Bonny Eagle’s Trevor Perkins gets set to tackle a dummy during a football practice last week in Standish. On Friday, Perkins and the Scots will be the first Maine team to play a New Hampshire opponent. “We’re representing the state of Maine,” he says. “I kind of would like to set an example, an example going forward, that hey, this is Maine football.”

Is high school football better in Maine or New Hampshire?

This year, that question might just be answered.

For the first time in the modern era of high school football, five of Maine’s Class A schools will play a regular-season game against New Hampshire Division I teams. The games will count in the Crabtree standings.

The games are being played in an effort to, at least partially, offset the competitive imbalance that has beset Maine’s top enrollment division, which has shrunk from 16 teams to just eight over the past decade.

For top programs like defending champion Thornton Academy and 2019 champion Bonny Eagle, the New Hampshire opponent is intended to give them another game where they can expect to play all-out beyond the first half. For a squad like Edward Little, which has not won a game since 2018, finding a like opponent across the border means a week of scheduling relief.

But for the players, the fans and the coaches, when it comes game time, it’s going to be about proving that Maine football stacks up – at least against another northern New England state.


“Hopefully the better football teams come from Maine rather than New Hampshire,” said Bonny Eagle senior lineman and tri-captain Brody Ernst. “But we don’t know. I mean, that’s the fun in it.”

Bonny Eagle will get the first chance to defend Maine’s football honor when it hosts Merrimack in Standish on Friday night. Bonny Eagle was 6-4 last season and lost in the Class A semifinals. Merrimack was 3-6.

Bonny Eagle Coach Kevin Cooper: “I think I’m echoing the words of a lot of Maine football coaches, we think our football here is pretty good and we have some good players and we can play against out-of-state competition.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Scots Coach Kevin Cooper grew up in Fairfield, the son of legendary Lawrence High coach Pete Cooper. He starred for Lawrence and played at the University of Maine. He’s won seven Class A titles at Bonny Eagle. Cooper, of course, believes in the quality of Maine high school football.

“I think I’m echoing the words of a lot of Maine football coaches, we think our football here is pretty good and we have some good players and we can play against out-of-state competition,” Cooper said. “There’s no reason to think that Maine schools are any less than any of the other, especially northern New England, states.

“And it’s going to be nice to finally get out there and prove that, hey, Maine football players can play.”

Week 2 will feature two interstate games, both in New Hampshire. Sanford (3-5 in 2021) will take a relatively short 40-minute drive to Dover, which was 5-4. Sanford and Dover are similar programs. Both routinely have good participation, win a fair share of games but seldom contend for a championship.


Edward Little of Auburn will drive a bit farther to get to Rochester, New Hampshire, but playing Spaulding High could be just what the Red Eddies need.

Edward Little will still play Bonny Eagle and Scarborough this season, plus a formidable Class B team in Skowhegan. But instead of another likely blowout against Thornton Academy or Class A co-favorite Oxford Hills, the Red Eddies will take on a Spaulding program that went 0-9 in 2021 and hasn’t won more than two games in a season since 2013.

Thornton Academy Coach Kevin Kezal: “I think against New Hampshire, we can match up. Our top end can match up with their top end.” Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Week 3 brings what will probably be the truest test of power programs when Thornton Academy hosts Bedford. Under Kevin Kezal, Thornton has won five of the last nine Class A titles, including last year’s 11-0 title run. Bedford was the New Hampshire champ in 2016 and 2018 and went 7-3 last season.

Thornton routinely scrimmages Pinkerton Academy, New Hampshire’s largest school with over 3,000 students. Thornton’s subvarsity teams often play Pinkerton, of Derry, and Exeter, another New Hampshire power.

“I think against New Hampshire, we can match up,” Kezal said. “Our top end can match up with their top end. Are we going to beat Pinkerton Academy or Bedford or (2021 New Hampshire champion) Londonderry? Maybe not. But we can compete with any team in New Hampshire and certainly in Vermont.”

The fifth and final game in year one of what is expected to be at least a two-year arrangement will be Oxford Hills (8-2 in 2021) at Portsmouth/Oyster River (5-4).



The five games against New Hampshire opponents will count in the Crabtree standings, just as much as beating a team from Maine.

“I’m really excited about it. Mostly I’m excited because I think this is the first time ever where teams are playing a high school sport outside of Maine that’s going to mean something for our playoff standings,” said Henry Lausier, a returning starting cornerback for Thornton Academy.

“I’m excited to play Bedford, a great football team, and excited to show Thornton Academy and Maine high school football can compete in New England,” Lausier added.

Or, as Bonny Eagle running back/cornerback Trevor Perkins put it, “We’re going live. We’re going hard.”

Bonny Eagle’s Brody Ernst tackles a dummy while running drills during a practice last week. “Hopefully the better football teams come from Maine rather than New Hampshire,” Ernst says. “But we don’t know. I mean, that’s the fun in it.” Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

The games won’t mean as much for the New Hampshire teams. The results of out-of-state games will only be used for tiebreaking purposes when determining playoff position.


“It sorta counts for us,” said Kip Jackson, head coach of Merrimack High.

But make no mistake, the New Hampshire teams will be playing to win, Jackson said. There’s just as much of a pride factor for those who live in the Granite State.

“Most definitely,” Jackson said. “You’re not just representing your school and town, you’re trying to represent the state in a positive way.”

That sentiment resonates with Maine’s coaches and players

“I’d really like for all of us as a team to go out there and really represent Maine, and Bonny Eagle as a group,” said Nick Riker, an offensive tackle and linebacker. “I wouldn’t want to go out there and disappoint the Maine football community.”

Sanford Coach Mike Fallon said he’ll be paying attention to the other interstate games, especially the Thornton-Bedford contest, because Bedford Coach Zach Matthews played quarterback at Sanford for Fallon.


Most of all, Fallon said he hopes the uniqueness of the interstate games will help build interest in football generally, “because it’s no secret that some programs are down and the largest conference in the state has become the eight-man (football) league and those things are concerning.”

“I’m intrigued and excited,” Fallon added. “It’s certainly different for Maine high school football, and who knows if this will continue and become a new tradition.”


The Maine Principals’ Association will reclassify its football divisions – and other sports, too – prior to the 2023-24 school year. If the 52 football programs currently playing 11-man football are regrouped into three statewide divisions, as some believe should happen, it would seem likely Class A will expand. Were that to happen, the need to schedule out-of-state teams to create schedules with greater competitive balance would presumably lessen.

Mike Burnham, the MPA’s executive director, said he expects the arrangement with New Hampshire to continue in some way beyond this season, possibly including teams in the other classes.

Jackson, the Merrimack coach, said New Hampshire’s 21 Division I teams will still need to find an extra game in 2023 under its current format. New Hampshire will reclassify prior to the 2024 season.


“I’d love to be able to do that,” said Marshwood Coach Alex Rotsko. Marshwood, located in South Berwick, is just minutes away from Portsmouth and Dover high schools.

“I think Dover or Portsmouth would both be fun games because the communities are bordering each other,” Rotsko said. “I think it would generate some interest, local interest certainly in our case.”

Cape Elizabeth Coach Sean Green cut his coaching teeth in Massachusetts and he believes the interstate games could – and should – expand to the rest of New England.

“I don’t know why there are so few teams in Class A, but I’m sure it’s good for those guys to cross the border. There are teams in Maine that can definitely play against teams in Massachusetts and Connecticut,” Green said. “I know the 2021 Cape Elizabeth (Class C championship) team would have beat my alma mater. … The disparity between Massachusetts and Maine is a little overblown. It’s just numbers. There are plenty of teams in Mass that have rosters just like ours, schools that only have 500 kids.”

Not every coach thinks out-of-state opponents should be part of the long-term solution.

“I think we have plenty of teams in Maine. Go down to three classes and play everyone in (your) division,” said Wells Coach Tim Roche. “I get that it’s to make better competition, but I’m not seeing how it’s better. I just think we should play each other. Somebody’s just got to say to some of these schools you have to go up to Class A.”


Biddeford Coach Steve Allosso has experience with interstate games as a coach in Virginia and Massachusetts. His Cox High team in Virginia Beach was nationally ranked and played in Florida. A better comparison, Allosso said, was when he coached at Minnechaug Regional in Wilbraham, Massachusetts.

“We did that with some Connecticut teams and it’s a lot of fun,” Allosso said. “It’s the fact that you’re playing a team from a different state and now the kids in Massachusetts felt that they were playing in a special game and representing the whole Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”

Perkins said that’s the way he and his Bonny Eagle teammates feel heading into their season opener against Merrimack.

“We’re representing the state of Maine. We are going to be the first team to play an out-of-state team,” Perkins said. “I kind of would like to set an example, an example going forward, that hey, this is Maine football.”

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