Old Orchard Beach runs an offensive play during the first day of practice this summer. Old Orchard Beach is one of 10 schools in Maine that playing eight-man football this year and teams around the league are still learning the subtle differences in the game. (SHAWN PATRICK OUELLETTE/Portland Press Herald)

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – Three games into the inaugural eight-man football season, Dean Plante is getting exactly what he counted on. 

The action is fast, the games are high scoring and the Old Orchard Beach head coach thinks the best is yet to come. 

“(The league) has been going very smoothly,” Plante said. “From the officials to the fans, I don’t think the changes are as drastic as people thought. The transition’s been good, the community has been very strong and the kids are excited about it.”

Old Orchard Beach has opened the year 1-2, with defensive and special team serving as focal points for weekly gameplans. Subtleties like one fewer blocker on both sides of the ball during a special teams play, a move that was made to help protect the kicker in field goal and punting situations. The defensive philosophy also changes because a quarterback with elite playmaking skills becomes even more dangerous with fewer players on the defensive side to worry about.

OOB  has a dynamic quarterback in senior Jaden Davies, who threw for six touchdowns in the Seagulls’ season-opening 44-28 win over Telstar Academy on Sept. 5. But, even going against a playmaker like Davies every day in practice, the Seagulls are having trouble containing offenses around the league. Old Orchard has allowed an average of 38.7 points through three games, and injuries to several key players has led to a slow start to the season.

After its opening win over the Rebels Old Orchard Beach has dropped its last two games, a 46-30 loss to Boothbay followed with a 42-15 thumping by the hands of Sacopee Valley last Saturday. But even though the injuries have piled up on the sideline, Plante said adjusting his gameplan without some of his players is, in a way, easier because there are fewer positions to replace than 11-man football. 


“We’ve been able to play a lot of different kids because of our depth,” Plante said. “Where those injuries would pretty much end your season with 11-man, for us we’re easily transitioning to the next guy and don’t miss a beat in terms of play.”

Sacopee Valley head coach Steve Bridges, whose team is off to a 1-2 start, backed Plante’s assessment that the league forces defensive adjustments in trying to stop a dynamic playmaker. The Hawks are having to deal with some growing pains of their own after a 36-0 loss to Telstar last Friday. Sacopee had trouble containing Telstar’s Devin Cole-Mason, who combined for four touchdowns in the win. 

“With eight-man, compared to 11-man, you really see that one player can really change the game a lot.” Bridges said. 

With just 21 players on his roster, Bridges is forced to plunge underclassmen into situations they’ve yet to see on the field. But the head coach believes that having his younger athletes see scenarios they haven’t played in before should help their development. 

“We don’t have any youth feeder programs like some of the big schools do,” Bridges said. “And there’s been a balance of getting them some action and not overwhelming them.”

Plante has dealt with managing young players of his own. He said the new league has forced athletes to play positions they haven’t played before, but he believes forcing them out of their comfort zone on the playing field should only enhance their development and strengthen the league going forward. 

“I see eight-man growing,” Plante said. “I don’t see how it can’t with the trends taking place in Maine in terms of student population, and participation in extracurricular activities. It just makes total sense for a lot of schools.”


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