OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Since eight-man football was introduced to Maine high school sports in 2019, Old Orchard Beach Coach Dean Plante has been one of the game’s biggest advocates. He’s answered questions from coaches and athletic directors around the state and has promoted the game to anyone who wondered if eight-man football could be the right move for their school.

Plante has a senior on his team who is also a strong advocate for eight-man football. Running back Elijah Vasquez is the lone player remaining from the Seagulls’ first eight-man team in 2019 – a squad that played in the inaugural eight-man state championship game as the representative of the small schools, losing to large school champ Mt. Ararat. He’s recruited some key players to this year’s team.

Now, Old Orchard Beach is back in the state championship game, with Vasquez the leader of a small senior class of four players.

“The thing with Elijah is, he’s always been a silent leader. He’s one of those quiet kids, but he’s one of those kids everybody migrates to,” Plante said. “This year, I don’t think he’s missed a thing. He’s always on time. He doesn’t question anything. And you can rely on him. He’s as steady as they come.”

Old Orchard Beach (8-2), winner of six straight games, will face Orono (7-3) in the Small School state championship game at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Cony High in Augusta.

Vasquez has 670 yards and nine touchdowns as the Seagulls’ leading rusher. In last week’s 20-16 win at Dirigo in the South final, he ran for 149 yards on 22 carries, including a stretch of six consecutive carries in the fourth quarter. Those carries accounted for 51 yards and set up the go-ahead touchdown, a 25-yard run by quarterback Brady Plante with just under three minutes to play.


“I’m running a lot harder than I did in my past years. Taking that big step up in my senior year,” Vasquez said.

Coach Plante said Vasquez wasn’t happy with the way he played last season, and that set the tone for how he approached his senior season. Teammates fed off that hard work.

“Some kids pout, some kids quit, and some kids motivate. He motivated,” Plante said.

As important as Vasquez is on the field, his value as a recruiter is equally important. Brady Croteau, a senior wide receiver/defensive back, would not be on the team had he not been convinced by Vasquez to come out for football when they were sophomores. That season was lost to the pandemic, but Croteau stuck with it and became a key player in the Seagulls’ offense, with 23 catches for 445 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

“When he bought in, it was easy to get those other kids. They were excited to play his sport with him, because he supports theirs,” Plante said. “He kind of enticed a lot of those guys. He convinced them their other sports are their strengths, but they could contribute. It was more of a camaraderie thing, then it blossomed into them really being able to do something as a class.”

Once Croteau decided to follow his friend onto the football field, he fully embraced the sport. Along with his duties on offense and defense, Croteau is OOB’s kicker.


“I’m more of a basketball kid. That’s my strong suit. I didn’t want to get hurt for basketball,” Croteau said. “Now I’m here with a chance to win a Gold Ball.”

Senior Ricky Delisle, also a basketball player, joined the football team last season as a junior after Vasquez convinced him his athletic talent would translate well on the gridiron.

“I’d played a little bit of football in middle school. I was more on the look team (last season). I had fun practicing, I worked hard,” said Delisle, now a contributor on defensive in the secondary.

The fourth senior is tight end/defensive end Ethan Baker, who moved to Old Orchard Beach from Colorado. He had played 11-man football, so eight-man was new to him. To Baker, football is football, and he jumped at the chance to join the team.

“We figured out what we’re doing after Week 4. We all bonded and wanted a championship,” Baker said. “Eight-man is a lot more fun.”

In Week 4, the Seagulls lost to Mountain Valley, 48-20. They haven’t lost since, including a 28-16 win in the rematch with previously undefeated Mountain Valley in the regional semifinals two weeks ago. Vasquez’s ability to recruit a few more athletes to the team was a key to developing a winning culture.

“I was telling them, you all are really good athletes. You should come play football. I think you’d all do great,” Vasquez said. “When I got them out here, they really liked it.”

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