David Ouellette was in eighth grade when he realized that football meant a little more in his hometown of Wells.

“We went to York for the (youth) championship game and I remember it was like one York fan to every eight Wells fans,” he said. “The whole town was behind us. And we were only in junior high.”

Other communities have passionate fan bases and strong traditions as football towns. What may separate Wells from the others is the genuine affection and appreciation the high school players have for their fans. The players all but gush about it.

“Now being a senior, knowing I still have the whole Wells community behind me is an incredible feeling,” said Ouellette, the Warriors’ 6-foot-5, 320-pound starting left tackle.

“You can tell at every game that our fans care so much,” said Cody Brassard, one of 19 seniors on the roster and the team’s starting right guard. “I definitely feel that our crowd is a huge advantage. We do have an advantage because our town loves us. It’s amazing.”

On Saturday afternoon, Wells (10-1) will play for the Class C state championship at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium – and the town is expected to turn out in force for the game against Mount Desert Island (9-1).

“I’ve been anticipating this game since last November,” said Jim MacNeill, 50, general manager of The Maine Diner, the iconic eatery in Wells. “To me, 3,000 to 4,000 fans from Wells sounds reasonable. My wife is an example. She doesn’t normally go to games, but there’s no way she’d miss this one. It’s for states.”

The last time Wells played in a state title game was 2011, when it won the Class B title at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The total attendance for all three games played that day was 9,351, according to the Maine Principals’ Association.

“I can guarantee you in 2011 there wasn’t a person left in Wells,” football coach Tim Roche said. “We filled that stadium. The guys from the (Maine Principals’ Association) told us the biggest crowd they had that day was the Wells game, and the same thing is going to happen Saturday.”

EVEN PART-TIME RESIDENTS ARE ROOTERS

A seaside tourist town, Wells has a population of about 10,000 full-time residents that triples in the summer. Many summer residents have second homes in town and visit on weekends during the rest of the year.

“Even some of the weekend people have the team spirit for Wells High School,” said Dianne Couture, manager of The Maine Diner. “They’ll come in and ask, ‘Where’s the game this week?'”

At Wells High, they refer to school spirit as Red Tide Pride, a term coined by fiery longtime defensive coordinator Carmen Perri.

“Coach Perri said years and years ago that a red tide infests everything and takes it over. That’s kind of our philosophy,” said senior Keegan Reidy, a receiver and place kicker.

With 449 students, Wells High should be in the smallest of the state’s four enrollment classes for football, but the school petitioned to play larger schools in Class C. With a roster of 51 players and a veteran coaching staff, the Warriors likely would be competitive in Class B, where former rivals York and Kennebunk now play.

Sally Morse misses those old rivalries. She, her husband and their three adult sons own and operate Morse Hardware & Lumber. Morse said the town’s football fervor was stronger in the 1980s, but she still goes to games regularly. Her store is one of several along Route 1 with “Go Warriors” or “Red Tide Pride” posted on their roadside signs.

‘A WHOLE DIFFERENT PLANET’

Wells’ fans are known to come early, stay to the end, and cheer all the way through.

“With all our sports, win, lose or draw, they’re going to stay until the final buzzer,” said Jack Malloy, the high school athletic director.

Marquee home football games routinely draw standing-room-only crowds of 2,000 fans to the compact field behind the high school. With people standing just a few yards from the action, the atmosphere is intimate, nostalgic and potentially intimidating.

“It felt like a whole different planet,” Freeport coach Paul St. Pierre said of his team’s game at Wells on Military Appreciation night this fall. “Before the game, some of the players were walking down with fathers, grandfathers who were in the service.

“Wells just took it to another level. It was rocking, I’ll tell you that.”

The crowd was at least 2,000 when Wells hosted Cape Elizabeth in the regular-season finale between two undefeated teams. Wells struggled from the start and lost, 13-7, with the final quarter played in a downpour.

“It was miserable weather. They really didn’t have to be there but they stayed for the entire game, even in the final minutes, when there was really no chance of us winning,” said Nolan Potter, a junior linebacker. “As disappointed as we were that we didn’t win that last regular-season game, it was nice to see that the town didn’t leave the game.”

HOMETOWN TIES

When Wells goes on the road, Red Tide Pride flows down the highways. That was evident both before and after Wells’ 27-14 victory in the South regional final at Cape Elizabeth on Nov. 12.

“When we came onto the field for warm-ups, (Cape’s) section was empty and Wells’ side was crazy,” said Reidy, the senior receiver. “It’s just how we are. It’s pretty cool.”

Roche strongly reinforces the town-team connection to his players. Humble and often self-deprecating, Roche is a 1983 graduate of Wells High and has compiled a 123-62 record in 18 seasons as head coach. Since 2011, he also has been a town selectman.

“It’s all about being part of a hometown that cares about you,” Roche said. “Wells buys into our athletic program as a whole, but especially, for whatever reason, Warrior football.”

With an informed and rabid fan base comes expectations for success – and responsible behavior.

“Whenever you’re doing anything you’ve got to think, ‘What would the whole entire town think?'” Reidy said. “Because whatever you do, in a small town it goes around quick.”

For both stars and unsung heroes, being part of this year’s Wells football team has been something special.

Brassard is a prime example. Standing 5-foot-10, he weighs only 150 pounds but has been a stalwart at right guard for an offense that emphasizes power running. Brassard lifted feverishly in the weight room and sought advice from the high school nutritionist to pack on a few extra pounds of muscle.

“My whole thing about working out was that I knew I was small and everyone else had grown big and I wanted to play with my boys,” Brassard said. “It was really important to me because I knew I had the heart and I wanted to be with them on the field.”

Ouellette, the biggest Warrior, lines up next to Brassard.

“If we can win this championship it would be the ultimate thank you to my family, my extended family that comes to the game, my football family and my town,” Ouellette said. “I want to be able to hold up that trophy and show the town, ‘Your support means the world to us.'”