ORONO — There were the realities typical of a preseason high school football game — big plays, broken plays, a few turnovers and a few too many penalties for any coach’s liking.
But there was one notable difference Friday night — the location, as the University of Maine was home to a doubleheader involving Bangor, Hampden Academy, John Bapst of Bangor and Camden Hills of Rockport.
John Bapst defeated Camden Hills 19-6 in the opener, then Bangor topped Hampden 38-15 before a paid crowd of nearly 1,100 at Alfond Stadium.
“It was a fun atmosphere,” said Bangor junior tailback Zeb Tuell. “Playing here it’s similar to the state game (at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium), but it’s more of a home crowd so it’s better that way.”
For Tuell and many of the players from all four teams, getting a chance to play in the spacious campus setting provided an appeal beyond just being part of their teams’ final dress rehearsal before regular-season play begins next weekend.
“It was much, much more grandiose than playing on other high school fields,” said Camden Hills senior captain Brandon Graffam. “At Camden Hills we don’t have big, giant grandstands, we’re basically a soccer school that picked up football a few years ago. We have these little, tiny bleachers that our parents pack onto, and playing here with this giant grandstand is magnificent and a little overwhelming.”
The games were the latest examples of a recent trend of more high school events being played on the state university’s flagship campus — as the John Bapst-Camden Hills game began, for instance, a high school field hockey preseason tournament hosted by John Bapst was under way two fields away.
“A lot of times people say the athletic department is the doorstep to the university,” said Will Biberstein, UMaine’s associate athletic director for internal operations, “and I think that’s kind of the role we’re trying to embrace as a way to get more people to campus, get them acclimated and make them feel comfortable here.”
With school not yet in session at UMaine, Biberstein relied on six members of the university’s women’s hockey team to provide support services on behalf of the university, while Bangor, the host team, handled ticket sales and concessions.
The University of Maine Marching Band also performed during halftime of the Bangor-Hampden game, providing another touch that made this more than just a typical exhibition event.
“We’re just excited to have the high school games here, the high school students, the fans and the parents,” said Biberstein. “I think it’s a great opportunity for the university to showcase its facilities but also for potential students to get acclimated to the campus and get to see at least a little bit of what college life is like.”
Tuell provided the evening’s on-field highlight at the outset of the second game, returning the opening kickoff 85 yards for the first of his four touchdowns to give the Class A Rams a 6-0 lead 13 seconds into the contest.
“My adrenalin was really pumping,” said Tuell. “I was looking to make a big play and make a statement coming out and kind of just did it. It just kind of happened. I had a lot of adrenalin pumping because it was a big game.”
But Class B Hampden countered immediately, driving down the field to take a 7-6 lead on a 1-yard run by fullback Nick Stevens with 6:09 left in the first quarter.
Hampden threatened again after a bad punt snap by Bangor gave the Broncos first-and-goal at the the Rams’ 9. But Bangor’s defense stiffened and stopped Logan Steward at the 1 on a fourth-and-4 play.
Bangor then drove 99 yards to take the lead for good on a 4-yard TD run by Tuell four minutes into the second quarter. The Rams added a 30-yard field goal by Carl Farnham, a 13-yard scoring run by Tuell and a 22-yard TD pass from Farnham to Ellis Throckmorton with 7.5 seconds left in the period to take a 31-7 halftime lead.
“Any time you get an opportunity to make something like this an event, you do it,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett of the doubleheader. “If you get to where you want to be at the end of the season (the state championship game), it’s similar to this, it’s not regimental and it’s not your home field, so I think it’s great for team growth.
“And we were tested. This was good for us.”
In the first game, Class C John Bapst jumped out to a 19-0 lead through three quarters en route to its victory over Class B Camden Hills.
The Crusaders took a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter on a 6-yard pass from senior quarterback Deven Romain to senior tight end Max Andrews, one play after a 41-yard pass from Romain to Andrew Catlin.
John Bapst — which will play its regular-season finale against Orono at Alfond Stadium for the second straight year on Oct. 21 — padded its lead just before intermission on a 17-yard pass from Romain to Catlin, then Catlin scored on a 19-yard run early in the second half.
Camden Hills scored with 8:01 left in the fourth quarter on an 8-yard run by freshman tailback Chris Weiss.
“What we tried to do tonight was improve our performance from Monday where we kind of saw the big lights of playing football for the first time,” said Camden Hills coach Linwood Downs. “In this game I thought we improved a little bit on that. We’re still not where we need to be on both sides of the ball but we’re getting pretty close.”
And that’s ultimately what the evening was about no matter the venue, getting ready for the season to come.