Maranacook football players run out onto the field before a game against Old Orchard Beach on Friday in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

READFIELD — The eight-man football playoffs are set to begin this weekend, albeit with a trimmed field after three schools declined an invitation to participate. 

In the Small School division, Telstar and St. John Valley (Madawaska/Fort Kent/Wisdom) opted out. So, too, did Spruce Mountain, which competes in the Large School division.

Telstar, which ended as the No. 6 seed in Small South, didn’t anticipate having enough healthy players to compete this weekend. The Rebels lost several players to injury in a 52-28 loss to the Black Bears in the regular season finale on Saturday in Bethel.

With the Rebels out, the No. 3 Black Bears (5-2) receive a bye to the Small South semifinals. Maranacook is the only Small South team to receive a bye. No. 1 Orono in Small North and No. 3 Mount Desert Island in Large North also received byes in their respective playoff fields.

“It’s not what we would have expected going into last week, that’s for sure,” said Maranacook first-year coach Skip Bessey. “We had hoped to play them at Maranacook this Friday, but things change, and now, we have an extra week to get ready for our first playoff game, probably against Dirigo.”

The Maine Principals’ Association Football Committee discussed adjusting the eight-man playoff fields Monday, including a reshuffling of seeds. For example, in Small South, No. 8 Mount View and No. 7 Traip would each move up a spot, with No. 1 Old Orchard Beach receiving the bye. 


However, MPA director Mike Burnham said the committee ultimately decided to only award byes to teams whose opponents opted out.

“This has happened in other sports over the years, and once you decline a bid, to reclassify throws off the entire tournament schedule,” Burnham said. “The Football Committee looked at, ‘is there a precedent on reseeding vs. declining and your opponent moving ahead,’ and because we’ve addressed this in other sports, they felt it was in the best interest of football to follow that precedent.”

First-year Maranacook coach Skip Bessey said he left Bethel on Saturday unsure if Telstar would enter the playoffs.

“Going through that handshake line, a few of their players said, ‘We’ll see you next week,’ and a few said, ‘No, we probably, won’t see you,’” Bessey said. “When I talked to their athletic director after the game, she said they were going to meet Monday, and I just had a funny feeling in the back of my head they were going to decline.”

Early Monday afternoon, Telstar head coach Tim O’Connor called Bessey to inform him of the Rebels’ decision. O’Connor’s team, Bessey said, had four players in concussion protocol and another who had suffered a broken wrist, leaving serious safety concerns for a pared-down roster in a potential rematch.

As a result, Maranacook  advanced to the Small South semifinals, where it will face either No. 2 Dirigo (6-1) or No. 7  Traip (1-6).


Should the Black Bears take on the Cougars, it would set up another potentially tight showdown. The Cougars edged the Black Bears by six points in each of their previous two games — 26-20 in the regional semifinals last season and 28-22 in Dixfield two weeks ago.

“The boys, our coaching staff and especially myself, we’re really chomping at the bit for that game,” Bessey. “I don’t feel they got the best of us that night up in Dixfield, and watching the film has only solidified that. Ever since that film session after that game, we’ve been thinking about playing them again.”

Elsewhere in the eight-man playoffs, No. 5 Waterville (2-5) will face No. 4 Mountain Valley (3-4) in a Large North quarterfinal game Friday in Rumford.


• • •



Michigan vs. Ohio State on Thanksgiving weekend in college football; Duke vs. North Carolina in early March in college basketball; bad-blood divisional games in Week 18 of the NFL. There’s something that just feels right when two rivals play one another in the final game of the regular season.

Between a global pandemic, Gardiner spending a year in Class C and an odd scheduling quirk, it’s been a few years since that kind of matchup has happened for Cony and Gardiner. That all changes at 7 p.m. Friday, though, when the Rams will host the Tigers in the first Week 8 battle between the two since 2019.

“I think it definitely feels more normal when you’re playing each other at the end of the regular season,” said Cony head coach B.L. Lippert. “It’s the last game, and then you look forward to the playoffs. We have tape on them, and they have tape on us, so there’s not too many surprises.”

The Maranacook football teams runs onto the field before an Oct. 6 game against Old Orchard Beach in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Cony and Gardiner did not meet in the traditional manner on the gridiron in 2020 as COVID-19 precautions limited teams to modified seven-on-games. With Cony in Class B and Gardiner in Class C in 2021, the teams played in the preseason that year before facing one another in Week 7 last season.

Cony, which leads the overall series 76-58-10, has had Gardiner’s number as of late, winning the past four meetings and nine of the past 10. The Rams also have the momentum in the form of a three-game winning streak, whereas Gardiner has dropped its past two contests after a 4-1 start.

There’s never a dull meeting between Cony and Gardiner, but with both teams 4-3 this year, the final-week matchup means even more. The winning team will get the No. 3 seed in the playoffs, which is also on the minds of both teams ahead of the state’s oldest rivalry game.


“We try to treat it like the big game that it is but not make it our whole season,” Lippert said. “It’s a huge game that the kids look forward to and the alumni look forward to, but you also want to make a deep run, and if you put too much emphasis on one game, that can get away from you.”


• • •


There’s a reason Gardiner now must either beat Cony or win two playoff games to notch its first winning season since 2012. That’s because Skowhegan went on the road Friday and claimed a 22-14 upset win over the Tigers at Hoch Field.

It’s been a trying season at times for Skowhegan, which is in a rebuilding phase after losing nearly every key player from last year’s state championship-winning team. The River Hawks, though, have now bounced back from going scoreless over their first three games to winning two of their last four.


“I’m extremely proud of our kids,” said Skowhegan interim head coach Brad Cyr. “We preach hard work and execution and try to find improvement every week, and we went into a hostile environment against a good team and put it all together. When we do that, we’re a pretty dangerous team.”

Senior Asher Fitzgerald had a big game for Skowhegan (2-5), recording 12 tackles and blocking two punts in the win. Ayden Mulcahy rushed for 63 yards and two 2-point conversions for the River Hawks, who led 16-0 at halftime before Gardiner clawed back into the game.

Gardiner youth football and high school cheerleaders stand for the national anthem before a Sept. 29 game in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

The Tigers’ resilience definitely took momentum away from a young Skowhegan team, which could have wilted in front of a raucous senior night crowd at Hoch Field. Instead, the River Hawks responded positively to the pressure and expanded their lead before closing out a key victory.

“We had a moment on the sideline where we all just decided to take a deep breath and get the game back in our control,” Cyr said. “People don’t think momentum is a real thing, but I think otherwise, and when we felt it slipping away, we just went back to basics and what we’re good at and put ourselves back in control.”

Skowhegan, which hosts Falmouth (1-6) to close out the regular season Friday, is now likely to get the No. 5 seed in the Class B North playoffs. That would mean a rematch with the Cony-Gardiner loser in the regional quarterfinals next week, something Cyr is a lot more confident about after his team’s Week 7 result.

“We’re expecting to see the loser of that Gardiner-Cony game, so for us, I think this is a big confidence-booster knowing we can compete with those teams above us,” Cyr said. “If we can get another win this week and some momentum, I think we’re feeling even better about our chances.”


Comments are not available on this story.