TOPSHAM — There are a lot of changes for this year’s Mt. Ararat High School football team.

Freeport’s Aidan Michaud (left) catches the ball near the sidelines as Dirigo’s Cole Brown defends on the play on Friday in Freeport. (Eric Maxim / The Times Record)

First, Frank True has returned to lead the Eagles after a couple years at Hyde School in Bath, as well leading programs through the Brunswick Area Youth Football League. 

Still, the biggest change comes on the field, where Mt. Ararat is one of 10 Maine teams that will field eight-man units this year in the Maine Principals’ Association’s new venture. 

With numbers low — not just at Mt. Ararat but across several programs — as well as long, tough struggles during traditional 11-man football, the Eagles will look to start this new era by moving forward.   

“We are picking up the offensive and defensive schemes well,” said True after a recent practice on the shortened field, which still plays on a 100-yard pitch, with the sidelines brought in a bit. “With a narrow field, there’s not a lot of room to the boundary.”

Mt. Ararat, which visits Gray-New Gloucester tonight at 7 p.m., returns several solid players who will look to replace former standouts Hunter Lohr, Austin Damon, Brady Mitchell and Kyle Secone. 

Running back/linebacker Riley Morin returns, along with Daniel Jackson (offensive line, linebacker), Cam Wallace (quarterback/defensive back) and Cody Holman (tight end, linebacker). A key newcomer for True looks to be running back/defensive back Holden Brannon. 

“We’re going to have to develop our younger players and keep our starters healthy, just build a winning attitude,” said True, whose Eagles open their home slate Sept. 14 against Maranacook at the Topsham Fairgrounds, one of four home games this season. “We have to get in the mind-set to expect to win, and we do that by expecting to win every down, win every series, win the quarter.”

Mt. Ararat went 2-6 last year before falling to Kennebunk, 55-7, in the Class B South quarterfinals. 

Morse

Jason Darling returns to lead the Shipbuilders, who will look to build off last season’s 4-4 regular season and Class C South playoff appearance (a 26-12 quarterfinal loss to Gardiner). 

His first task will be to replace standout running back Austin Baltazar, who rushed for 1,400 yards last year. Other losses include Ihsan Myers, Lukas Osterhout, Austin Magliozzi and Thomas Trundy. 

But there are several returnees that look to step into the spotlight this year, a season that begins tonight at Freeport (6 p.m.). 

In the backfield, look for Mason Savary and Ty Knowlton to lead the way, along with Rakalin Buford. The line features three veterans in Noah Doughty, Boden Gould and Dylan Melvin. 

Sophomore Josh ter Mors stood out during his time at Bath Middle School and hopes to step into the quarterback role. Other offensive newcomers include sophomores Gabe Aucoin (running back/wide receiver), Ben Doughty (line) and Alex Maccio (line), along with juniors Marc Giggey (running back) and Jacob Mowry (line). 

“They’re a hard-working bunch of great kids, very coachable.  It’s a pleasure to go to work with them every day,” said Darling, whose team’s home slate begins against Lake Region on Sept. 13. “We just need more reps and more experience. Our kids are getting better every time out.”

Defensively, look for the line of Noah Doughty, Gould, Melvin, Ben Doughty, Giggey, Mowry and Maccio to get plenty of time, along with the linebacking core of Savary and Knowlton. 

“We have to be disciplined and work hard. We have to get better every day,” added Darling. 

Lisbon/St. Dom’s

The last two seasons have not ended the way that third-year head coach Chris Kates wanted it to for his Greyhounds. 

Quarterfinal home losses to Winthrop/Monmouth (2017) and Oak Hill (2018) sent the second-seeded ‘Hounds out of the Class D South postseason, leaving a bad taste in Lisbon’s mouth after a pair of 7-1 regular seasons. 

However, Kates has another solid group back this year, with his plan to replace those key losses to graduation. 

“This year’s team is full of hard-working kids,” said Kates, who has watched his squad get stronger in the weight room during the offseason. “Weight room dedication was the best that it’s ever been. Early on that offseason work appears to be paying off.”

A challenge will be to replace two-year standout starting quarterback Lucas Francis, along with leading rusher Isaiah Thompson, and a strong offensive line led by Kane Strout, Hunter Job, Evan Houle and Alan Lavoie. 

“The biggest key to our success this season is finding leadership to fill the void left by the graduating seniors,” said Kates, whose Greyhounds open the season with a pair of home games against Fryeburg Academy (noon, Saturday) and Madison/Carrabec (1:30 p.m., Sept. 14). “There will be some new starters out there, so limiting the mental mistakes will help us get off to a fast start.

Seth Leeman steps in at quarterback, while Cam Bourget and Daytona McIver will likely run the ball a lot, along with newcomers Justin Le and Nick Blair. When he throws, Leeman will look for receivers Robbie Dick, Riley Quatrano and Issac Burnell, along with tight end newcomer Levi Levesque. 

On the offensive line, look for Colin Houle, Hunter Mason, Daniel Bolton, Justin Merrill and Hudson Coggeshall to open holes. 

“We have some new starters or kids that are in different roles. Physically they’ll be fine, but we need to do a better job of limiting penalties and missed assignments,” Kates said. “Anytime you graduate quality players, it’s going to change the dynamic of your team. We try to mitigate these losses by tweaking our system to feature the strengths of the players that we have returning. We’ll experiment with some new looks as we try to get our athletes in favorable positions.”

Freeport

Last season was a banner year for the Falcons. 

Moving down a season to the MPA’s developmental Class E region, Freeport captured the state championship, defeating Dirigo in the final after completing a 7-1 regular season. 

Freeport has moved back to Class C South this season, which means the competition will be stiffer, beginning with the home opener tonight against Morse (6 p.m.). 

Freeport’s Adam Ulrickson (22) rushes with the ball towards the goal line as Dirigo’s Liam Burnette tackles him from behind in a high school football game in Freeport on Friday evening. (Eric Maxim / The Times Record)

“Our kids have come into this season not much different than the last,” said Freeport coach Paul St. Pierre, who has 34 players in camp. “We only lose three players to graduation, so we are not having to spend a lot of time installing new plays and players into unfamiliar positions. We came right into that first day smarter and faster, a year older. Our preparation was definitely better.”

A new wrinkle for Freeport this year is a bye, which comes in Week 2. When the schedule was made, there were an odd number of teams, that is until Orono decided to play a jayvee schedule this year. Still, the Falcons will get the benefit of a week off.   

“I like the bye, as it will allow us to reset and work on some things coming out of that first game,” said St. Pierre, whose Falcons avoided facing traditional powers Wells, York and Leavitt this year. “The MPA schedule is great. We will be challenged each week, as the competition will likely be just like us. If we win our first game, we can get healthy leading into the Lake Region game (Sept. 20, home, 6 p.m.).”

Standout running back/linebacker Adam Ulrickson is back in the fold, one of five seniors that will see plenty of time. Trevor Murhammer (nose tackle), Trey Morris (defensive end), Gage Arsenault and Conor Fox (defensive end/backup quarterback) are the other seniors, with a strong junior class of Anthony Panciocco (quarterback), Aidan Michaud (wing back/cornerback), Caden Benedict (fullback/safety), Justin Coswell (wide receiver/safety) and Nate Hines (center) expected to lead. 

Newcomers for Freeport include juniors John Doyle (guard) and Joseph Coleman (linebacker/tight end), along with sophomores Noah Larrabee (line) and Tony Casale (linebacker). 

St. Pierre feels his team will need to overcome adversity to find success. 

“We had one game last year that we were tied at the half (at Poland), and we ended up losing our only game,” said St. Pierre. “We have to face and overcome adversity, and we need to be consistent, which will be a key.”

Brunswick

Last season’s regular season finale was one to forget for the Dragons, a lopsided home loss to Cony.

But Dan Cooper’s squad found something come playoff time, rolling off wins against Brewer, Cony and Lawrence on the way to the State Class B final against Marshwood. It was the program’s fourth regional title in five seasons.

The Dragons struggled in the final, falling to the talented Hawks, 49-0, but the experience of that run might just carry far into this season.

“These seniors are experienced and should be really good for us this year,” said Cooper, whose Dragons open the season against Skowhegan on Saturday at Bowdoin College (6:30 p.m.). 

Thinking of Bowdoin’s Whittier Field, Brunswick will play at least three games on the turf, with the high school track construction keeping the Dragons off their field. Brunswick entertains Windham (Sept. 20) and Gardiner (Oct. 4) at Bowdoin before hopefully hosting Brewer at BHS on Oct. 18. Cooper hopes his team’s speed will pay dividends. 

“I didn’t think of that at first, but the speed we possess should help us on the turf,” said Cooper. “I am excited to play at Bowdoin.”

Returning for Brunswick are seniors Owen Richardson (running back/linebacker), Mitchell Leinert (running back/linebacker), Noah Goddard (quarterback/safety), Treyvon McKenzie (tight end/defensive end), Jack Harvey (running back/linebacker), Aaron Remulla (guard/defensive end) and Wes Coffin (cornerback). Juniors Cam Hathaway (running back), Cam Folsom (guard), Cody Larson (cornerback), Dionne Pelletier (tackle) and Thomas Seitz, along with sophomore Colby Nadeau (center) gives the Dragons plenty of experience to offset the loss of 18 players to graduation.

Cooper feels his offensive line will have to improve as the season progresses. 

“We have no starters back on the line, and so far I have seen them make mistakes but work hard to get better every day,” said the Brunswick coach. “It will take them some time to learn the physical demands of the season. For us, it will be about how we finish. We feel that we will have success.”

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