Members of the Thornton Academy football team raise the Gold Ball after winning the Class A championship last fall. The Trojans enter Friday night’s game at Scarborough with a 33-1 record over the past three seasons. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The first game of the season won’t necessarily make or break a high school football team, but it sure is a tone-setter.

“Winning that first game is a huge confidence boost for any program, against anybody,” said Scarborough Coach Packy Malia.

That would certainly apply to the Red Storm if they can beat defending Class A champion Thornton Academy at 7 p.m. Friday at Scarborough High.

Thornton beat Scarborough twice last season, 51-0 in the regular season and 28-12 in the state semifinals, a game Scarborough led 12-7 at halftime.

“They took us right to the limits last year in that semifinal game and they have a lot of kids back,” Kezal said. “It’s a heck of a challenge. And, it’s on the road, a tough place to play. It’s a big early-season game.”

Thornton is 33-1 overall the past three seasons with two state championships (2018 and 2021). Its only loss was in the 2019 title game to Bonny Eagle. Malia said he’s been emphasizing to his players that Scarborough is Thornton’s peer, pointing out that both Scarborough and Thornton have each reached the semifinals (regional prior to 2019, state semifinal since) for nine straight seasons, the longest active streaks in Class A. “We’ve also been among the final four teams overall (in Class A) since 2016, longer than either TA or Bonny Eagle,” Malia said.


Portland and Kennebunk will meet in the season opener for the second straight year. Last season, Portland defeated the Rams, 30-18, the first of 10 consecutive victories for the Bulldogs. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

TWO CLASS B South games will provide a good look at four top programs. On Friday, Marshwood begins its quest for a fifth straight state championship at South Portland at 7 p.m. The following night at 6 p.m., Kennebunk hosts Portland at Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field – the Rams’ home away from home while their new artificial surface field is being installed. Portland was undefeated in the regular season a year ago.

Marshwood Coach Alex Rotsko said he considers South Portland a top-four team.

“I would think so. They were a playoff team last year,” Rotsko said. “They look pretty athletic on film and their quarterback (Jaelen Jackson) is really athletic. He is the key to their offense, no doubt.”

Marshwood will start sophomore Cullen St. Cyr at quarterback. Rotsko said the Hawks “struggled in our two scrimmages.”

While winning the opener is “always important for team morale,” Rotsko said, he also pointed to his 2021 team that went 5-3 in the regular season and didn’t gel until a regional semifinal win at Kennebunk.

“If we learned one lesson last year, it’s if you keep working at it, you’ll get better,” Rotsko said. “If you don’t win the opener, it’s not the end of the world. You still have another seven weeks to get ready, and the nice thing in Maine is there are only a few teams that aren’t going to make the playoffs. You get a second chance.”


Portland opened against Kennebunk in 2021 and rolled to an impressive 30-18 win. From there, Portland went 10-0 before losing to Marshwood in the regional final.

“We went out there and we did play fast, played physical on both sides of the ball, and it was definitely a good tone-setter,” recalled Portland Coach Jason McLeod.

McLeod cautioned that while the first game will give coaches insights into their own team, the outcomes “will not tell us a ton” about the league as a whole.

“It’s not a fair indication of how the whole season is going to go,” McLeod said. “The Marshwood you see Week 1 most likely won’t be Marshwood Week 10. The same can be said for a lot of teams, us included.”

NEW DEERING COACH Leon Smith and his 42-man roster started its season Thursday night against Massabesic with a Class B South game in Waterboro. Smith, 60, is a former assistant coach at Westbrook (five seasons), Falmouth (10 seasons), and the past two seasons at Deering, where he was the defensive coordinator.

Smith, hired in June, is Deering’s seventh head coach since 2012. It is his first head coaching position. Smith replaces John Hardy, a former player at Deering and the University of Maine who was hired in March 2020. Deering was 0-8 in 2021.


Smith said he has been stressing discipline and accountability and will continue to do so.

“You miss two days of practice and you’re a starter, you’re not playing,” Smith said. “These kids understand that. I put my rules down this summer and I’m going to stick with them.”

“So far it’s been right on point and kids have been coming through the whole summer. Dedicated. And when you get dedication like that you’re going to be successful,” Smith said.

A native of Richmond, Virginia, Smith played linebacker for Norfolk State from 1981-84, earning all-conference honors as a junior and senior.

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