Remember the old Saturday Night Live skit “Grumpy Old Man?”
That’s how I woke up on Sunday morning. And though I had already heard how the Western Class A football playoffs panned out (ahem), the reality still left me feeling a little bit “crabby.”
The South Portland Red Riots, vacant from competitive football for a decade or so after owning the 1990s, had posted a 4-4 record, beaten the two-time defending state champion Bonny Eagle Scots and did all this while playing a Cumberland County – read city – schedule.
Yet lo and behold, I slowly crawled out of the sack on this glorious day of rest to find it official, the Red Riots had been excluded once again from postseason play.
To complicate this discovery, the Massabesic Mustangs, also 4-4, had somehow earned the right to suit up at least one more time by piling up 1.6 more of these “Crabtree Index Points” that now determine playoff positioning.
Those of us grumpy folk that remember the good ‘ol days, long before even the SoPo dynasty of the ‘90s, have a fairly difficult time believing Massabesic could somehow pull this type of weight. South Portland fans, heck even bus drivers, still have to Google this place called Waterboro.
I’m talking about the Curran Division, black-and-blue Maine high school football in the frigid cold between programs and traditions that stood the test of time. Back then, each and every single game was against a bitter rival. In horrific uniforms, inexcusably goofy facemasks, and gaudy, ancient equipment, kids played football in front of thousands of fans on uneven fields with crooked goalposts and it mattered.
This year, we celebrated the 94th Battle of the Bridge game between two schools that share a harbor and first butted leather helmets in 1907. For perspective, the first game ever played at Fenway Park took place in 1912. On Turkey Day, the 98th annual Portland vs. Deering Thanksgiving Day game will take place, which in fact is the third longest running high school football rivalry in the United States.
Now that’s cool.
Biddeford and Thornton Academy have something almost as special. And remember Lewiston? What happened there? Those were always knock down, drag out games. Sadly, South Portland does not play any of those teams anymore unless one of them pops up as its crossover game.
Western Class A football has been divvied up so that Cumberland County teams and York County teams only play inside their own division, with one crossover game. Then, this Crabtree equation makes up the difference when it comes time to ranking each team for the playoffs.
Since I’m making such a stink, here’s how it works. Each team’s fate, no matter the County, is based on the following formula: Take your team’s winning percentage, plus the winning percentage of all of your opponents and then for some reason add 100. That’s what it says. I’m thinking that one of those plus signs should be a divide sign, but that’s just me talking out loud.
And so Ryan Curit, Mike Foley and South Portland were ousted based on the records posted by Massabesic’s six York County opponents, along with its one crossover game, a 16-13 win on the road at 1-7 Scarborough.
Huh? To me, this formula seems to cannibalize itself in basic theory alone.
But in fairness, here’s a quick rundown on some key statistics for both teams. South Portland scored 207 points this fall and allowed 212. Massabesic scored 165 points and coughed up 211. Against similar opponents, and this is the key, the Red Riots beat third-ranked Bonny Eagle 48-45 at home, and the Mustangs got blasted at home by the Scots, 54-20. Both teams put a hurt on Noble away, South Portland winning 36-0 and Massabesic 36-6.
Against playoff teams, the Red Riots posted a 1-3 record, beating the 6-2 Scots, while losing to No. 2 Windham (40-13), No. 4 Cheverus (21-0), and No. 6 Portland (36-33), scoring 94 points in those games and allowing 142 (-48).
The Mustangs went 0-4, losing to No. 5 Biddeford (22-10), Bonny Eagle, No. 1 Thornton Academy (49-14), and gulp, No. 7 Sanford (28-7). Massabesic scored just 51 points and allowed 153 against playoff-bound teams (-102).
And while none of those statistics really leap off the page, even Crabtree aficionados around here, assuming they exist, would be severely climbing out on a branch by suggesting either Massabesic or Sanford, at least this year, is a better team than South Portland.
Yet I digress. The fact that I even had to break out the Casio is a direct reflection on the current state of the Red Riots. Had South Portland made just one more tackle this year against either Gorham or Portland in its last two games this diatribe never happens.
In truth, things aren’t exactly peachy on Highland Avenue. In five seasons under coach Steve Stinson the Red Riots have posted a 9-31 record. And this South Portland team failed to capitalize on having two of the league’s top players in the fold, two players that won’t be around next season. Curit finished strong and is certainly a special player, Foley is as talented a player there is in the league, but both seniors move on without ever tasting postseason football. Instead, these Crabtree Index Points have sent the once-mighty Red Riots to the equipment room early once again.
Just in case you were wondering, the Crabtree term appears to be in reference to a popular biological theory, the “crabtree effect.” This process, which supposedly has some connection with football and competition, involves the “inhibition of oxygen consumption on the addition of glucose or micro-organisms having a high rate of aerobic glycolysis.”
See what I’m saying. Something just isn’t right. Back in the day we didn’t have Crabtrees, and that’s the way we liked it.