Cheverus celebrates with the Gold Ball after recording its fifth straight shutout to win the eight-man football Large School Division state championship in November. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Cheverus High, the 2021 Large School Division state champions in eight-man football, will apply to the Maine Principals’ Association to return to the 11-man version of the sport.

Cheverus played just one season of eight-man football, dominating opponents and drawing some criticism because the team had a roster of about 43 players. The Stags compiled an 8-0 record and beat Waterville, 56-0, in the state final in November. Cheverus ended the season with five straight shutouts and 22 consecutive scoreless quarters.

Eight-man football debuted in Maine in 2019 in an effort to help football programs struggling with small rosters to be able to continue to play the sport safely and competitively. The 10 programs that made the switch to eight-man football in 2019 had rosters that ranged from 16 to 31 players the year before.

The Stags had planned to play eight-man in 2020, but the tackle football season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“We went to eight-man because of numbers,” said Cheverus Coach Mike Vance. “We were expecting a roster in the high 20s last fall and we don’t have a feeder program, and we really didn’t know what was going to happen.”

Now, Cheverus has the numbers to return to 11-man. Vance said if all of his 2021 freshmen, sophomores and juniors return, “we potentially could bring back high 30s.”


“The goal has always been to grow the program and play 11-man football, simply because we want to offer the game to as many kids as we can,” Vance said. “We’re excited to have enough kids to play 11-man. We want to play 11-man. But a good barometer is asking, ‘Can you provide subvarsity play?’ If you can, 11-man is right.”

Vance said between 2016-18, Cheverus was unable to complete a junior varsity season. It had to cancel all its JV games in 2019.

The MPA’s Football Committee, which meets Thursday, is expected to set new parameters mandating that teams with a roster greater than 33 players must play 11-man. This concept was unanimously supported at its last meeting, according to meeting minutes.

Cheverus will apply to play in Class C, even though its enrollment of 360 students would place it in Class D. Vance said he believes Class C is “a really good match for us. It’s going to be extremely competitive, with some really good programs and good coaching and there’s nothing easy about it for us.”

“When we made the difficult decision to move to eight-man in February 2020, our projections were for 26 athletes,” said Cheverus Athletic Director Amy Ashley in a news release posted to Twitter. “We had not had a JV game in years and we did not know if all of our returning players would actually return, since many did not get to participate in a single snap all season.”

Ashley went on to say, “The decision to participate in eight-man football was a good solution to a problem that many schools were facing throughout the state. Eight-man allowed us to play a full JV schedule and brought many new players to us, especially in the first few weeks of the season.”

She added: “While Cheverus will never know how many incoming freshmen will join football until mid-summer, we do know that next year, our numbers will allow us to get back to 11-man football.”

Vance said, “We did not want to stay in eight-man with 45 kids. What I don’t want to come off as sounding like is, ‘Thank God, we’re done with eight-man.’ Eight-man is a great format.”

Prior to its move to eight-man, Cheverus had competed in Class A until 2018, winning a state championship as recently as 2011 and appearing in the Class A championship game in 2013. In its final season in Class A, Cheverus went 6-2 in the regular season, 7-3 overall. In 2019, Cheverus moved to Class B along with several other traditional Class A schools like Portland, Deering and South Portland, compiling a 4-4 regular-season record and finishing 5-5 overall.

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