BELFAST, Maine — The last time Dan Curts raced on the 3.1-mile cross country course at Troy Howard Middle School, he leaned across the finish line just enough to win the 2012 Class B state championship meet by four-hundredths of a second.

The stakes won’t be quite as high Saturday, but the possibility for a similar close finish will exist when Curts and Josef Holt-Andrews of Telstar of Bethel are among the competitors at the 12th annual Maine Cross Country Festival of Champions.

Some 1,692 runners representing more than 75 schools from Maine and beyond are registered to compete in the state’s largest interscholastic cross country meet, which is hosted by Belfast and Brewer high schools.

The event features boys and girls races in three divisions — seeded (varsity), unseeded (junior varsity) and freshman. The unseeded races begin at 11 a.m., followed by the freshman races at 12:30 p.m., the seeded girls at 2 p.m. and the seeded boys at 2:40 p.m.

Seniors Holt-Andrews and Curts are top-ranked in the boys seeded race, with Holt-Andrews posting a fastest 5K time so far this season with 15 minutes, 21 seconds and Curts next at 15:43.

But those times were run before last weekend when that duo squared off in the boys small-school division of the Manchester (N.H.) Invitational. Curts won that 5K race for the second straight year, finishing in 15:23 to outlast Holt-Andrews, who was second in 15:27.

Those times suggest the Belfast boys course record and Festival of Champions meet record of 15:27 — set by last year’s race winner Mike Tate of Dr. J.H. Gillis High School in Antigonish, Nova Scotia — may be in jeopardy pending good running conditions.

Curts last ran on the Belfast course Oct. 27, 2012, outleaning Silas Eastman of Fryeburg Academy in a dramatic finish to win the Class B state individual championship in 15:47.52. Holt-Andrews placed second in last year’s Class C state meet in 16:20.43.

Other top-seeded boys runners for this year’s Festival of Champions are juniors Aaron Willingham of Mt. Blue of Farmington (15:49) and Caleb Lord of Hampden (16:10) and senior Josh Horne of Mt. Blue (16:18).

Pacing the girls seeded field is sophomore Anne McKee of Kents Hill with a best time of 19:12.5, followed by Kiera Murray of Cheverus of Portland (19:15), Shannon Conley of South Portland (19:15.1), Kialeigh Marston of Bonny Eagle of Standish (19:21.42) and Aleta Looker of Ellsworth (19:35).

Looker finished third in 19:23 and McKee fourth in 19:31 last weekend in the girls’ small-school division of the Manchester Invitational. Kirstin Sandreuter of Greely of Cumberland Center won that race in 18:59, but the Rangers are not entered in the Festival of Champions.

Bethanie Brown of Waterville, now a freshman at Iowa State, is the defending FOC girls champion after setting a meet record of 17:56.69 last fall. The Belfast girls course record is 17:48 set by Old Town’s Cassie Hintz in 2004.

The two-time reigning Class B state champion Mount Desert Island girls team will attempt to win its third straight Festival of Champions title, while the Cumberland, R.I., boys squad is slated to return to defend its 2012 crown.

Eight vie for football coaching honor

Eight veteran Maine high school football coaches who have combined to win 24 state championships during more than 150 seasons on the sidelines have been nominated for USA TODAY’s first-ever Best High School Football Coach contest.

Jim Aylward of Mountain Valley of Rumford, Kevin Cooper of Bonny Eagle of Standish, Mike Hathaway of Leavitt of Turner Center, John Hersom of Lawrence of Fairfield, Dick Mynahan of Lisbon, Dan O’Connell of John Bapst of Bangor, Bob Sinclair of Orono and John Wolfgram of Cheverus of Portland were selected by USA TODAY staffers to represent the Pine Tree State after more than a month of conversations with local media and other state and school officials with high school football expertise.

Now fans get the chance to make their choices in three rounds of online voting.

The state round is until noon Oct. 8, with the 51 winners — each state plus Washington, D.C. — advancing to a regional round, where they will be divided among eight regions of six or seven coaches apiece.

Regional voting runs from noon Oct. 9 to noon Oct. 18, with those eight winners qualifying for the national round, which starts noon Oct. 21 and ends noon Oct. 29.

The champion is crowned based on most votes in the final round.

The athletic department of the winning coach will receive $2,000. Second through fifth place also receive cash prizes for the athletic departments: Second ($1,000), third ($500), fourth ($250) and fifth ($100). All eight finalists receive banners for their schools.

To vote in the state round, go to

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Ernie Clark

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...