TOPSHAM — The Mt. Ararat and Morse football teams kicked off their season Friday — but not in the traditional sense.
No tackling. No helmets. No linemen. Welcome to flag football, which is the new norm on the gridiron in Maine this fall.
“It was a great day, the score doesn’t matter,” said Eagles head coach Frank True. “I was excited for the guys.”
“I didn’t know if we were going to put the jerseys on this year,” added Morse coach Jason Darling. “We’re lucky to be able to get out here and have a chance to have fun and be a team.”
The Eagles and Shipbuilders agreed to play six-on-six as both were slated to compete in the eight-man division this fall, until the coronavirus pandemic altered plans. The Maine Principals’ Association decided not to offer tackle football (as well as indoor volleyball) this fall because it was designated a high-risk sport.
The Eagles prevailed Friday, 40-12, but the final score was of little importance.
“The opportunity to be out here with the guys was phenomenal,” said Nolan Blessington, senior QB/DB for the Eagles.
Blessington had a highlight play in the third quarter, snagging an interception with one hand in the Shipbuilders’ end zone. He finished the game with two interceptions and five touchdown passes.
Prior to the start of the game, Mt. Ararat recognized seniors from both squads.
The players wore no gear other than team jersies, including no helmet. A player was down by contact when a defender touched him with two hands.
There were no kickoffs, no runbacks on punts, and no extra point attempts. Blitzing was also prohibited, and the quarterback was “sacked” if he held the ball in the pocket for longer than five seconds.
“It felt pretty awesome to have time to sit back there and go through the reads,” said Blessington.
The Eagles scored first on their opening drive, but Morse responded with a touchdown to the cut lead to 8-6.
Mt. Ararat followed with three unanswered touchdowns, including an interception return, and it took a commanding lead after two quarters.
The Eagles and Shipbuilders traded touchdowns to start the third, and the Eagles added another toward the end of the quarter.
There was a limited capacity of up to 100 spectators allowed, per COVID-19 safety guidelines.
“Obviously, we would like to be playing traditional football, but I was happy that it went well,” said True.