OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The picture is a little grainy, the audio a little scratchy. Then again, it should be. This particular VHS tape is 27 years old.
Jack Trull is mesmerized by it.
“I could watch this all day,” he said, sitting in his Saco home.
No doubt. The tape is the second half of the 1986 Class D state championship football game between Old Orchard Beach High — coached at the time by Trull, now the school’s athletic director — and Madison. Old Orchard won 33-20, scoring 27 unanswered points in the second half.
At the time no one knew it would be the last Class D state title game sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association. The following fall, football was restructured into three classes. But after years of debate, the MPA re-established Class D beginning this fall, again putting the state’s smallest schools into their own division.
Old Orchard Beach, with 268 students, is the fourth-smallest school in the state playing football. And the Seagulls hope to provide a bookend to the Class D Gold Ball that sits in the school’s trophy case.
“That,” said the current coach, Dean Plante, a junior reserve on that 1986 team, “would be cool.”
THE LOSS THAT SET UP A TITLE
This isn’t the first time the MPA has reinstituted Class D. The MPA crowned champions in the division from 1951 to 1975 (except for 1971 and 1972, when no champion was designated according to MPA records). Then they stopped for three years.
In 1979, Class D resumed with a state championship game. At the time, Old Orchard was playing in the Southern York League, which featured larger schools such as Marshwood, York, Kennebunk, Wells, Noble and Massabesic.
Curt Chretien, an Old Orchard assistant coach who was also a junior on that 1986 team, insists that the Gulls “could have won close to 10 Gold Balls if we hadn’t been playing those schools.”
But after the 1984 season, Trull’s first (a 2-6 record), the Seagulls considered a move to Class D.
“Joe Regina (the athletic director at the time) wasn’t in favor of it,” said Trull. “He was old-school. He wanted to play the schools in our backyard.”
And after the decision was made to move down, Regina reminded Trull, “You can’t go any lower than Class D. We were more than a little intimidated.”
Moving down was just what the school needed.
The Gulls went 10-1, losing only in the Class D state championship game, 7-0 to a powerful Dexter team headed by the fabulous Haines twins, Michael and Mark. They combined for more than 8,000 rushing yards in their high school career.
Old Orchard held them to about 100 in the game, but Mark Haines scored the game’s only touchdown on a 43-yard interception return.
That loss, said Trull, “was a huge motivation for our guys. By 1986 our weight program was on track. The kids had a purpose.”
The Gulls repeated their undefeated regular season, getting tested only twice: 18-14 over Mexico and 20-14 over Messalonskee.
Then they beat Messalonskee 33-13 in the semifinals, setting up the showdown with Madison.
THAT NOT-TO-BE-FORGOTTEN GAME
Nov. 8, 1986 dawned gray, chilly and drizzly. By the time the game started a fog hung around the Winslow High field. The field was wet and muddy.
Madison, coached by Art Rudman, converted an Old Orchard fumble and interception into a 20-6 lead at the half.
“I think the thing that stands out most for me about that game,” said Plante, “was the halftime speeches by Jack and Marc (Gagne, his top assistant). It was almost like the game was playing out perfectly.”
Trull said he had a simple message for his players: “We wanted them to come out and play like we had all season and show them what Old Orchard Beach football was about. We weren’t going to quit and we were going to find a way to win.”
Josh Barstow, the senior quarterback/kicker/punter, started it.
On their second possession of the second half, the Seagulls faced a fourth-and-long at their 16. As Barstow took the long snap, he hesitated and looked up — “See him look,” said Trull, watching the tape — and noticed the Madison linemen had peeled back to set up a blocking wall for the punt returner.
Barstow then took off, running up the right sideline to the Old Orchard 45. “People were yelling at me that it was a great call,” said Trull. “I didn’t call it. That was all Josh.”
And that’s when everything started going right for the Seagulls — and wrong for Madison.
“That really turned the game around,” said Carl Rudman, a Madison assistant at the time.
Aided by a later 15-yard penalty against Madison, OOB scored to pull within 20-12. On the second play after the kickoff, Tommy Mullen intercepted a pass, returning it to the 25. A Madison player was called for a late hit, moving the ball to the 12. A couple plays later, Barstow threw a touchdown pass to Tom LaChance and it was 20-18.
Madison lost a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. At this point, said Trull, the OOB sideline was delirious. “We were still losing at the time,” he said, “but we knew we were going to win.”
On the other sideline, said Carl Rudman, the Bulldogs had a sinking feeling. “Any time you’re in a game like that, when you have the upper hand and lose it, it’s really hard,” he said.
Facing a fourth-and-2 on the first play of the fourth quarter, Barstow drew Madison offside with a hard count. LaChance then scored on a 19-yard run and the Seagulls led 24-20. OOB had missed its previous two 2-point conversions so the Seagulls lined up as if to kick the PAT.
But Trull had a message for his seventh-grade manager, Billy Blanchette, to deliver to Barstow. “I didn’t want to use a timeout,” said Trull, “so when Billy ran out to give Josh the kicking tee, I told him to tell Josh to (fake it).”
The snap came directly to Barstow, who threw a pass to David Snow and it was 26-20.
When the game finally ended, said Trull, “there was this big pig pile. Kids were crying with joy.”
After watching the VHS tape of the comeback again, Trull shook his head. “Special kids on a special team,” he said.
A BIG WELCOME HOME
When the team turned off the Maine Turnpike to return to the high school, they were greeted by every police car, fire truck and ambulance in Old Orchard Beach.
“Yeah, we had a parade,” said Plante. “My dad (Jerry) was the town manager. We had no problem getting the fire trucks.”
What Trull remembers is the length of the parade.
“We didn’t get to the high school for another hour,” he said. “They took us all through town. I think we went on every road in Old Orchard. And what was great is that people were coming out, flicking their lights on for us. Somehow everyone knew.”
The celebration continued for a while. “We ate for free for weeks,” said Plante. “I think there were team dinners for the next three weeks.”
Plante said the victory, “established football as the sport in town.” Chretien said it “brought back the football tradition.”
OOB went on to win two more state championships, both in Class C, in 1990 and 1993.
“I think that win in 1986 meant more than we realized at the time,” said Trull. “For all the teams that played prior to it, it verified something for them.”
THE TROPHY TELLS THE TALE
Neither Plante nor Chretien have mentioned the 1986 Class D title to their players this preseason. They don’t need to.
“We all know about it,” said Joey Gildard, a senior running back. “The trophy’s in the case.”
Plante thinks about winning the championship, of course. It’s every team’s goal at the start of the season. But playing in Class D, against schools of similar size, gives the Seagulls a better chance.
“It gives us a chance to compete against every team we play,” said Chretien.
More than that, said Plante, it gives the smaller schools a chance to compete every year. They will no longer be going up against schools with enrollments double their size. Their rosters will be relatively the same size.
“To be honest, in the short term (playing in Class D) will have little impact because we are playing a lot of the same schools we played last year,” he said. “But in the long term it allows the small schools to be protected.”
Trull looks at the new class designations differently than others.
“I don’t really think we added a D,” he said. “We added something in the middle; all we did was push the letters down.
“But these small schools have to play each other. It’s a survival thing for them.”
Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: