Maine’s eight largest high school football programs will test their skills against similar teams from New Hampshire this fall after a proposal for countable cross-border competition was approved Thursday by the Maine Principals’ Association’s interscholastic management committee.
Each of Maine’s Class A football teams may play one game against Division I opponents from New Hampshire during the 2022 regular season, with matchups filling schedule byes in both states.
“Number one, playing versus having a bye is always good just to keep things going and not have a break in your season,” Bangor High School football coach Dave Morris said. “At the same time, playing a different opponent than you’ve played before and playing an out-of-state team will be a great experience for everyone. I think the kids will really enjoy that on both sides.”
Participating teams will be ranked in each state to provide for tiered scheduling in an effort to develop the most competitive matchups possible.
“We’re not going to match up a lower-tier Maine school against an upper-tier New Hampshire school because that defeats the purpose of what we’re trying to do,” said MPA football committee chair Fred Lower, athletic administrator at Hampden Academy.
Non-counting games matching teams from Maine and nearby states is not uncommon — Morris’ Bangor baseball team will play an exhibition game Saturday against Bedford, New Hampshire, in Old Orchard Beach.
This will mark the first time such games have been contested in a countable way, with the football matchups being applied to Maine’s Class A standings through the Crabtree point system, which ranks programs based on the winning percentages of each team and the teams they play, whether from Maine or New Hampshire.
The Maine-New Hampshire encounters are not yet officially on the calendar, as Class A schedulers have to match the current bye weeks for their schools to correspond with the bye weeks of their respective New Hampshire opponents, then add the in-state contests.
Bangor, Maine’s northernmost Class A football program, likely will be matched against Portsmouth High School based in part on relative geographic proximity to the New Hampshire border community.
Not only will the Maine-New Hampshire matchups fill open dates for the Class A schools, they also should reduce the number of in-state crossover games between Class A and Class B foes.
That’s good news to Jeremie Sirois, principal at Class B Kennebunk High School and a member of the MPA’s interscholastic management committee.
“I’m in favor of the crossovers with New Hampshire. I think our top-level A teams don’t have a lot of competition in the state of Maine,” he said.
“As a Class B principal of one school and a Class B dad of another school I have said for as long as we’ve had crossovers with A that it was a bad idea. This coming fall will be my eighth year as a Class B football principal and I can only think of three teams at the Class A level that have lost to Class B teams … so, one, Class B teams know that they have no chance at being undefeated going into their state tournament, and two, those upper Class A teams, because of their depth and size and speed, continue to cause issues for Class B South schools specifically with injuries leading into the more competitive seasons within their own ranks.”
Any Class A school has the option to not play a New Hampshire crossover game and instead retain the bye week without penalty as long as that decision is made before the start of the season, MPA interscholastic executive director Mike Burnham said.
But Lower anticipates that all eight Class A teams — Bangor, Bonny Eagle of Standish, Edward Little of Auburn, Lewiston, Oxford Hills of South Paris, Sanford, Scarborough and Thornton Academy of Saco — will be open to the additional regular-season contest.
“Everything we’ve heard is that Class A wanted a nine-game schedule and that they’re willing to take the bye if this was not voted through,” he said. “But they wanted to have another competitive game and this option will allow that because we can find schools in New Hampshire that are of equal standard.”
At the urging of IMC member and Caribou Community School assistant principal Travis Barnes, the Maine-New Hampshire football relationship will be reviewed after the upcoming season at the panel’s January 2023 meeting to determine its future.
The nearly completed 2022 schedule for each of the state’s four 11-player football classes originated from the work of a committee of athletic administrators representing each of the state’s football conferences and included significant coaches’ input to develop tiered schedules similar to how the state’s high school ice hockey schedule is organized.
“Football is unique in the state of Maine. It’s a growing sport, but there’s also a lot of schools that are just barely hanging on or that are trying to rebuild,” Lower said. “This group was tasked with trying to build a more competitive schedule so that we aren’t seeing as many lopsided scores as we‘ve been seeing in the last few years.”
Coaches provided the panel with 13 opponents their teams would play, five “must haves” from within their division and eight preferred opponents from different classes for possible crossover games.
Coaches also were asked to rank the teams within their division from strongest to weakest, leading to a conference schedule of five to six games for each team.
The rest of the eight-game schedules in Classes B and C were determined as much as possible by preferred picks, and if there still remained open dates the committee made selections it thought presented competitive matchups with travel and rivalries also considered.
At that point single-division Class A still had an open week as it contests its regular season over nine weeks because it has no regional championship weekend during postseason play.
Two scheduling committee members from York County — athletic administrators Gary Stevens of Thornton Academy and Rich Buzzell of Marshwood High School of South Berwick — suggested looking to New Hampshire to fill the Class A bye week because New Hampshire’s Division I faced a similar bye-related dilemma.
While the Maine-New Hampshire games will eliminate byes in Class A, Lower said some work remains in Class D, which like Class A will have just eight schools this fall in the aftermath of Bucksport’s move to eight-player football competition.
Lower said that while an eight-week regular season schedule already has been developed for Class D, a ninth week of play will be added by matching teams that haven’t already been scheduled to play each other or, if necessary, a second meeting of the season between some Class D foes.