OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The Old Orchard Beach football program could have used Thursday night as a chance to celebrate last year’s eight-man football Small School championship – the first football state title for the school since 1993.

Instead, the Seagulls and their supporters celebrated something else – the start of a new football season. And lots of big-play touchdowns.

OOB hosted Traip Academy of Kittery, officially kicking off the 2023 high school football season in Maine with the first regular-season game. This season, 78 programs – 28 eight-man teams, 50 in the traditional 11-man version – will compete across six classes, each with a North and South region.

Old Orchard Beach has reason to be believe it can repeat its 2022 title with top returning players like quarterback Brady Plante, the son of longtime coach Dean Plante, playmaking wide receiver Riley Provencher and hard-hitting Reid MacNair.

It didn’t take long for the Seagulls to show they were ready. Fourteen seconds, in fact. That’s how long it took Asher Hubert to return the first kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown.

“Oh, we were itching to go from the get-go. Ever since preseason started, we wanted it,” said Hubert.

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By halftime, Old Orchard led 52-0 on the way to a 64-0 victory. Provencher scored on a 72-yard quick hitch pass from Plante and a 49-yard fumble recovery. Wesley Gallant had a 62-yard scoring run and caught a 60-yard TD pass on consecutive offensive plays. The next two times the Seagulls had the ball, they again scored on the first play, a 60-yard burst off left tackle by MacNair to end the first-half scoring, and then a 53-yard run by Hubert on OOB’s first offensive snap in the second half.

“I think of this game all year round,” MacNair said. “Just excitement. Pure excitement. This also could be our last hurrah, so we also have to make the best of it.”

OOB and Traip were among the original 10 schools to adopt eight-man football in 2019. While Old Orchard been successful while fielding rosters in the 28-32 player range, eight-man has not a cure for Traip’s football woes.

It’s been 12 years since the Rangers last reached a championship game, falling to Yarmouth in the Western Class C final. That day, it seemed Traip might have reversed a downward trend that included a 51-game losing streak ending in 2006. But the annual struggle to get more than a 22-player roster persisted. In 2017, playing in the developmental Class E, Traip had to suspend its season after a Week 2 loss because it didn’t have enough players. The Rangers did go 3-5 in 2019 – the first year of eight-man football – but they were 0-6 in 2021 and declined an invitation to the playoffs because they had only nine healthy players. In 2022, Traip was 0-7 and failed to make the playoffs.

But it’s not all bad news for Traip. Coach Eric Lane now has 23 players on his roster – a high mark in his fifth year with the program.

“This is the first time in I don’t know how long I went into double sessions not having to worry about whether we’d have enough players when the season started,” Lane said before the game.

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After the game, MacNair said Traip didn’t quit. “You could tell they are going to be very good in the future, and that’s exciting to see. They didn’t give an inch. They kept on pushing us the entire game, which I really respect.”

Oh, and why didn’t Old Orchard use Thursday as a celebration of the 2022 team?

“We celebrated the heck out of that. We had an unbelievable banquet. We had a ring ceremony,” Dean Plante said. “That was their chapter. This is a new chapter and the kids have embraced it. Our coaches are pushing it and they respond, and so far, so good.”

 

 

 

 

 

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