Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale running back Dominic Trott sheds Bucksport defender Evan Trojano, during a Sept. 3, 2021 game in Winthrop. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

For central Maine teams in the state’s two smallest classifications, the return to football in 2021 felt like a completely new world.

For the three area teams competing in Class D, the division had a look unlike ever before with a league consisting of nine teams statewide; in the eight-man ranks, two area programs joined the fold as the new format exploded in popularity. Those teams dealt with all of that amidst a pandemic that forced postponements and cancellations all year.

“It was a crazy year,” said Madison/Carrabec head coach Danny Moreshead. “You come in having not played for a year, and then you have COVID and the restrictions and everything else going on. There was one week where he had to play with 15 kids. It was tough.”

There’s a bit more sanity at the Class D and eight-man levels as the 2022 season kicks off this weekend. The lower classes of Maine high school football have remained relatively stable over the past 12 months, and there’s no shortage of title contenders locally and throughout the state.

Despite its small size, the nine-team Class D field provided some thrilling matchups across the board last season. The league was rife with parity as teams from the bottom and middle of the pack regularly challenged those at the top, and with only one team (Bucksport) having moved down to eight-man, the class is looking at another fun year.

For the past two seasons, Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale has been among the top teams in Class D. The Ramblers lost the lead late in the D South title game against eventual state champ Lisbon two years ago and were nipped 19-16 by Foxcroft in last year’s Gold Ball game.


There are some losses to be addressed for Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale, which must replace quarterback Andrew Foster, running back Logan Baird and lineman Jacob Umberhind, all elite players at their positions. Yet the Ramblers do bring back another standout back in Dominic Trott (855 yards and 16 touchdowns last season), who is also one of eight returning defensive starters.

“It’s our hope that we’re able to compete with some of the teams higher up in the division again,” said Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale head coach Dave St. Hilaire. “Dom had a great year last year, and Robby Feeney has also played some wingback for us. We have a lot of potential.”

At Madison/Carrabec, Moreshead — an assistant coach last season — has made the step up to head coach. The 2013 Madison graduate and former Bulldog quarterback is expecting big years from seniors Quinn Cornforth (quarterback/linebacker), Austin Hay (tight end/linebacker) and Noah Lattin (wide receiver/linebacker) as well as junior Brode Strout (wide receiver/defensive back).

“This year is more so about building and really learning to play as a team,” Moreshead said. “I have five seniors this year, but we’re mostly a sophomore-oriented group. … I think we can compete, and I’m just telling these guys to take it game by game and go from there.”

Oak Hill also has some rebuilding work to do after losing a loaded senior class of 10 players, nearly all of whom were major contributors. Wide receiver Maverick Swan and quarterback Kyle Delano are among the key returning players for Chad Stowell’s Raiders, who went 5-3 a year ago.

Although reigning Class D champion Foxcroft lost five impact players, it does bring back much of the roster that went undefeated last year. Freeport, which went 6-3 in 2021, returns standouts in quarterback Aidan Heath and running back Jordan Knighton, and a Lisbon team that stood its ground despite being inexperienced a year ago also hopes to contend.


“Lisbon was a young team last year — they only had three seniors — so they’re going to be tough to beat this year now that they’re more experienced,” St. Hilaire said. “Freeport is also going to be good. Their running game was tough to stop last year.”

At the eight-man level, Waterville (Large School North) and Maranacook (Small School South) are defending champions in their respective regions. Both teams have chances to be strong again in 2022, though they will look a bit different than the versions that brought home title plaques a year ago.

Maranacook seniors Chad Lancaster, right, Travis Lemelin and Isaiah Churchill take a break from football practice on Aug. 16 in Readfield. The seniors will leave Maranacook having only known eight-man football in their high school careers. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

Waterville enters the year without quarterback Liam Von Oesen, who accounted for the bulk of the Purple Panthers’ offensive production as a senior last season. A Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalist, Von Oesen rushed for 1,992 yards and 26 touchdowns while passing for 686 yards and six touchdowns.

In Von Oesen’s absence, Waterville will look to Dawson Harrison in the run game and Tyson Smith at quarterback. The Purple Panthers also have a pair of top linemen in Cole LeClair and Griffin Pelotte, an all-conference receiver in Spencer Minihan and a standout special teams player in Dustan Hunter.

“The run we had last season really energized our guys for this season,” said second-year Waterville head coach Isaac LeBlanc. “We’ve got to find our identity as a team [without Liam], but I think the best football teams find ways to grow differently from season to season, and we’ve got a lot of guys ready to fill those shoes.”

Waterville will face another stiff challenge for the Large-School North title from Morse, which the Purple Panthers defeated 22-20 in last year’s regional final. Whichever team makes it out of that region, LeBlanc said, will have its work cut out for it in the state game.


“You’ve got to factor in Mt. Ararat because they’re always tough, and Spruce Mountain always has a good program, too,” LeBlanc said. “Greely also has a new program down there. The South is going to be very competitive, so eight-man Large is going to be tough all the way around this year, for sure.”

Waterville High School wide receiver Dawson Harrison (22) goes for the ball after getting hit by a Morse linebacker during the eight-man Large North final on Nov. 6 in Waterville. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Maranacook will be a contender again in 2022, though the Black Bears stand to look a little different than usual this year. Whereas Jordan DeMillo’s past teams have been known for their size and strength, this year’s unit is a smaller, more athletic group.

That group starts at running back with Owen Dunn, who ran for 250 yards against Dirigo in last year’s Small School South title game. On defense, there’s Dylan Pottle and Isaiah Churchill, the latter of whom, DeMillo said, has mastered the hybrid linebacker-defensive back position that is crucial in eight-man football.

“We don’t have that size that Maranacook has been known for, but we’ve certainly become a lot more athletic,” DeMillo said. “I also think we have more depth than we’ve had in the past. … We’ve seen our younger kids really start to develop, and they can make that step up.”

In Small School North, Mount View will be looking to improve on a 1-5 season a year ago. The Mustangs must replace their top offensive player in Sam Valleau but do return Wyatt Evensen, a potent pass-catching running back, and Anthony Mathous, a top tackler.

Dexter and Mattanawcook Academy will be among the top returning teams in Small-School North, and new addition Bucksport has two talented juniors in quarterback Ayden Maguire and receiver Gavyn Holyoke. In the South, Old Orchard Beach is at the top of the list of teams looking to dethrone Maranacook.

“Honestly, I think OOB is the only team that can compete with us,” said Maranacook senior Travis Lemelin. “They have a lot of really good kids this year. I know that’s one game we definitely can’t wait for.”

Comments are not available on this story.