The Brewer Witches and Salem Witches shake hands before the coin toss on Saturday. Credit: Mike Rollins

On Saturday, the Brewer football team bused four hours south to play a Massachusetts-based team in Salem.

The exhibition game had been in the works since March, and was the first time the Brewer team had traveled out of state to play football.

But what made Saturday’s game really special is the shared bond between Brewer and Salem: they’re two of only three football programs nationwide — along with Greenwich, New York — nicknamed the Witches, and the two most successful programs coached by the legendary Ken Perrone.

Perrone coached Brewer to two Class A state championships from 1967 to 1973, including a 1970 campaign in which the team finished No. 1 in New England and ranked No. 5 nationally. Starting in 1974, Perrone coached Salem for 21 seasons, leading them to two state championship appearances and five Northeastern Conference titles.

“He’s a legend. I went to school here and played here, and always heard about his teams,” said Brewer’s head football coach Scott Flagg. “It was really cool that he was there Saturday, and to be able to honor him. He’s an amazing guy; full of energy.”

Dozens of locals followed the team south this weekend, drawn in by what Flagg called “the Ken Perrone effect.”

Wearing a Brewer cap and Salem t-shirt, Perrone accompanied both teams out to the coin toss pregame. The exhibition game was dubbed the Ken Perrone Witches Classic, in which both teams battled to take home the first Cauldron Cup.

“He was humble, too,” junior quarterback Ethan Leavitt said. “He had the option of flipping the coin, and decided to give it to his assistant coach, who he said was ‘one of the best in Maine.’”

Massachusetts starts its football season later than Maine, so the coaches decided to treat the event as a scrimmage rather than a typical exhibition game. Both teams took turns trotting out their A and B squads, before playing competitive drives from the opposing 40-yard line to determine the winner of the Cauldron Cup.

Brewer ultimately turned the ball over on downs, and Salem scored on a hard-fought final drive, winning 6-0.

“Our kids battled all afternoon,” Flagg said. “That last drive was our best. We took them to fourth down twice.”

The trip down to Salem was formative for Brewer’s players, who took the time to bond on the bus ride and had the opportunity to witness the intensity of Massachusetts football.

“Growing up in Maine, the sports culture is completely different from down there in Massachusetts,” junior wide receiver and defensive back Jake Perry said. “There was definitely a more intense feeling going into the game.”

“It was a useful experience we can rely on for the rest of the season,” senior offensive and defensive tackle Colby Largay said. “I’m really glad we did it.”

This fall, Brewer will play its first season in the Maine Principals’ Association’s Class C program, and looks to bounce back from two consecutive losing seasons. The Witches’ home opener on Friday, Sept. 1, against Hermon is a highly anticipated game, as is their week two game at Hampden Academy.

Brewer will also play defending Class C regional champs Medomak Valley at home on Sept. 15, and two Class B teams in Messalonskee (home Sept. 22) and Lawrence (away Oct. 20).

“Salem was aggressive, loud and physical. We are too, but that was another level,” Flagg said. “We’d like to emulate that this season. Iron sharpens iron.”

Next year, the plan is to play the second Ken Perrone Witches Classic in Brewer. There’s a chance Brewer and Salem will play a full game rather than a scrimmage.

“We would like to build this in as a tradition with our new friends from Salem, Massachusetts, who share the same nickname and many connections from the past,” Brewer Athletic Director Dave Utterback said.

Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the number of Maine football teams that have played out of state and the number of schools that feature the Witches mascot.

Sam Canfield is a recent graduate of the University of Michigan, and the Bangor Daily News' newest sports reporter. He loves to examine the narratives and motivations behind Maine's most exciting athletes...