Two fewer teams in the Pine Tree Conference Class A football ranks next fall will mean four fewer teams in the playoffs, according to the new schedule that has been approved by that league for the 2011 season.
With Brewer and Mt. Blue dropping to the PTC Class B division by enrollment according to the Maine Principals’ Association reclassification for the next two-year cycle, the PTC A is left with just 10 schools — Bangor, Brunswick, Cony of Augusta, Edward Little of Auburn, Lawrence of Fairfield, Lewiston, Messalonskee of Oakland, Mount Ararat of Topsham, Oxford Hills of South Paris and Skowhegan.
As a result, the conference will play a nine-game regular-season schedule, with each team playing all other teams in the division. That will be followed by a four-team playoff, down from the eight-team format when the conference fielded 12 Class A teams in recent years.
“Selfishly because we’ve been one of the top four teams the last few years I like it because it means one less [postseason] game to get where we want to go,” said Bangor football coach Mark Hackett. “It makes every game in the regular season count more because you’re playing for just four spots, but we want to go out and win every game we play anyway.
“For Bangor High School I like it, but probably there are some other schools that don’t like it.”
Hackett did acknowledge that the depth within the conference may result in some talented teams not making the four-team playoff field to determine the Eastern Maine champion.
“When you have one through eight, you can’t take anything for granted because eight has beaten one,” said Hackett, citing last fall’s quarterfinal round during which No. 8 Brunswick upset No. 1 Lawrence of Fairfield 14-13.
This will mark the first time the PTC A, or Eastern Maine Class A, has held a four-team playoff since the mid-2000s.
The last time Bangor missed the playoffs was in 2005 when the PTC had 11 teams and a similar four-team playoff format. The Rams finished fifth with a 6-2 record.
“It was tough, but what was good about it was that we went to Oxford Hills and won our last game even though we knew we wouldn’t make the playoffs, and that was a positive thing,” said Hackett. “It helped us get ready for the next season.”
The 2011 Class A regular season will start Sept. 2, and end on the weekend of Oct. 28-29. The PTC A semifinals will be held the weekend of Nov. 4-5, with the conference championship game the weekend of Nov. 11-12 and the Class A state final on Nov. 19 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Bangor, the two-time defending Eastern Maine Class A champion, will open its season Sept. 2 at Brunswick and will play its home opener the following weekend on Sept. 9 against Lawrence.
Western Maine Class A, which is dropping from 16 teams to 14 teams next fall with Westbrook and Marshwood of South Berwick moving to Class B by enrollment, is expected to maintain an eight-week regular season followed by a three-week, eight-team regional playoff format.
Foxcroft’s Ayala honored
Foxcroft Academy wrestling coach Luis Ayala, who guided the Ponies to the 2011 Class C state championship, has been named the state’s coach of the year by the Maine Amateur Wrestling Alliance.
The state title was the third for Foxcroft during Ayala’s 10-year head coaching tenure, as the Ponies also won it all in 2004 and 2005.
Ayala coached at Foxcroft from 2000 to 2008, then took one year off before returning to the post in the 2009-2010 season.
This year’s team, with just two seniors, wasn’t expected to win the state championship at the outset of the season. But it continued to improve and develop depth en route to a second-place finish at the Penobscot Valley Conference championships and a win at the Class C qualifying meet before repeating that effort at the states.
That effort was led by two individual state champions in Mark Smith at 112 pounds and Wesley Stinson at 152, as well as second-place finishes by Trevor Weymouth (125), Zac Smith (160) and Cory Bjornson-Weismore (171).