This football season ended the way they all do: with celebrations first at the University of Maine and then at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium, and Gold Balls being hoisted triumphantly.

The road there, however, looked vastly different.

This season was one of transition and change, both statewide and in central Maine. Class A was cut in half. Class B swelled in size. And for the smaller schools and more threadbare programs, a whole new style of game — eight-man football — presented an alternative to the sport for the first time.

“This was without a doubt the biggest change,” Cony coach B.L. Lippert said. “Eight-man alone was a big one, but then when you have Portland and Deering and some schools (in Class B). … There were some wholesale changes. … Some of those shifts were pretty substantial this year, but I think that’s going to be the nature of it moving forward.”

The introduction of eight-man football gave teams struggling with numbers that failed to compete or even field a team in 11-man football a chance to play a style more suited to their size. Mt. Ararat, a school of 709 students, won the title, but Maranacook (361) had the only undefeated regular season, and Old Orchard Beach (243) and Boothbay (192), which had to cancel its varsity season three years ago, played in the small-school division final.

“When I heard that I’d be playing against Yarmouth and Mt. Ararat, Gray-New Gloucester, and I heard their roster sizes … I was a little worried going in,” said Maranacook coach Jordan DeMillo, whose team went 9-1 and lost in the large-school final to Mt. Ararat. “(But) for the most part we were really able to hold our own. … I really feel like eight-man kind of puts schools that are lacking depth on a more equal playing ground.”

In 11-man football, Class A saw an exodus of teams leave it with only eight members, making for one region that was won by Bonny Eagle, 34-21, over Thornton Academy in the state championship game. Meanwhile, Class B ballooned from 17 to 22 times, and with more southern teams in the mix, conferences were shaken up. Windham and Falmouth/Greely joined the Pine Tree Conference, while South Portland, Massabesic and Deering were among the former A schools joining the Campbell Conference in Class B South.

While Lippert said he didn’t like seeing Class A shrink, he was satisfied with how Class B handled most of the challenges.

“A team that’s maybe on the bottom end of B (got) to play some other teams that were maybe projected to be on the bottom end, or some C teams,” he said, “so I think the scheduling was pretty effective for most teams.”

There’s probably more tweaking to come, and Lippert said it’s difficult to come up with a plan that pleases everybody.

“The MPA’s going to have to make a line, and we just have to live with it. We’ve been on both ends,” said the Cony coach, whose team finished 8-1 after an undefeated regular season. “They put their best foot forward and they try to make it fair and equitable for everyone, and that’s a valiant effort.”

For the first time since 2011 no area teams took home state championships, but one came closer than the rest. Maine Central Institute, the second seed in Class C North, faced undefeated and prohibitive favorite Leavitt in the final at the University of Maine. The Huskies came out hot, jumping out to a 12-0 and then a 24-14 lead, but the Hornets’ deep, talented roster took over as Leavitt snuck out with a 30-24 victory.

“We knew they were a very good football team, but we won’t back down to anybody,” coach Tom Bertrand said after the game. “We knew that they were the best team in the South, there was no question about it, there was no doubt. I think there was question about whether we were the best team in the North, and I think we proved that we were.”

There were also deep runs for Lawrence (9-2), which made the B North final; Winslow (9-2), which scored a state-best 423 points during the regular season and made the C North final, and Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale (8-2), which fell to eventual state champion Lisbon in the D South championship game.

“It’s not about winning championships. If it was, then we fell short of the goal,” Ramblers coach Dave St. Hilaire said after the game. “These guys grew up this year. They had some moments where they had some adversity, on and off the field, and they really grew up.”


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