In this November 2018 file photo, Nokomis High School's Tyler Pelletier (left) looks to catch a pass behind Fryeburg Academy's Nathan Knapp in the Class C football state championship game in Portland. With tackle football postponed until spring because of COVID-19 restrictions, Maine schools are opting for a 7-on-7 flag football passing format.  Credit: BDN file photo

When Noah Lamb was asked about the chance to catch some passes in football competition this fall, the Foxcroft Academy senior couldn’t help but smile.

“That’s what I heard. It will be pretty cool,” said Lamb, who is an offensive guard and defensive end for the Ponies.

Such opportunities are rare for linemen, but for Lamb and his comrades in Maine’s high school football trenches, it could become reality.

Tackle football in the state has been postponed until next spring in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the Maine Principals’ Association is offering an all-passing 7-on-7 alternative.

The 7-on-7 version removes offensive and defensive line play and eliminates tackling while maximizing physical distancing.

There will be no MPA postseason play, but teams may schedule as many as 10 games within their geographic region, which includes each school’s home county and adjacent counties. The last playable date is Nov. 14.

That schedule aligns with MPA rules for varsity soccer and field hockey.

A guide developed by the MPA football committee suggests a flag-football format, but if flags are not available teams may play one-hand touch focused on the hip area.

Offering 7-on-7 competition and other football-based activities such as a big-man competition for linemen and a punt, pass and kick contest came after the state’s final COVID-related guidelines dictated the sport could be staged only through intrasquad workouts.

“There was a lengthy discussion about concern around many football players that football is their only sport, and unlike soccer, field hockey, basketball and other sports there is no community-based football they can go to,” said Fred Lower, athletic administrator at Hampden Academy and chair of the MPA football committee.

“We then made the decision to allow football coaches to work with their athletes during the fall and develop activities that they could do that would be competitive, because football’s not the funnest sport to practice every single day if you’re not working toward something.”

The committee also has suggested the use of kickoffs, punts and extra point- and field-goal tries during the contests to aid development of the kicking game.

In order to include all positional groups, it is suggested that linemen play quarters 1 and 3, while running backs and receivers compete in quarters 2 and 4. Defensive players in quarters 2 and 4 who also are offensive linemen may play offense during quarters 1 and 3.

Adding linemen to the mix follows a standard being used in Vermont’s 7-on-7 touch football program this fall and seeks to include the entire team.

“We thought that was something schools might want to think about and might want to try,” Lower said.

Three game officials are recommended, but not mandatory, for the 7-on-7 games.

“It takes the burden off the coaches and allows the coaches to coach,” Lower said. “But we also understand that some schools may not want to take on that financial responsibility, and there also might be official shortages.”

Lower said exactly how the 7-on-7 version of football is played will be up to each participating school as long as the activities follow the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development and MPA School Sports Guidance.

“Some schools really want to use this as developmental, they don’t want to use 70 yards of the field,” Lower said. “They want to do it like they do it in the summer when they use half the field going one way with the varsity players and at the same time the JV or younger players are going in the other direction so they’re really developing players.”

Brewer High School athletic administrator Dave Utterback believes the 7-on-7 concept may fill a competitive gap for players who not only will miss tackle football but couldn’t participate in a summer passing league due to the coronavirus.

“That segment of the school population wants the opportunity to continue working out, and I think it’s good that we’re going to be able to provide structure for those kids just like everyone else,” he said.

Utterback anticipates his school’s football program using the 7-on-7 competition as part of a multi-phase approach to the sport.

“We’re going to treat the fall almost like a mini-camp,” he said. “We have a new head coach [Scott Flagg] and he’s really going to be able to ease the kids into a system, do a lot of walk-through stuff, chalk talk and also break them up into small groups,” he said.

Utterback said Brewer will participate with other schools.

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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...