There’s a lot of catching up to do every time a new Maine high school football season begins. From key players leaving to classification shakeups, 2023 is no different.

A senior-heavy region a year ago, central Maine will look to some new stars to take over the spotlight as the season begins. In the greater picture of the 11-man game, moves to reimplement regions in the largest and smallest classes and balance them out have left a landscape that’s foreign to all.

“You look at these divisions, and they’re all so light,” said Nokomis head coach Jake Rogers. “The playoffs are bigger now, and it’s really changed things. It used to be, if you lost three games, you might not make it, but now, it’s almost like you have an eight-week experimental period before the playoffs come.”

Indeed, it’s probably best not to look for familiarity as kickoff approaches from Newport to Readfield, Wales to Madison and everywhere in between in the coming days. What you will find, though, is a region full of intriguing teams and players as a new season dawns on local gridirons.

In Class B North, there was a clear favorite last year in Skowhegan. The River Hawks brought back virtually everyone from a roster that Pine Tree Conference coaches knew had been far better than its 5-5 record a year earlier, and they lived up to the hype by winning their first state title in 44 years.

Although Skowhegan will have a target on its back this year, the River Hawks are a much younger team with last year’s legendary senior class in the rearview mirror. That’s not to say the River Hawks won’t be a factor, but it’s Falmouth and Lawrence that begin the season as favorites in the seven-team league.


“Lawrence still has a great quarterback (Michael Hamlin) and some good receivers, so you’ve got to watch out for them,” said Skowhegan senior lineman Owen Falardeau. “Other than Parker Higgins and Lucas Campbell, they’ve got everybody back. … Falmouth, they were young last year, but they pushed us (in the Northern Maine title game).”

Cony has lost Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalist Dom Napolitano, receiver and kicker Kam Douin and lineman Jaden Geyer from last year’s 7-3 team. But the Rams do return two key defensive pieces in linebacker Tyler Pelletier and lineman Jonny Lettre as well as an all-around offensive threat in Davyn Flynn.

Elsewhere in the conference, Mt. Blue will look to improve on a 3-6 season in Matt Friedman’s second year as head coach. Gardiner, like rival Cony, must replace an experienced senior class, but the Tigers will be healthy in numbers with last year’s 26 underclassmen gaining a year of experience.

A Messalonskee ball carrier gets tripped up by a Winthrop/Monmouth defender during a football scrimmage Aug. 19 in Oakland. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Of all the teams that could be set for an improved campaign in 2023, though, Messalonskee might top the list. The Eagles have seen a significant jump in numbers, and first-year head coach Blair Doucette will look to build on a season that ended with a morale-boosting win over Lawrence in Week 8.

“Things are really looking up for us,” Doucette said. “We’re at 50 kids, and usually, we’ll be in the mid-30s. I think the biggest thing for us is going to be changing the culture because the program has had five wins in the past four seasons, and that’s something we’ve talked about.”

Formerly home to a number of central Maine programs, Class C has seen Waterville, Gardiner and now Maine Central Institute and Winslow leave for other classes over the past few years. That’s left a class in which C North Nokomis, which jumped from 1-7 in 2021 to 5-4 a year ago, is the only central Maine team.


Nokomis replaces one of the state’s top passing duos in quarterback Grady Hartsgrove and receiver Madden White as well as a host of other starters. The Warriors, though, have a promising quarterback in MCI transfer Logan Washburn as well as three returning linemen in Sean Calloway, Simon Chadbourne and Linwood Grover.

Of the six remaining teams in C North, Medomak Valley returns standouts Gabe Lash (wide receiver, defensive back) and Marshall Addy (line) as it looks to defend its first-ever regional championship. The Panthers, Rogers said, look good on film, but he thinks Oceanside is the favorite to come out of the region.

“They bring back every skill player, they graduated only one kid on the line, and they’re in their second year under their new coach,” Rogers said of Oceanside. “That second year is big; that’s when we won our state title was my second year. They should be on top, I think, but Medomak looks very good, so it could easily be them again, too.”

Winslow’s Liem Fortin breaks away for a long touchdown early in a game against Mt. Blue last season in Farmington. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Class C’s latest losses are Class D’s gain. Central Maine now makes up a sizable chunk of the 13-team class (divided into two regions à la pre-2020 after two years as a statewide class) with Winslow, MCI and Madison/Carrabec/Valley in the North and Oak Hill and Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale in the South.

Historically a Class C power, Winslow had an uncharacteristic 2022 season as it went 4-6 to mark its first losing season in 13 years. Star running back Matt Quirion missed the final seven regular season games after injuring his arm in the opener, and the Black Raiders struggled during that stretch, going 2-5.

Quirion, though, is back, and as the Black Raiders showed in his three games last year, they’re a different team with him in the backfield. Fellow running back Liem Fortin also returns for Winslow, which could be in for a big year if it can replace Jared Newgard at quarterback and Tim Lessa and Jaxon Wiegand on the line.


“We’re a fairly young team with only five seniors, so we’re a work in progress, but I’m feeling pretty good,” said Winslow head coach Wes Littlefield. “With (Matt) and Liem in the backfield, I feel like we have some really good backs. … I’m looking for Jacob Garcia and Brody Davidson to have a big year for us (on the line).”

Returning to Class D for the first time since winning the state title in 2016, MCI, which recovered from an 0-4 start last season to make the playoffs, brings back experience after graduating only six seniors. Madison/Carrabec/Valley, which also lost just six seniors, is poised to improve on a 1-7 campaign.

After going 2-7 as a young team last year, Oak Hill is in position to make strides in 2023 with a key nucleus of players back. The Raiders have three solid running backs returning in Hunter Drew, Kaiden Delano and Adam Hinkley, and Delano (linebacker) and Hinkley (defensive back) are also studs on defense.

Then, there’s Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale, which returns just one offensive starter and two defensive starters from last year’s 6-4 team. The youthful Ramblers are a work in progress as they look to find their footing, but it would be foolish to overlook a program that’s been one of Class D’s best in recent years.

“We’re going to have to have some sophomores and juniors contribute this year and even some freshmen, but I like the group we have,” said Ramblers head coach Dave St. Hilaire. “Our freshmen and sophomores both won their league championship in middle school, so we have the talent, and the kids have put in a lot of work.”

Statewide, a Foxcroft team that has won the last two Class D state championships will be among the teams challenging Winslow in the North. Freeport, Lisbon and a Wells team that returns to D after state title wins in 2017 and 2018 will test Oak Hill and Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale in the South.


In the eight-man ranks, Waterville was within touching distance of a Gold Ball a year ago before Yarmouth used a late drive to claim a 30-26 win in the Large School state title game. The Purple Panthers’ returnees include quarterback Wyatt Gradie, running back Dawson Harrison and lineman Griffin Pelotte.

Maranacook’s Owen Dunn breaks through for a 47 yard touchdown run against Dirigo during an eight-man Small School South football semifinal game last season in Readfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Winning a third straight Large School North championship, though, won’t be easy. Mt. Desert Island and Spruce Mountain should both be strong once again, and the region has now gained another tough squad with a Mountain Valley unit that went 8-1 last year moving up from the Small School class.

“It’s a bit of a fresh start, but our guys know the process and what it takes,” said Waterville head coach Isaac LeBlanc. “I think Mountain Valley joining just makes it tougher. They had a really good year last year, and I’ve heard a lot of good things about their program. We know we’ll have to be at our best.”

Another local eight-man power, Maranacook, has a new head coach in ex-Messalonskee assistant Skip Bessey. Standouts Owen Dunn (running back, linebacker), Robbie Vivenzio (wide receiver), Kody Goucher (running back) and Patrick Cushing (lines) are all back for a Black Bears team that will contend for a title.

Moving to Small School South from Small School North this year is Mount View. Returning all but three players from last season, the Mustangs will be led by senior Wyatt Evensen, whose astonishing rushing campaign a year ago included a 475-yard, eight-touchdown effort against Stearns.

Old Orchard Beach, Bessey said, will be favored in the South with the bulk of last year’s Gold Ball-winning roster returning. Bessey also expects Dirigo to contend in the region, though the Cougars must replace the bulk of their production from last year at the skill positions.

“You’re not overlooking any team, but the two teams I’m looking at closely are Dirigo and Old Orchard,” Bessey said. “Dirigo might not have their good skill players from last year, but they have a lot of big linemen back. They might look different, but they’ll still be tough.”

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