SACO — Demel Ruff tucked the football closer to his body and ran into the end zone for Thornton Academy’s first touchdown Saturday. Only 34 seconds had elapsed.

Final score: Thornton Academy 62, Massabesic High 0.

On Friday night in Standish, Cameron Theberge’s 3-yard run put Bonny Eagle on the scoreboard about a minute and 42 secords into its game with Noble. The large homecoming crowd cheered loudly and the school band played. From across the field in the visitors’ grandstand, you could hear muted cries of encouragement from the much smaller contingent of Noble fans.

Final score: Bonny Eagle 54, Noble 20.

Both scores are definitions of blowouts and mismatches, and illustrate what seems to be the new order or norm in Maine high school football. The competitive gap between the better and the not-so-good programs seems to be widening. A warped mirror image of our society of haves and have-nots.

Where did the middle go?

Allan Young, the assistant headmaster at Thornton Academy, sits on the Maine Principals’ Association’s football committee. He’s noticed the one-sided scores over the first five weeks of this season. Marshwood 60, Oceanside 0. Maine Central Institute 81, Ellsworth/Sumner 6. Winslow 62, Belfast 6. Thornton Academy 73, Noble 0. Cheverus 50, Lewiston 0.

Young doesn’t know if those scores and others like them are a trend pointing to long-term competitive imbalance or the simpler age-old cycle of good teams playing bad teams in any given season and a lopsided score pops up.

“If you’re asking, is this on the football committee’s radar right now, it’s not,” said Young.

Kevin Cooper, the Bonny Eagle coach, is concerned over possible long-term consequences. “I’ve started checking the scores. I’d say 30 to 40 percent of the games are won by three or more touchdowns. I think that’s a problem but I don’t see any easy fixes.”

Bonny Eagle beat Noble by five touchdowns. Earlier in the season it beat Sanford 60-12 and Cooper says he was frustrated that night. He thought the fourth quarter would be played with running time, meaning the clock wouldn’t stop for down changes, penalties, incomplete passes, etc. That didn’t happen.

If one team’s group of reserves is more talented than its opponents, what’s a winning coach to do, short of pulling all his players off the field?

Noble, a program with numerous head coaching changes over a short time, kept trying to score in the fourth quarter Friday. Caleb Chalmers, a senior running back and linebacker, suffered an apparent eye injury before halftime and his teammates still didn’t let down.

Most Maine high school football people I spoke with say there’s less competitive balance than ever. The reasons? Start a list. Football thrives when it’s part of a community’s culture. “It takes years to build a successful program and you can lose the culture overnight,” said Cooper.

In the rush to add football to high schools in the last 15 years or so, how many understood the longtime commitment?

If the culture of success is replaced by a culture of apathy or failure, it takes a community’s energy to reverse course. If coaches come and go, everyone has to start over.

Add new ideas to the list. The new ideas you see Sundays in the NFL.

High school offenses that borrow from the NFL or college programs are more sophisticated.

The game is quicker, the football is in the air more, more plays are called. To use more extensive high school playbooks, coaches tap their brightest and most athletic players for offense.

Defenses don’t always get the leftovers but they seem to get less attention in practice. More touchdowns are scored by better teams because fewer defenses can’t keep up.

Add declining enrollments and declining participation to the list. Add declining money in school budgets. Add a lost sense of commitment.

Gary Stevens, the Thornton athletic director, had to scratch freshman games with Cheverus and Massabesic this fall. Neither school had enough players.

The best of Maine’s high school football programs shouldn’t feel guilty about their success and dominance.

They shouldn’t be asked to go easy. They worked too hard to be better.

 


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