It’s a whole new ballgame for the Boothbay football team this fall. Boothbay and nine other schools have forsaken the traditional 11-man game for eight-man football. With an enrollment hovering around 200 for the past several seasons, Boothbay dropped Maine Principals Association football three years ago to play in an independent league of other schools battling small rosters with too many inexperienced players for varsity action.
Two years ago, Boothbay rejoined MPA football in a new development league called Class E. And this year brought another change, which third-year Boothbay head football coach Ed Crocker believes will benefit the program.
Crocker has 23 players on this fall’s roster which gives him a luxury he hasn’t had during his tenure: a starting team and a few substitutes to spare during practice. “Twenty-three is a good number for us with eight-man football. We have more depth, and this year our biggest challenge will be finding time for our younger kids on the field,” he said.
Boothbay experienced the eight-man game for the first time on Aug. 23 in an away controlled-scrimmage versus Ellsworth/Sumner.The combined Hancock County squad drew from two schools with over 500 students, but the Seahawks adjusted just fine to the game, which had two fewer offensive linemen and one skilled position player. “We hit just as hard as they did. We scored as much as they did, so overall I think we will be fine this year,” Crocker said after seeing his team in eight-man football for the first time.
Besides the three fewer players, the field is still 100 yards long, but it isn’t as wide as traditional 11-man football. It is reduced from 55 yards wide to 40 yards and one foot. Crocker expects Maine’s eight-man football to follow an example set by high school leagues across the country with high-scoring games and an emphasis on speed.
After Boothbay committed to eight-man football this spring, the coaching staff began researching how the game is played. The research led to Crocker realizing his big blue wrecking crew defense may need to rethink its philosophy for the upcoming season.
“Our defense has put up a lot of zeroes in past seasons, but eight-man has teams scoring 40 to 60 points a game. So the emphasis might be making one or two stops a quarter on defense,” Crocker said. “But I think we will do fine. We have a team loaded with speed with two-time conference all-star Mike Hollowell at running back and conference all-star Hunter Crocker at quarterback. Stephen Bennett and Grant Swope can also run and catch the ball, too,” he said.
On both sides of the ball, Boothbay returns seven of eight starters this season. “Hunter, Nick Morley and Mike Cusumano are all big hitters, and I think the experience on defense is a major plus for us. We’re looking at making a big run at the small school championship, and hopefully be playing for a state championship in November,” Crocker said.
Before the Seahawks set their sights on a state championship, they have one more preseason game on Aug. 30 against Mount Ararat at Sherman Field before embarking on an eight-game regular season. Boothbay is in the small school division which includes Old Orchard Beach, Traip Academy, Sacopee Valley and Telstar. Boothbay will play each team once except for Traip which the Seahawks will play twice. There is also a large school eight-man football division which includes Maranacook, Ellsworth/Sumner, North Yarmouth, Gray-New Gloucester and Mount Ararat. Boothbay plays two crossover games versus large school opponents Maranacook and North Yarmouth.
On Sept. 6, Boothbay opens against a familiar opponent, Maranacook in Readfield. Boothbay finished 4-5 last season, which included losing their last two games against the Black Bears. Boothbay limped into the playoffs with a 4-4 record due to sustaining several injuries to key personnel, which zapped any depth to the roster. Maranacook won the quarterfinal matchup 36-8.
“They graduated several players from last year’s team and we’ve matched up well against them in the past. They are a bigger school, but I’m sure we will come ready to play,” Crocker said.
Two years ago, Boothbay won the first Class E championship, but didn’t receive a gold ball. This year, the small school conference champion will face the big school champ, and the winner receives a gold ball. Crocker hopes his team makes history in being the state’s first eight-man football state champion.