Week 1 of competition in Maine high school football’s new eight-player class was not all that different from what those same participants faced back during their 11-player days.
“I think people are realizing it’s not smoke and mirrors out there, it’s real football, and everybody’s doing pretty much everything they always did before. There’s not a lot of change in what we’re seeing on the field,” Ellsworth/Sumner head coach Duane Crawford said.
“You’re seeing I formation and double wing, and you’re seeing spread formations here and there, but even out of the spread teams aren’t throwing that much. It looks just like everything else I’ve been watching for the last 20 years.”
High-scoring games were predicted as teams took the field with two fewer linemen and one fewer skill-position player on offense, and three fewer defenders on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
The five games around the state during the opening week of play produced a mix of offensive production.
Mt. Ararat of Topsham and Traip Academy of Kittery each scored 56 points in their victories, with Mt. Ararat defeating Gray-New Gloucester 56-28 and Traip topping Sacopee Valley of South Hiram 56-12. Old Orchard Beach outscored Telstar 44-28 in Maine’s first-ever Maine Principals’ Association-sanctioned eight-player contest Thursday night.
There also were more defensive-minded battles, with Maranacook of Readfield outlasting Boothbay 14-6 and Yarmouth edging Ellsworth/Sumner 20-14 Friday night in Ellsworth in front of a packed house at Tug White Stadium.
“I think the crowd liked it,” said Crawford, whose team plays its second straight home game this Friday night against Gray-New Gloucester. “Everyone came up to me and said it was a fun game to watch, so I think they enjoyed it. It was close right up to the very end.”
Turnovers played a role in the relatively low-scoring game at Ellsworth, with the teams combining for eight lost fumbles.
Watch: This is how eight-person football works
But Crawford noticed another factor that challenged the offenses — the width of the field.
Maine’s 10 eight-player football teams play on a gridiron that’s the traditional 100 yards long but which, at 40 yards wide, is 13 1/3 yards narrower than the traditional field.
“As far as the idea of these being high-scoring games, narrowing that field really makes a huge difference,” Crawford said. “It really is an equalizer when it comes to putting up all those points that everyone, including me, thought were going to be put up.
“That sideline comes up on you quickly. You get to the sideline in a hurry, and before you know it, you’ve got to cut upfield.”
The Ellsworth/Sumner game offered high-scoring potential at the outset as Eagles’ senior J’Von James — a transfer from Springfield (Massachusetts) Central High School — returned the game’s opening kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown.
But the game quickly settled down with Yarmouth building a 21-6 third-quarter lead before Ellsworth-Sumner senior quarterback Connor Crawford scored on a 3-yard run and passed to James for the two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game.
The Eagles later fumbled the ball out of the end zone from the Yarmouth 2 to foil a chance to draw closer and ended the game with the ball near the Clippers’ 20-yard line.
“It was kind of a feeling-out-the-offense situation because we had some kids out there that through preseason looked like they could play in the positions we were putting them in,” Crawford said, “and some kids that were relatively new and hadn’t had a chance to touch the ball much who will get some more reps this week.”
The Eagles fielded 14 players for the game compared to approximately double that number for Yarmouth.
“Feeling out the offense and what works and what doesn’t and what we can do and what we can’t do will get a little easier as the season goes on,” coach Crawford said.