year ago with a 2-6 record. The Coyotes, also undefeated, capped off their season Friday night with a resounding 31-8 victory over MDI. The Trojans also completed a turnaround regular season going from three wins a year ago to seven this season.
The road to the title potentially goes through Old Town this year as they won the coin toss over Winslow for the number one seed after all other tie-breakers had been exhausted. While some may be disgruntled this was decided by calling heads or tails, I’m not sure how else this could have been avoided. As an aside, no, going to point differentials among their opponents is not a legitimate way to break a tie. If you are a follower of HIGH SCHOOL athletics the reasons for not doing so should be plainly obvious.
Class C south features the expected contenders in Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth, and Wells at the top. While the region will likely be represented by one of those three in Portland, others have had breakout seasons within the division. Gray-New Gloucester entered the season having lost 23 straight games before embarking on a 4-4 play-off campaign this year. Fryeburg Academy had one of their most successful seasons in many years going 5-3, including an upset victory at Wells in week three.
There have been few surprises in class D north. Perhaps the most stunning is how dominant MCI has been. The Huskies entered the season as the favorite, however, I’m not sure many foresaw them annihilating the opposition in the manner they have. Parity has reigned among the other play-off teams throughout the division. Even though they were not play-off eligible, perhaps most notable was the success of first year program Medomak Valley, currently at 6-2. Speaking of relatively new programs, the Ellsworth Eagles, hadn’t won a game in their first three seasons of varsity play. That all changed this year as they ended up 5-3. Ellsworth and Medomak Valley will face each other in an exhibition Friday night in Waldoboro.
Class D south features expected parity at the top led by undefeated two-time defending state champion Oak Hill. Three of Oak Hill’s victories have been decided by less than 10 points with their wins over Winthrop/Monmouth, Dirigo, and rival Lisbon.
As has been the case in the regular season, the next four weeks of play-off football have a chance to be just as unpredictable.