South Portland is one of four teams making the shift this season to Class A, which is expanding to 12 teams split into North and South regions. Coach Aaron Filieo says his players embrace the change: “They consider themselves an ‘A’ school and we always have.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Meet the new-look Class A in Maine high school football. Same as the old look (almost).

After three seasons of Class A having just eight teams in a single statewide division, Maine’s largest enrollment class has expanded to 12 teams with the return of four former Class A schools that had been playing in Class B. Portland, South Portland and Windham are back where they were from 2013-18 when there were 14 Class A teams.

“It’s where we belong,” said South Portland Coach Aaron Filieo.

Portland and Windham will be in the six-team North division, where they combined for five straight regional titles from 2014-18.

Also moving up is Noble, which will join South Portland in the six-team South. The Knights last played in the large-school division in 2012 when there were 24 Class A teams (14 in the West; 10 in the East). That was also the last year of a three-class system, and well before eight-man football took off.

Noble is coming off a 1-7 season in Class B South, but fifth-year head coach Keenon Blindow has no qualms about moving up. With 977 students, Noble is easily above the 900-plus enrollment cutoff set by the Maine Principals’ Association.


“We just said, ‘We want to play where we belong,'” Blindow said. “I think we’re in a spot with 80 kids in the program; it’s time to go up now.”

Blindow added, “The kids are excited. The coaches are excited and there seems to be a lot of hype in the community. Quite frankly, in every other sport, we’re competing at the A level, too.”

At South Portland, Filieo said his players embrace the change. “They consider themselves an ‘A’ school and we always have.”

Alex Dobson, center, is one of the South Portland captains this fall. He says of the Red Riots moving to Class A, “It just pushes us to try harder because we know we’re going against better teams.” Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

South Portland senior captain Alex Dobson, a two-way starting lineman, thinks moving up will help the Red Riots’ program long term.

“We’re competing against better teams. It just pushes us to try harder because we know we’re going against better teams,” Dobson said. “I feel like for us we’ve always scrimmaged Bonny Eagle (in the preseason), so we’re used to those big teams, those strong teams. The adjustment I feel is to just keep grinding, keep getting stronger to be able to take down these powerhouse teams like (Thornton Academy) and Oxford Hills.”

The MPA’s decision to reduce Class A to eight teams in 2019 came after Deering and Massabesic asked for relief from having to play then powerhouses Thornton, Bonny Eagle and Scarborough every single year. Also, South Portland had chosen to skip its 2018 quarterfinal against No. 3 Bonny Eagle.


Now regular-season scheduling is using a model that prioritizes competitive matchups over making sure a team plays every opponent in a region.

Noble and South Portland will still have three games against Class B teams. Noble will play Bonny Eagle but won’t face Thornton or Oxford Hills. South Portland gets Thornton, but not Bonny Eagle or Oxford Hills.

“When you look at the schedule, it’s still basically the same,” Blindow said. “We still play Portland, South Portland. We still have (Class B) Biddeford. We still play Sanford and (Class B) Massabesic.”

Portland and Windham will each have just one crossover against a Class B team.

Windham will be stepping right back into the deep end. It plays all the A North teams, and its three A South opponents are Thornton, Bonny Eagle and Scarborough – considered the Big 3 back in 2018.

“I think it’s great. I like playing those schools,” said Windham Coach Matt Perkins. “I personally would like to see only three classes for 11-man football, but wherever they put us, we’ll compete very well.”


At the other end of the enrollment spectrum, Class D has also returned to a two-region format after being a statewide division in 2021 (nine teams) and 2022 (eight teams). In the South, Wells joins five previous Class D (0-499 students) teams, including Freeport (which has petitioned to stay in D with an enrollment of 603 students).

In the seven-team D North, Belfast, MCI, Old Town and Winslow have moved down from Class C to join defending state champion Foxcroft Academy, John Bapst and Madison.

The last time Wells was in Class D, the Warriors ran roughshod over the division, going 24-0 over the 2017-18 seasons, including 48-0 and 55-20 wins over Foxcroft in the state championship games.

“Wells coming back to D is probably the biggest news,” said Foxcroft Coach Danny White. “We don’t have to say much about Wells football. I’m quite familiar with what happened in 2017 and 2018, so them coming down changes the landscape of all of Class D football.”


Coach Mike Hathaway has built a power program at 572-student Leavitt Area High in Turner. Included in last year’s 11-0 Class C championship season were wins against eventual B South champ Portland, Class A Lewiston and Class B Lawrence of Fairfield.


This year, the Hornets are looking to sting even bigger targets. In one daunting four-game stretch from Week 4 through 7, Leavitt will host defending Class A champion Oxford Hills, go to Lawrence, host Lewiston, then go to Saco to take on Thornton, which has played in four straight Class A title games – winning in 2018 and 2021 – and has a 117-player roster.

“The fact that we only have five teams in our (Class C South) league leads you to have to find four more games,” Hathaway said.

Leavitt Coach Mike Hathaway celebrates with his team after the Hornets beat Cape Elizabeth, 43-0, last November to capture the Class C South title. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Hathaway said neighboring Lewiston and Lawrence, which is a traditionally strong program with a comparable enrollment, can be annual opponents.

“Lewiston and Lawrence, we’d like to see those teams every year,” Hathaway said. “And in the years when we have a pretty good team and can compete with the top dogs in A, we’d like to see them, too.”

Soehren, the Oxford Hills coach, said playing Leavitt is “kind of a no-win situation. If we beat them, we’re supposed to.” But he likes that a small school has the opportunity to challenge the state powers.

“Growing up in North Dakota, every year there was a team like Leavitt that was really, really good, and they could compete with the big schools. It just wasn’t the same team every year,” Soehren said.



Eight of the state’s 50 11-man football teams have a new coach this season. Each new coach is sure to face challenges in his debut season.

But Keith Noel, the new coach at Kennebunk, knows he’s in a slightly different situation. He’s following Joe Rafferty, who coached the Rams for 44 years, taught at the school for 40 years, and now is Kennebunk’s state senator.

“There is that added pressure. You’re replacing a legend,” said Noel, a Kennebunk native who played for Rafferty and graduated in 2001. “Everyone knows Coach Rafferty. He set the bar high, not just in what you want to be as a coach, but as a person.”

New Kennebunk Coach Keith Noel talks to a player during a practice on Thursday. Noel has taken over Kennebunk’s football program from Joe Rafferty, who retired in the offseason after 44 years as the Rams’ head coach. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

Noel served as the interim head coach at Sanford in 2014 when Mike Fallon took a one-year leave of absence. This time, though, it’s clearly his program.

“It’s more than just coaching. It’s having parent meetings, getting your camera people set up, and involving everyone behind the scenes. That takes some getting used to,” Noel said.


Both teams that reached the 2022 Class B final have new coaches.

Brad Cyr, in his 18th year coaching at Skowhegan, is now the head coach of the defending champion River Hawks, replacing Ryan Libby, who is now an administrator in the Skowhegan district.

At Portland, former Cape Elizabeth coach Sean Green takes over for Jason McLeod, who resigned.

Peter Cekutis, an assistant at Windham from 2008-22, took over Green’s job at Cape Elizabeth.

“I used to think I worked hard before, but the amount of things that need to get done during the day, that eats up a lot of time,” Cekutis said.

Brendan Scully made the switch from being the athletic director at Massabesic to returning to being a classroom teacher and head football coach at Deering. Scully had a 26-20 record as Noble’s coach from 2002-06.


Blair Doucette at Messalonskee, Robenson Saintard at Hampden Academy, and Art Fairbrother at Belfast are first-time head coaches.


Two 2023 rule changes will stand out to coaches and fans, said Ralph Damren of Pittsfield. Damren, an official since 1969, is Maine’s representative to the National Federation of State High School Association’s rules committee.

The first change makes it illegal to run through a player – receiver or defender – while they are airborne and making a catch.

“Once he’s secured the ball and landed, he’s a runner, but if he’s still airborne and not had a chance to land yet and gets drilled – we’ve all seen it – that’s a penalty. It makes the game a little safer,” Damren said.

“If you wrap him up, it’s a tackle and that’s legal. If you push him, that’s fine, too. And, if you and he go up together and bump each other, that’s also fine,” Damren said.

The other significant change is the elimination of the spot foul for most offensive penalties behind the line of scrimmage. In the past, when a lineman was called for holding six yards behind the line of scrimmage, the penalty was enforced from the spot of the foul, turning a 10-yard penalty into a 16-yard loss. Now, that penalty will be enforced from the line of scrimmage.

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