BREWER, Maine — There was considerable relief within the Brewer High School football camp two years ago when the Witches’ enrollment dropped the program from Class A to Class B.
The team had struggled against the largest schools in Eastern Maine Class A, and the move to Class B enabled coach Don Farnham’s club to become much more competitive. Brewer qualified for the Pine Tree Conference Class B playoffs in both 2011 and 2012 while compiling an overall record of 11-7.
This year the Witches remain in Class B, but with the reintroduction of a four-class structure for high school football statewide for the first time since 1986, much of what a year ago was Eastern Maine Class A has dropped back onto Brewer’s schedule.
Five schools that played in Class A last fall — two-time defending Eastern A champion Lawrence of Fairfield, 2012 Eastern A finalist Cony of Augusta, Brunswick, Skowhegan and Messalonskee of Oakland — have joined Brewer in the new-look Eastern B along with fellow holdovers Hampden Academy, Gardiner and reigning Class B state champion Mt. Blue of Farmington.
Eight of those nine teams qualified for postseason play last season. Skowhegan was the lone exception — prompting many familiar with the reclassification process to refer jokingly to the new division as the NFC East.
Count Farnham among those struggling to find such humor in the new reality of Eastern Maine Class B football.
“I knew it was going to come,” said the veteran coach Wednesday afternoon as his squad posed for team pictures outside Brewer Community School. “But I try to get away from the political end of things of why this or why that. I’m just worrying about my program and trying to build it.”
With 709 students on April 1, 2012, the date used by the Maine Principals’ Association for its most recent two-year reclassification effort in all sports, Brewer has the second-smallest enrollment among the Eastern B schools. Only Gardiner with 617 students is smaller.
Brewer also is the only team in the nine-school Eastern B not to have a crossover game against an opponent from the 11-school Western Maine Class B, meaning the Witches’ schedule is loaded with opponents coming off playoff runs in 2012.
Brewer’s early season slate borders on the brutal, opening at home against Brunswick on Sept. 6 and then facing back-to-back road games at Lawrence and Cony.
“We have a lot tougher schedule,” said Witches’ senior captain Adam Lufkin. “A lot of teams that were in Class A last year are coming down to play us. They’re bigger schools, better players. We just have to play harder.”
One source of optimism is that Lufkin joins fellow captains Calvin Patterson and Joshua Lugdon and classmate John Bouchard as seniors who will start along the offensive line, giving Brewer a foundation for success at the line of scrimmage.
But that group is among just nine seniors on the entire roster, making the Witches one of the youngest teams in their class.
“It’s a lot easier to take up leadership with such a small class and so many freshmen,” said Patterson. “But we are a very young team and we’re going to have to rely very heavily on the younger guys.”
Among those younger players is sophomore quarterback Logan Rogerson, who stepped in to run Brewer’s pistol offense midway through his freshman season and since then has played prominent roles on both the school’s varsity basketball and baseball teams.
“We’ve got a few Class A teams that have come down and they’re going to be tough but we’re going to go out there and battle and hopefully beat them,” said Rogerson. “I think the younger kids will do just fine. They’ve been working hard in practice and they’ll get the hang of it.”
The rapid maturation of Brewer’s younger players likely will be critical as the Witches seek to remain competitive in Class B against a gantlet of programs with considerable recent success in Class A.
“I look at it this way,” said Farnham. “Six years ago when they threw us in Class A it was like throwing a person who couldn’t swim right in the deep end. Now we’ve been in Class B and we’ve learned how to swim, but how good swimmers we are we’re going to find out because now we’re really right back in the deep end.”