From the first sultry morning of practice until the awards ceremony after its first state championship game, one consistent theme revolved around Maine’s new eight-man football league.

It’s still football. Sure, the field is skinnier (by 40 feet) and each team lines up with three fewer players. But whether it’s running wind sprints in August or getting knocked to frozen turf in November, it’s still a tough, physical – sometimes painful – and rewarding game to play.

Maine Sunday Telegram/Portland Press Herald staff photographer Shawn Patrick Ouellette spent months photographing the Old Orchard Beach Seagulls, from their first practice on Aug. 19 until the final eight-man football game of the season. Along the way, the team won seven of its 11 games and captured the eight-man Small School division championship.  That title allowed them to advance to the state championship game on Nov. 16 at Portland’s Fitzpatrick Stadium, where a vocal, bipartisan crowd of about 1,000 fans watched Mt. Ararat High beat OOB, 58-25.

Old Orchard Beach High Coach and Athletic Director Dean Plante was the state’s earliest vocal proponent for introducing eight-man football. To Plante, eight-man football could be played more safely and more competitively among small or struggling programs that were routinely trying to get through an 11-man football season with fewer than 30 players. Nine other programs agreed that eight-man was the right choice and, with a strong endorsement from the Maine Principals’ Association, the new sport was born.

Every eight-man football team won at least one game. Most of the eight-man squads were able to schedule junior varsity games for the first time in years. And, for teams like Old Orchard, which consisted almost entirely of sophomores and juniors, there is plenty of reason for optimism. “We’ll be back next year. And I think we’ll be a team to reckon with next year,” said Seagulls quarterback Jaden Davies.

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