Michaleb Niles of Foxcroft Academy slips a tackle by Matt Tufts (right) of Wells as the Warriors' Ethan Marsh (40) and Morgan Welch-Thompson (22) during a November 2017 Class D football title game in Portland. Credit: Stuart Hedstrom

The search for competitiveness within Maine high school football has taken several routes in recent years, from the addition of a fourth class in 2013 to crossover scheduling and a new developmental fifth class last fall.

Now there’s renewed talk of adding an eight-player version of the sport to help address the state’s declining high school enrollment and corresponding lower player participation numbers.

In the meantime, one Maine football conference has decided to address the issue from within.

The Class D North LTC, one of the state’s longest-tenured leagues with competition dating back to 1951, will not play crossover games against rivals from other regions or classes this fall after struggling in those contests a year ago.

“We looked at what we had and at this point were concerned that there’s basically a couple of good teams in our league and a lot of teams that are kind of mediocre,” said Dexter Regional High School athletic administrator Roy Pelotte.

“I think it would be helpful for our top team or teams to do crossover games, particularly when they get to the playoffs, but overall we just felt that we were kind of the lone duck in that when we were playing southern (D) schools and C schools it just would not be very competitive.”

Each LTC team played two crossover games against teams outside the league last fall, with the conference going a collective 4-16 in those contests and being outscored 699-286 for an average loss of 35-14, according to statistics Pelotte collected.

The small-school conference went 1-7 against Class D South schools during the regular season and was outscored 294-116. That didn’t count the Class D state championship game when the LTC’s representative, Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft, fell to Wells 48-0.

Against Class C North opponents, the LTC went 1-8 and was outscored 341-94 for an average loss margin of 25 points.

The LTC had a 2-1 record against foes from the developmental Class E, though one of the victories was Washington Academy of East Machias’ forfeit win over Traip Academy of Kittery.

“We’ve got to make decisions in the best interests of our league,” said Orono High School athletic administrator Mike Archer. “I know we have a responsibility to the state, too, but what it all comes down to is we’re looking at the fact that the quality of play from top to bottom in our league is down right now and we’re asking some kids to be put in positions that they’re not ready for.”

The 2018 LTC schedule, which will include an eight-game regular season followed by six of the league’s 10 teams advancing to postseason play, was developed with the knowledge of the state’s other football leagues in the aftermath of an athletic directors’ conference last spring.

“We went into side rooms and people agreed that a statewide schedule still could be made if the LTC was on its own,” Archer said. “We just felt that at this point in time, and the way our league is from top to bottom, that we could better serve each other by playing within our division.”

Teams in the LTC will play all but one of their fellow members during the regular season, with some of the potentially more lopsided games within the league not being part of that schedule.

“When we crossed over last year we didn’t play everybody in our league, but obviously there were some big differences in the scores when the top team or two in our league played some of the lower teams,” said Pelotte. “But we thought as a league that we could do a better job of regulating those scores as opposed to playing crossover games where it wouldn’t be competitive, either.

“We’re committed to each other and we want to see each other continue with football,” he added.

There also was a travel factor in the decision to play within the conference.

“If I’m going to get beat by somebody by 40, I don’t need to travel three hours to do it,” Archer said.

The LTC’s decision did produce a ripple effect as other leagues, like the Class C North’s Big 11, had to find new crossover opponents.

“The LTC brought this up to us very early in the proceedings so we anticipated that’s the way it would remain,” said Jim Leonard, athletic administrator at reigning Class C North and state champion Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield. “To be honest, with every conference representative at that (athletic directors’) meeting we were able to come to a consensus that we didn’t need a uniform two-crossover-game model like we used last year.

“With that in place it made the scheduling a lot easier.”

The Big 11 did maintain a preseason relationship with the LTC.

“The LTC was very, very forthcoming about offering up exhibition and scrimmage dates so that made things easier,” Leonard said.

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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...