Arena football arrived Saturday night in Portland, accompanied by thumping hits, blaring music and a level of excitement absent from Cross Insurance Arena since the Portland Pirates skated away nearly two years ago.

“Way cooler than I thought it was going to be,” said Kevin Russ, 29, of Portland at halftime of the first National Arena League game played in Maine.

The Carolina Cobras beat the Maine Mammoths 56-42 before a boisterous crowd announced as 4,932.

Both teams had lost their openers last weekend.

The Cobras never trailed despite allowing a 30-yard touchdown pass from Jonathan Bane to Derrick Macon on Maine’s first play. As was the case last Saturday in Worcester when the Mammoths lost 51-24 to the Massachusetts Pirates, Maine’s offense struggled in the middle quarters and failed to keep pace.

Meanwhile the Cobras sacked Bane once and intercepted him twice. The Mammoths also scored on a jet sweep by Devin Wilson, a short pass to Wilson and two passes (one long, one short) to Edgar Poe Jr. before Bane and Macon connected with 35 seconds remaining on another long touchdown.

Henry Nell, a 19-year-old rugby player from South Africa who signed earlier in the week, made his football debut by kicking a short field goal and three successful extra points (in six attempts, one of them a drop kick).

Maine fans seemed forgiving of the home team’s 0-2 start.

“It’s awesome,” said Nick Dempsey, 27, of Portland, waiting in a concession line during halftime. “I’ve watched a few (arena football) games on TV. This is way better. Very entertaining.”

Fans began pouring into the arena lobby a little before 6 p.m. for the 7 o’clock game and were greeted by an eight-member steel band, the Portland-based Sister Steel, which played into the evening’s promotional theme of Tusk-A-Rita-Ville.

At an adjacent table, the seven members of the Tuskhers dance team, wearing sequined maroon halter tops, bikini bottoms and long white boots, signed autographs.

Racks of merchandise bearing the Mammoths’ logo sold at a brisk pace, with $10 hats, $25 T-shirts, $40 hoodies and $75 jerseys being snapped up.

Whether it was curiosity, excitement, or pent-up interest after a long winter and two-year Cross Arena pro sports drought, folks filled more than two- thirds of the arena, whose capacity is 6,733, to watch the eight-on-eight action, with one offensive player sprinting toward the line of scrimmage on nearly every play.

“It’s cool,” said Lina Juozelskis, 25, of Portland. “High energy.”

“You’re much closer to the players than you would be at any other game,” said Shauna Macy, 29, of Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Less than half the crowd stuck around to see the Mammoths put up 27 points in the fourth quarter to make the outcome appear close. A few hundred fans spilled onto the field to mingle with players and dancers, for autographs and photographs afterward.

“It’s such a cool thing for the city,” said Josh Mayo, 26, of Portland, wearing a newly purchased Mammoths T-shirt. “We lost the Pirates. We’ll have the new team, the Mariners, but this is something that’s way different. We don’t have a football team except for the Patriots.”

Both May and his friend, Michael Desveaux, went to the University of Southern Maine, which has no football. They said they bought season tickets right after the team was announced in December.

“We absolutely love it,” said Desveaux, 25, sporting a blue Sea Dogs cap and tan Mammoths shirt. “This is something new we’ve never seen in our lives.”

There were promotions and giveaways throughout the game. Loud music filled gaps between plays. Announcements warned fans in rows closest to the field to pay attention because balls and players could wind up in their lap.

“You can keep the ball,” went the well-rehearsed line, “but you must give the player back.”

Levi Laverdiere, 9, and Aidan Olivera, 10, made the trip from Monmouth to take in the scene.

“I like how they mostly pass,” Laverdiere said.

Olivera nodded his assent.

“It makes me want to play football right now,” he said.

Scott McGrath, who grew up in Raymond, got conked in the back of the head by one of Nell’s pregame kicks while climbing the stairs to Section N behind the east end zone. One of the 10 family members who took in the game, McGrath, 47, shrugged off the assault, turned and raised his arms to give the referee signal for touchdown.

“For Maine to have some kind of professional sports (in the arena) is exciting,” he said. “High action. I like the running clock.”

Whether the Mammoths can join the baseball Sea Dogs and G League basketball Red Claws as fixtures among Portland’s minor league sporting scene remains open to question.

“We’ll see,” McGrath said.


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