As the turkey, stuffing, and cranberry sauce have been put away, another Maine high school football season came to a close yesterday. Portland and Deering capped off the season with their annual Thanksgiving Day tilt, won by Portland 41-13. Today marks the first Friday since late August there hasn’t been a high school football game to attend somewhere.
Speaking of the Thanksgiving Day feast, there is much to digest with what transpired on the gridiron over the last twelve Friday nights and Saturday afternoons. As we try to shed those extra calories today, I thought it would be appropriate to reflect and share some thoughts on the recently completed season.
The 2015 Maine high school football season saw a number of dormant programs rise up. Programs such as MDI, which was 3-6 a year ago, made a strong run into the play-offs. Brewer, two years removed from a 1-7 campaign, reached the regional final. Perhaps no program achieved a greater turnaround than Old Town. The Coyotes, 2-6 a year ago, having packed up their gear before the calendar hit November, advanced to the Northern Maine final undefeated before falling to eventual state champion Winslow. Combine that with the fact the program had been a perennial doormat from the late 90’s until just recently and you realize how remarkable the turnaround was.
Old Town played an exciting brand of football, featuring tremendous athleticism in the person of senior wide receiver Andre Miller. They brought back one of the top quarterbacks in the region in Jake Jarvis. Coupled with a strong running game, they could put points on the board. The 27 points the Coyotes scored in their regional final matched the entire point total Winslow had given up all season to that point.
Speaking of the regional final, the atmosphere in Old Town for that game was as good a high school football environment as I’ve witnessed in some time. Both communities were well represented with their support. There were also a number of non-partisan fans of the game there that night. Add one of the best high school bands in the state and you had the makings for what a championship contest should feel like.
Success came quickly for a couple of new programs. Medomak Valley, playing in their first varsity season, went 6-2 on the campaign in the Little Ten Conference. As a new program, playing down a class from where their school’s enrollment would normally place them, they were not eligible for postseason play. The season was highlighted by a victory in their opener, a 14-13 win over perennial power Bucksport.
Houlton, in their second varsity sojourn, was able to mount a 4-4 record, good enough to earn their program’s first play-off berth. The future looks bright for the Shiretowners. In speaking with a number of people, the feeder program is in good shape, helping to ensure success for years to come.
When you think of successful high school football programs in Maine, especially if you’ve followed the sport for any length of time, you conjure up thoughts of fields with smokestacks in the background. Towns like Rumford, Bucksport, Jay, Lincoln, Winslow, and Millinocket come to the forefront. It would seem unlikely then for communities such as Falmouth and Yarmouth to be able to field prominent teams. Not only have those towns broken the football stereotype, they have done so competing for athletes with very strong soccer programs. Yarmouth, whose soccer team won the state championship, advanced to a state title game of their own, a rare feat indeed. Falmouth achieved their best season in program history by reaching the Southern Maine ‘B’ final where they fell to Marshwood.
Despite the resurgence of latent teams and the rise of newer programs, at the end it was deja vu for the state’s elite. For the first time, teams from all classes repeated as state champions. Thornton Academy, Marshwood, Winslow, and Oak Hill all took their opponents best shot, yet all came up victorious in the end.
Speaking of elite programs, the crown jewel if you were to be a high school football coach in Maine has to be Thornton Academy. According to the football state championship game program, they boast an enrollment of 1,450 students, which is the largest of any school in Maine. Couple that with an outstanding feeder program, top-notch facilities, and tremendous community support. This is a juggernaut which should be at or near the top for years to come.
Mother Nature must have been a fan of Maine high school football this year. The football season is typically marked by how many layers are added by fans when attending games. This year, not only were all games precipitation free, at least in the Bangor area, very few were played in the cold either. How many November night playoff games have been played in sixty degree temperatures? Not many, I don’t believe. The first snow of the year even held off a day after the final gold ball was hoisted. We were definitely spoiled this year.
With three years now completed under the four class format for high school football, I would consider the change a success. This year produced four outstanding state championship games. The real impetus behind the change was to narrow the enrollment gap, particularly with the former class A schools. In looking at championship weekend, the MPA got it right. While some would like to see the four games split evenly, two and two at each site, the current format allows each game to be showcased individually. As a fan of Maine high school football, I want to be able to see all the games and with this format I can do just that. It also allows for the games to be televised statewide.
I would like to see a change in class A, doing away with the regional format. When Windham and Portland played in the regional final, do we really think they were concerned with winning the “Northern” Maine championship or were they merely part of the final four teams in class A? My guess would be the latter. I propose the fourteen schools in ‘A’ be divided into three divisions for scheduling purposes. Each team would play all the schools in their division and would play nine regular season games. An eight team statewide playoff would follow, with the two finalists playing on gold ball Saturday.
The Drive. Those two words will likely be mentioned in the annals of Brewer football for some time. Nineteen plays, fifty-seven yards. Eight minutes to decide whether you move on or pack up the gear until next fall. That was the scene on a balmy November night at Reggie Clark Memorial Field in Skowhegan with the hometown Indians holding a 15-8 lead. Facing a fourth and three at midfield, Brewer elected to go for it. As a hobbled Brewer quarterback Logan Rogerson ran around the left end, he stretched for the chain, first down. The drive continued. It was who’s tougher than who football at its finest. Three or four yards a pop, move the chains. On the nineteenth play, facing a fourth and goal at the one, with seconds to play, Trey Wood was able to sneak the ball over the goal line. There was no question what the Witches would do next. Trailing 15-14, Brewer lined up for two. Dylan Severance went to his left virtually untouched into the end zone for the winning score setting off bedlam on the Witches sideline and among their supporters.
A number of teams were likely asking themselves the question ‘what if’ as the season came to a close. For Foxcroft Academy, what if their quarterback, Hunter Smith wasn’t lost for the season with an injury suffered in their exhibition game? What if Brewer had their full compliment of players in their Northern Maine championship game? What if Brunswick had a healthy Will Bessey against Marshwood? Same for Yarmouth and their talented running back Cody Cook.
Most of all, when I look back on the 2015 high school football season, I’ll remember those I had the good fortune to spend many Friday nights and Saturday afternoons with. People that may not have a dog in the fight but still enjoy the games just the same. There are certain people when you go someplace you know you have to see. I always enjoy going to Winslow and spending some time with longtime coach Jim Poulin.
A tip of the cap goes out to all the players who donned the pads, the coaches who put in the preparation, as well as anyone involved in the game, which made 2015 such an enjoyable season in Maine high school football. Let’s do again in about 39 weeks!