In the first eight-man football championship game in Maine’s history, Mt. Ararat’s Holden Brannan had a day for the ages.

The Eagles senior scored seven touchdowns and rushed for 341 yards Saturday as Mt. Ararat beat Old Orchard Beach, 58-25, at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

“I could never have expected that many, but all the credit goes to my line and all the lead blockers I had today,” Brannan said. “None of that would have happened without them, obviously.”

Nor would Brannan playing football this year and Mt. Ararat claiming a championship have happened without the decision by the Maine Principals’ Association to introduce eight-man football, a version of the sport taken up by 10 schools.

Mt. Ararat is the largest eight-man school, with just over 700 students. But its football history is weak. The high school program was shelved in the mid-1980s and didn’t return to being playoff eligible until the early 2000s. In the past eight seasons, Mt. Ararat won a total of 14 games, and the Eagles finished last season with fewer than 20 players as a Class B team.

Brannan played soccer last fall, but the introduction of eight-man football brought him back to a game where he could use his speed, strength and balance to excel. His scoring runs of 58, 40, 64 and 44 yards in the first half gave Mt. Ararat a 28-0 lead, and he added TD runs of 26, 4 and 67 yards in the second half.

“I’m so glad I came back. This is unbelievable, the best feeling in the world,” Brannan said.

Brannan’s running mate, Riley Morin, a senior captain, gained 168 yards on 16 carries. He capped the scoring with a 19-yard run, then put the Eagles’ 9-2 season, which included the program’s first playoff wins, in perspective.

“If you had ever asked anybody who knew football around the state if Mt. Ararat would ever win states, I think they would laugh at you before this year,” Morin said. “I think we showed some true grit, and it feels pretty damn good.”

Old Orchard Beach, a school with a little less than 250 students, finished 7-4.

The Seagulls cut their 28-0 deficit to 28-18 at halftime and were still within shouting distance at 44-25 entering the fourth quarter.

“The way our kids responded in that second quarter, that’s why you coach. That’s what you look for,” said OOB Coach Dean Plante. “For the kids to bounce back like that was pretty impressive. It was nice for us to respond and show that we could compete. It was just a tough matchup for us.”

Mt. Ararat also beat the Seagulls in the regular season, 46-8.

Just when Saturday’s championship game appeared headed to blowout status, OOB got its passing game going and drove 55 yards in 10 plays. Jaden Davies connected with David Anderson and Jacob Payea, then threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Crockett with 6:28 left in the first half.

OOB immediately recovered an onside kick and scored on a 47-yard hook-and-ladder play from Davies to Crockett to Payea.

Mt. Ararat then fumbled on its next play from scrimmage, setting up another scoring drive for the Seagulls. Davies spun and fought his way to an 11-yard scramble on a fourth-and-11, and Payea scored from the 1 on the final play of the half.

Davies completed 11 of 23 passes for 254 yards and three touchdowns. Payea was a strong presence for the Seagulls, who will return virtually their entire team. He added a 62-yard touchdown catch in the second half, after a nice bit of scrambling by Davies to keep the play alive, and also rushed for 102 yards on 25 carries.

“We try our hardest to come back. We never give up,” Davies said. “We came up short today, but that’s alright, we’ll be back next year. It was a good experience to get to know the (eight-man) game a little bit, and I think we’ll be a team to reckon with next year.”

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