When high school football realignment was being discussed by the Maine Principals’ Association, one thing schools asked to keep intact were rivalry games. The final week of the regular season brings them.
Three in Class A stick out: South Portland at Portland, Lewiston at Edward Little, both Friday night, and Biddeford at Thornton Academy on Saturday.
While the six teams that make the playoffs in both Eastern and Western Class A appear set, there could be some movement within those six based on these games. All six of these teams are playoff bound.
After Edward Little beat Deering last week to secure a playoff spot in Eastern Maine, Coach Dave Sterling told his team that the playoffs start with this week’s game against Lewiston.
And that’s the mindset for the other teams as well. For teams heading to the playoffs, rivalry games come at a good time. They offer a good way to prepare because these games are intense, maybe more intense than a first-round playoff game because of the tradition.
“The rivalry thing is big. We had to keep them,” said Sterling.
“It’s a playoff atmosphere,” said South Portland Coach Steve Stinson. “We’ve had a good run against quality opponents. I’ve told the kids the playoffs start this week.”
With eight teams in both Eastern and Western Class A, six teams head to the playoffs in each region. In the West those teams are Bonny Eagle, Thornton Academy, South Portland, Scarborough, Biddeford and Sanford. In the East it will be Cheverus, Portland, Windham, Bangor, Edward Little and Lewiston. The Eddies moved ahead of the Blue Devils into fifth place by beating Deering while the Blue Devils were losing to Portland.
What’s missing this year in both regions is jockeying for the final playoff spots.
“It’s a little bit anticlimactic because we know we can’t move,” said Sanford Coach Mike Fallon.
While there’s no battle for the final playoff spots in Class A, the playoffs look interesting. In the East, Cheverus and Portland are clearly the best two teams and will get first-round byes. That means they’ll move right to the semifinals in two weeks.
The West is more competitive with at least four teams having a chance to win the regional title. For the top two seeds, it means a two-week layoff from playing, which some coaches might question, but it also gives those teams a chance to rest and recover from injuries.
“I was not real happy with it at the start of the season but with our situation, I kind of like it because it gives us a chance to get healthy,” said Thornton Coach Kevin Kezal.
Because of injuries, Thornton has used 11 offensive linemen this season. The Golden Trojans have gotten some original line starters back over the last two games but two are out for the season. Thornton also lost running back Andrew Libby, one of the best players in the state, for the season in the opener.
“We’re as healthy as we’re going to be in the line and we’re getting a couple of skill players coming back this week,” said Kezal. “The kids have been resilient. We’re fortunate to have depth throughout the program.”
There are other rivalry games this weekend – Deering-Cheverus, Cony-Gardiner, Marshwood-York, Waterville-Winslow, Sanford-Massabesic and Windham-Bonny Eagle. The three mentioned above have played long before state and regional playoffs were part of high school football, but their outcomes this year will go a long way in determining the playoff picture.
“There’s still a lot that could happen,” said Biddeford Coach Brian Curit.
THE BIDDEFORD-THORNTON ACADEMY game has special meaning for the people in Biddeford and Saco. And well it should. The schools will meet for the 93rd time in the regular season.
The series began in 1893 and had a few stops and starts in the early years. The schools then met each season from 1927-54 and from 1963 to the present.
Many times the teams are contenders for the regional title.
There’s always plenty of pageantry connected with the game, which annually draws one of the largest crowds of the season. For this year’s game, set for Thornton’s Hill Stadium, the Saco Police Honor Guard will present the colors prior to the national anthem. The Saco Police and Fire departments’ first responders will be recognized. After the game, the student council presidents from both schools will present the game trophy to the winning team.
Thornton Academy has won the last two games in the series and seven of the last eight. The Tigers will be determined to end that run while starting one of their own.
“I think the athletes on both teams match up pretty well,” said Curit.
OLD ORCHARD BEACH (4-3) plays Friday night at Boothbay Region (3-4), looking to finish the regular season strongly while getting ready for the Western Class D playoffs. The top eight teams qualify.
“We’re in sixth place and can’t finish below five if we win,” said Coach Dean Plante. “It’s going to be a great tournament.”
The Seagulls are happy getting into the playoffs but as Plante said: “One injury can hurt a team’s chances.”
Old Orchard remembers some recent years when it had winning records but missed the playoffs.
“We’ve had some teams finish 6-2 and not get into the playoffs,” Plante said.
HEADING INTO the final weekend of the regular season, here are some of the statistical leaders in Eastern Class A, as compiled by Lewiston Athletic Director Jason Fuller.
Joe Fitzpatrick of Cheverus leads in rushing (1,303 yards) and touchdowns (21). Justin Zukowski of Portland is second with 1,266 yards and 17 touchdowns.
In passing, Eddie Emerson of Lewiston has thrown for 672 yards to lead in that category while Jordan Talbot of Portland has thrown the most touchdown passes with 11. Tyler Johnson of Windham is the most efficient passer at 61.19 percent.
Ace Curry of Lewiston leads pass receivers with 23 receptions for 294 yards.
Andrew St. Pierre of Edward Little is the leading tackler with 82.
Tom Chard can be contacted at 791-6419 or at: