Some coaches are scratching their heads over new high school football plans

Maine High School football coaches have had mixed reactions to the fall schedules released Friday amid a new approach to scheduling aimed at creating more competitive games and fewer blowouts.

In February, the Maine Principals’ Association Football Committee unveiled a plan to base schedules on a ranking system in each 11-man football enrollment class to allow programs of similar strength to play against one another. The changes resulted in more cross-class games in this fall’s schedule. Class A teams were also given clearance to each play a New Hampshire team to have a competitive ninth game on their schedule.

Not all Class A teams were able to find a match with opponents from New Hampshire. Those who have done so are Bonny Eagle (Merrimack), Edward Little (Spaulding), Oxford Hills (Portsmouth), Sanford (Dover) and Thornton Academy (Bedford). Bangor and Scarborough will play nine Maine teams, while Lewiston will take on eight Maine teams and bid farewell.

“The schedule looks good for our team. I enjoy playing for the New Hampshire team,” said Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren. “I think it’s great that we’re playing teams outside of Maine, I like that idea. We did that where I grew up (North Dakota) and it was a lot of fun.”

The scheduling changes were designed to stem the trend of increasing outages statewide. Last fall, nearly 30 percent of regular-season games were decided by 35 points or more.

However, coaches are divided on whether the new fixtures achieve that goal and whether they result in the most compelling encounters.

Marshwood coach Alex Rotsko said the ranking process worked and his defending Tier B champions will be playing a tougher schedule than last year as a result. The Hawks, who took first place in Class B South, play against Class A teams Bonny Eagle, Scarborough and Sanford, and Portland, Kennebunk, South Portland, Noble and Massabesic. Marshwood plays two more Class A teams in place of Deering and Biddeford, who beat the Hawks 95-14 aggregate.

“I think it makes for a little more competitive schedule, which was the goal of it all,” he said. “Our schedule is stronger this year than last year. I think it will make for more competitive play. … Nobody likes to watch these 60-0 games. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

South Portland coach Aaron Filieo said he was happy with his schedule. The Red Riots, who are fourth in B South, will have crossover games with Scarborough and Class C champion Cape Elizabeth, both of which are among his favorite interclass games according to former Capers coach Filieo.

Filieo said it was too early to tell if the schedules overall met the goal of a more competitive balance.

“It’s impossible to say at this point. It sure looks like it on paper, but who knows? It’s hard to say every year,” he said. “I think (ours is) fine. We’re not playing against a top tier team and we’re not playing a bottom tier team. … I know it will be competitive for us.”

Other coaches are disappointed in their plans. Kennebunk will face Class A champion Thornton Academy, whom Rams coach Joe Rafferty listed as a team he didn’t want to face.

“I was against crossovers with A from the start, I’ve been very vocal and vocal about it,” Rafferty said. “I don’t understand why we’re doing this and I don’t play everyone in my conference. I’d rather play my conference and make the most of it.

“We were specifically asked if there was a team you didn’t want to play against, who would it be? My answer was TA. And who’s on my schedule? TA. I don’t know how to find out.”

Wells coach Tim Roche – whose Class C South team will play division opponents Fryeburg, Westbrook, Cheverus, Leavitt, Cape Elizabeth and York, and crossovers against Kennebunk and Class D Freeport – said he was okay with his schedule but liked the one process behind it not it. The crossovers, Roche said, still leave the possibility of a strong Class C program like Leavitt or Cape Elizabeth drawing a weak Class B team.

“They try to make football more competitive but (but) the teams will go away,” he said. “We lost to Kennebunk in a 42-0 scrimmage. … We will never have games where there are no blowouts. What do I think we’re trying to fix? And is the solution the right one?”

Losing some rivalries to allow crossovers with unknown opponents was another point of contention. Cony in B North will play Class A Oxford Hills and Class B South Massabesic but not Lawrence, one of his biggest rivals.

“We have no tradition, history or rivalry with Massabesic. We do with Lawrence and we don’t play her. We do it with Braunschweig and we don’t play against them,” said Cony coach BL Lippert. “That part of it is frustrating. … It’s been a great rivalry for a long time. We’ve had some incredible games over the last ten years and it’s my personal favorite place to play.”

Similarly, South Portland will not play neighboring Deering, and Kennebunk will not play area rivals Biddeford, as will South Portland, despite teams in B South finishing in the top four.

“It makes no sense. If everyone ranks South Portland and Kennebunk in the top half of the league, why wouldn’t you want them to play each other? Rafferty said. “We are trying to create a competitive schedule. Why not let two of the top four teams play against each other? Why take away the game?”

This story will be updated.

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