Thursday presented a perfect fall evening for high school football.
The temperature was in the upper 50s, and the lights that illuminated Pottle Field at Hermon High School were accentuated by a full harvest moon in the clear, black sky.
Had this been a Friday night during a typical autumn, the home grandstand would have been packed and hundreds of other fans would be circling the field as the Hawks hosted their annual senior recognition game.
But that’s about where the similarities ended.
The grandstand was barely occupied, limited largely to the parents of the eight Hermon senior football players who were recognized before the start of play.
Total attendance — including players, coaches and referees — was capped at 100 by state mandate.
Instead of a Class B North rival, Hermon faced Class AA Bangor, part of a schedule conceived of geographic necessity rather than championship aspirations.
Competition was being held simultaneously, in opposite directions. The varsity squads battled at one end of the field and the sub-varsity units squared off at the other end.
From left (clockwise): Hermon High School hosted Bangor High School on Thursday night at Pottle field where the bleachers were nearly empty; The Hermon Hawks run off the field before a game of 7-on-7 touch against Bangor High School on Thursday night at Pottle Field; The bleachers at Pottle Field were nearly empty as Hermon permits only two spectators for each senior player because of COVID-19. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
The scoreboard was used only for timing purposes, and instead of the traditional, 12-minute quarters, the games were divided into four 15-minute running-time periods.
And the biggest change of all, 11-player tackle football was replaced by the 7-on-7 touch variety usually reserved for the summer.
Such is life on gridirons throughout Maine during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s weird,” Hermon coach Kyle Gallant admitted. “Here it is October and normally we’re trying to push for a playoff spot by this time and practices get a little intense, but right now it’s a lot more laid back and we’re just trying to have fun.”
Both teams were facing a different opponent for the first time since 7-on-7 play became an option. The Maine Principals’ Association — on the recommendations of several state agencies — determined that tackle football could not be played this fall for safety reasons related to the coronavirus.
While 7-on-7 wasn’t the players’ desired outcome from a summer of virtual meetings that led to some limitations on all of the state’s fall high school sports, these two teams largely saw the bright side — the chance to experience the sport in some fashion with their teammates and friends.
“Playing today didn’t feel normal but it felt like something fun for sure,” Bangor junior quarterback Max Clark said. “School and sports are really the only places we can see our friends so it’s been good to come out here and put in the work.”
Players weren’t sure they’d even have a 7-on-7 option until a few weeks ago, after spending the summer in sporting limbo while Maine and other states painstakingly considered their options.
“When we first got out of school last March we were all thinking maybe this will blow over and we’ll be good for the summer, or we’ll be good for football season,” Bangor senior Cason Markevich said. “We were kind of disappointed that in the summer we didn’t get any workouts.”
Hermon began its conditioning efforts in late August.
“I didn’t really worry about it until the school started deciding things,” Hermon senior Brayden Moses said. “I eventually got hope back and am just glad we got to the point where we’re at now.”
The fact Hermon’s first 7-on-7 scrimmage doubled as senior recognition night was yet another concession to the pandemic. That practice has become commonplace for Maine high school sports this fall to ensure the chance to recognize fourth-year athletes in case coronavirus cases spike to the point that schedules eventually have to be shut down.
From left (clockwise): Hermon Hawks players stand distanced from one another on the sidelines; Hermon High School hosted Bangor High School on Thursday night at Pottle Field where the bleachers were nearly empty; Bangor junior quarterback Max Clark gets ready to pass the ball in a game of 7-on-7 touch against Hermon High School Thursday night at Pottle Field. Credit: Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN
“It was important, especially with this group,” Hermon’s Trevor Smith said. “We’ve had coach Gallant and coach [Matt] Farnham and coach [Troy] Bennett for six years, so the fact we had something like this, even though it’s 7 on 7, it may not be quite as special but it’s better than nothing.”
While no points were kept on the scoreboard this was competition, and some people on both teams were keeping count on their own.
“I think we put up 40 points, but they were a good team,” Clark said. “They had a good defense and their offense wasn’t bad, either. It ended up being a close game at the end. It was competitive, I thought, and it’s always great to play whoever we can play.”
Players from both schools hope their next chance to hit or be hit, wearing helmets and shoulder pads, comes next spring.
The MPA has left the door open to that possibility, and that chance now serves as motivational fodder.
“The last thing I heard was it’s hopeful for a spring season, which is also what they said about the fall,” Smith said. “I hope come springtime we’re allowed to play because for me personally I would like to have a real season for my senior year.
“This is something, but I would want a real season.”