A baker’s dozen is fantastic if you’re talking donuts or dinner rolls. If you’re talking a football team roster, a baker’s dozen is a problem. In football, 13 is barely passable. When you need 11 players on the field, 13 gives you less wiggle room than a clown car.

On Thursday night at Larrabee Field in Knox, the Orono High School football team dressed just 13 players for its game against Mount View. A baker’s dozen. Enough to field a team, but not nearly enough to really play.

Before the game, both sides agreed to running time in the second half, regardless the score. Unsurprisingly, Mount View had a 21-0 lead at the half, and with Orono’s abject lack of depth, 21 points may as well as have been 100. The Red Riots were not mounting a comeback. One Orono drive made it deep into Mustangs territory, but it ended on downs, not in the end zone.

With 1:14 left in the game, Orono coach Bob Sinclair decided enough was enough, and called the game.

The question is, should that decision be in Sinclair’s hands, or in the hands of any coach faced with that difficult situation?

Orono is a proud football program with a tradition of success. Over the last decade, the Red Riots have won numerous Little Ten Conference playoff games, and played in the conference championship game as recently as 2015. Orono has typically done well with a small roster, so it’s not a surprise that when faced with a roster even smaller than average, Orono decided to stick it out in the Class D Little Ten Conference rather than spend a season or two in the developmental Class E to gain some experience.

But playing with 13 is trying to squeeze into your high school football jersey for your 30th reunion. It’s cutting it tight, and too much is exposed.

Even on the best days, when everybody on the roster is healthy and ready to play four quarters of football, Orono has just 22 players. Orono is not alone. This is the era of small rosters, particularly in the LTC. Stearns of Millinocket lists 23 players on its roster. Mount View, Orono’s opponent this past week, lists 26. Rosters with 20-something players are common across Maine, even in higher classes.

If you were to informally poll high school football coaches in Maine, many would tell you because an abundance of players play both ways and on special teams it feels like the roster isn’t much greater than 13 anyway. But they also don’t worry about not having 11 capable players on the field, either. Thirteen leaves no room for rest, no room for injury, and the Red Riots knew it.

Just before the half, Orono’s Jacob Farnham stayed on the ground after getting hit returning a kick. It was a clean hit, certainly hard, the kind of contact that happens a dozen times a game. Farnham was cleared to play by the on-site trainer at halftime, and returned to the game in the second half. In the second half, Farnham limped off the field again.

Sam Martin, a sophomore tight end, went down and walked off the field gingerly. Did they feel like they were letting their team down, through no fault of their own? Knowing you’re playing a game in which participants get hurt often, knowing that even a twisted ankle or a jammed finger could mean the end of the game, is a lot of weight to put on a teenager. It can make you play tentatively, and hesitating is a way to get hurt on a football field.

By Maine Principals’ Association rule, any team that fails to complete its season would be ineligible for the next two varsity seasons. The school can appeal that decision.

Mike Burnham, an MPA Assistant Executive Director, represents the governing body on the football committee. Burnham said he’d like to see at least 20 athletes dressed and ready to play for a football game, but the MPA has no minimum number for a game. Theoretically, a team could show up with 11 players and go all-out iron man football.

How many players on small rosters hide injuries, knowing there’s nobody to take their place?

The MPA football committee has a lot to discuss in the offseason, but this should be on the agenda. Set a minimum participation number for the class in which each school is assigned. For example, a Class D school needs 17 players, or it goes to Class E. A Class C school needs 20 players, or it goes to Class D. Talk of creating an eight man football league has picked up steam over the last year. If more teams are forced to play with a team of athletes that’s constantly looking over its shoulder for a substitute who is not coming, debate on an eight man league should be over and it should be implemented.

Orono was forced to make a difficult choice. Forfeit and risk losing two seasons, or play until you drop. With 1:14 left in Thursday’s game, Orono dropped.

That’s not a choice any team should have to make.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM


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