Long before Mother Nature’s wrath inspired the improvisational birth of a “Super Saturday” concept in which all of Maine’s high school football state finals were played annually at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland, those contests were held in different locations each year.
The 1999 schedule included the Maine Principals’ Association staging the Class A state final on Morse Field at the University of Maine in Orono.
That marked the first state championship game in Maine to be played on artificial turf, with a South Portland team guided by current Cheverus of Portland coach John Wolfgram scoring 15 fourth-quarter points to win the crown with a 24-10 victory over Eastern Maine champion Oxford Hills of South Paris.
Both teams traveled long distances north to play the game, but despite many recollections since then about how few fans attended the contest, news reports at the time estimated the crowd at 5,500 — which if even close to correct put to rest at least for that day the popular notion in some circles that a drive north on Interstate 95 is much, much longer than a drive of the same distance south on the same highway.
Three years later, the Class A, B and C state finals were relocated to the artificial turf at Fitzpatrick Stadium on short notice after a snowstorm blanketed the state the previous weekend and left the original sites for the Class B (Cony High School in Augusta) and Class C (Winslow High School) games unplayable. The 2002 Class A final already had been scheduled for Portland.
The move proved popular enough that the three-game championship Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium became a permanent final stage of Maine’s high school football season until this year, when the MPA expanded its football format from three to four classes for the first time since 1986 and opted for a two-site resolution for adding a fourth state game.
So under a rotation developed over the summer that will have either Class B, C, or D holding its state final at the University of Maine on the Friday night before Saturday’s continuing tripleheader in Portland each of the next three years, this year’s Class B clash between Cony and Kennebunk will mark the first high school football state championship game on the Orono campus in 14 years.
That means a lengthy bus ride north for Cony (approximately 85 miles) and Kennebunk (approximately 165 miles), but MPA officials are hopeful football fans from both communities and throughout Eastern Maine and beyond will turn out for the 7 p.m. contest Friday.
“It’s a great opportunity to provide championship football to this part of the state,” said MPA assistant executive director Mike Burnham. “We want to give as many people as we can the opportunity to see a good game and experience the atmosphere of championship football.”
Officials at the University of Maine also are enthusiastic about having state championship high school football back on the Orono campus.
“It will be great for people in Eastern Maine to have the opportunity to go to a state championship game without having to make the drive to Portland to see such outstanding football,” said Will Biberstein, the university’s associate athletic director for internal operations.
The university and MPA have cooperated in recent years to utilize UMaine facilities for a variety of regional and state championship events in such sports as field hockey, swimming, ice hockey, baseball and basketball.
Bringing a state championship football game to the Alfond Stadium complex is yet another way for the university to showcase its Division I athletic facilities and other offerings to high school students and their parents.
“We’re really hoping a lot of the student-athletes and students are going to become Black Bears one day,” Biberstein said.
The MPA’s football committee omitted the Class A state final from the UMaine rotation because Bangor has the only Class A football program north of the Lewiston-Auburn region and nearly all the other 15 Class A-playing schools reside within an hour of Fitzpatrick Stadium.
That’s less the case in Classes B, C and D, whose teams are more spread out geographically from the state’s current northernmost varsity program at Stearns of Millinocket to its southernmost program at Traip Academy of Kittery.
“And you’re talking those classes doing it once every three years,” said Burnham, who added that no one from Kennebunk High School has made an issue to his office of having to travel to Orono for its championship game.
Both Kennebunk and Cony likely are more concerned about merely having the opportunity to compete for a state title than where the game is being played.
Kennebunk will be playing in its first state final since 1998 and is after its first state championship since 1991. Cony, whose representatives visited UMaine’s Alfond Stadium complex on Tuesday, will be playing in its first-ever football state game.
“I thought when Cony had the opportunity to tour the field this week they felt comfortable about coming up here to play,” said Burnham.
The Class B battle of the Rams could be high on entertainment value, with 8-2 Cony averaging 43.1 points per game this fall while 11-0 Kennebunk averages 37.5 points per outing.
Another point of interest that could lure fans to Orono is the chance to watch prolific Cony quarterback Ben Lucas. The 6-foot-4-inch senior has thrown what is being described as an unofficial state-record 86 career touchdown passes, including 38 in 10 games this year alone.
So far this season, Lucas — who reportedly has drawn considerable college recruiting interest, including from the University of Maine — has completed 201 of 329 passes for 3,039 yards.