PORTLAND — Jeff Sturgis was a member of the most exclusive club at Oak Hill High School. The Order of State Championship Football Coaches.
Just after 5 o’clock on Saturday afternoon, Sturgis was thrilled to see the club’s membership double, when he welcomed current Oak Hill head coach Stacen Doucette to the group.
“I was in a club of one,” Sturgis said. “Now we have a second member.”
Class D football is back. Man, is it back.
Class D football hibernated in Maine for almost three decades. Saturday’s state championship game at Fitzpatrick Stadium, between Oak Hill High School of Wales and Bucksport High School was the stage the new class for the smallest football playing schools deserved.
Oak Hill beat Bucksport, 42-35, winning the school’s first football title in 31 years, and the first gold ball awarded in Class D in 27.
Prior to this season, the last Class D football crowned in Maine was Old Orchard Beach, in 1986. For the 1987 season, the Maine Principals’ Association streamlined high school football back to three classes, and that’s where it stayed until this year, when the MPA voted to expand back to four classes.
Sturgis, who coached Oak Hill to its state championship in 1982, said it’s about time the fourth division came back.
“Look at this game here. There’s no dropoff in the quality of coaching, in my opinion. You don’t have some of the horses you have in A and B, but the coaching is great, and the kids play just as hard. The football is just as good,” Sturgis said.
As Saturday afternoon became a cold Saturday night, the football was great.
The Raiders and the Golden Bucks were a football pendulum, going back and forth on the worn Fitzpatrick turf. In the first half, neither team held a lead of more than seven points, and neither team held a lead for more than a few minutes. The trend continued in the second half.
Oak Hill gained a 14-point lead late in the fourth quarter when Kyle Flaherty scored to give the Raiders a 42-28 lead. It didn’t last long, as Bucksport marched down the field and answered with a late score.
The Golden Bucks played much of this season with heavy hearts. On October 3, Bucksport freshman Taylor Darveau was killed in a car accident. The Bucks dedicated their season to Darveau. They wore her initials on a sticker on the backs of their helmets. It’s too much to say the Bucks’ season ended their community’s sorrow, but it did give Bucksport something on which to rally around at a time it was needed.
Oak Hill, meanwhile, rallied against history. The Raiders hadn’t even played for a state title since 1984, when they lost to Dexter in the Class D final. Oak Hill hadn’t experienced football success at this level in a generation. This week, Sturgis spoke to the Raiders.
“You can see on his face, how proud he is to have Oak Hill back in the game again,” senior co-captain Luke Washburn said. “It was definitely motivation for us, seeing what it meant to him, even this many years down the road. That’s going to be us in 30 years, 31 years. We’re going to be those guys.”
Combined, Oak Hill and Bucksport have an enrollment of 783 students, four fewer students than Class B state champion Cony. Small doesn’t mean untalented. There’s not a Class A coach in Maine who wouldn’t welcome Bucksport’s Josh Gray or Jack Cyr, or Oak Hill’s Washburn and Flaherty on his roster.
On the big state championship stage, Class D shined just as brightly as its larger class brothers. After 27 years, Class D is a welcome re-addition to the Maine high school football landscape.