Dropping Dimes: Eight-man football is awesome. Maine should try it

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Let me tell you a bit about the Neah Bay Red Devils.

Neah Bay and its school (enrollment: 82) are located on the Makah Reservation on the Pacific Coast in Washington. Within the boundary is Cape Flattery, the northwesternmost point of the United States. Everyone else will say Neah Bay is located at the end of the world, but if someone from there hears you say that, they’ll nudge you and with a smile say, “It’s actually where the world starts.”

The Red Devils have also become experts at eight-man football, having won four state championships since 2011. It is through them that I was first introduced to eight-man football, when I was covering sports on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington for more than four years before moving to Maine.

Last week, Dirigo, Old Orchard Beach and Freeport revealed their football programs would be dropping down to the Class E development league for at least the 2018 season.

Maine Principals’ Association assistant executive director Mike Burnham said that eight-man football joining the Maine landscape is expected to be considered in the future.

This is a tremendous idea. It should allow more teams to keep their football programs intact while also bringing an exciting version of the game to Vactionland.

To me, football doesn’t get any better. Once you’ve seen two quality eight-man teams square off, you might look at the other six players on the field as wasters of space — glorious, wonderful space.

Eight-man is an exciting, action-packed version of football. Scores can get pretty high (one team scoring 100 points isn’t unheard of), but it’s not as easy to score as you might think. When two good teams meet, scoring can still be in the teens or 20s, even when played on regulation-sized fields (100 yards by 50 yards) as it is in Washington.

All that extra space creates a smaller margin for error, but that just adds to the intensity. It reminds me of playoff hockey or playoff baseball, when you’re just waiting for one team to break through and score — in eight-man, it’s not a matter of if, but when — some points that might change the complexion of the game.

Another thing that adds to the excitement is that teams rarely kick extra points. With all that extra space, why would you not try for two? Besides, it’s harder to contain the defense that is trying to block the kick.

So offenses have to perfect their two-point conversion plays. If teams A and B both score five touchdowns, but Team A adds five conversions and B only has one, then A will hold a 40-32 lead.

Offensively, teams can line up in all sorts of formations. The three players removed are usually two linemen and a skill player. Teams can still stack the line with all possible blockers, or they can send receivers out wide. The latter makes the quarterback and ball carriers more vulnerable, but it also creates large holes to run through.

Defensive formations run the gamut, too. So does the way teams use personnel. A lot of times, speed will be favored over size on the defensive line, especially against a passing offense. It’s not uncommon to see one of the smallest defensive players line up in the nose tackle position.

Now, Class E is a development league and, hopefully, not a permanent place for the teams to reside. So there might be concern that once a team has the numbers for 11-man that it will be a difficult transition.

But the games aren’t that different. Especially if eight-man is played on the same-sized field (some states switch to 40 yards wide, and sometimes to 80 yards long). In fact, Neah Bay, to bolster its non-league schedule, tries to find one or two solid 11-man teams to play each season, and the Red Devils usually win those games, too.

The only drawback to eight-man football, and it can be major, is that a gap can develop between the good and not-as-good teams, and their games can be absolute shellackings. What might be a 45-6 blowout in 11-man can easily turn into 96-12.

This might not be much of a problem in Maine, though. Class E is developmental, so the good teams will hopefully have the numbers to go back to Class D before they become eight-man menaces.

Seriously, let’s do this. Or at least give it a try.

Assistant Sports Editor Lee Horton likes his space on football fields, but feel free to crowd his inbox at [email protected]

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