Expect a wide-open affair when East meets West in the 20th annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic this afternoon.
The game, which features 88 of the top recently graduated high school football players from around the state, is set to begin at 4 p.m. from historic Waterhouse Field in Biddeford.
The games previously had been held on Friday nights since year seven of the event, but game officials made the change back to Saturday in order to enable fans and the players’ family members to return home earlier in the evening.
Both squads are expected to employ spread offenses, in part because the formation is becoming more popular at the high school level throughout the state, and in order to take advantage of backfield speed and talented quarterbacks on each of the rosters.
Mirror images, anyone?
“That’s what it sounds like,” said East head coach Dan O’Connell of Bangor. “It might be the slowest game in history, but it might be the most fun to watch. If we complete a bunch of passes, it will be exciting, if we don’t, it might take a while.”
The West leads the series 15-4, but the East has been much more competitive in recent years, winning two of the last three games and three of the last six, though the West earned a 24-6 victory in last summer’s contest.
The East features Cody Goddard of Edward Little of Auburn and Derek Smith of John Bapst sharing the quarterback duties. Both are familiar with the spread offense, but while Goddard is considered more of a pure passer, Smith mixed both the run and pass while leading John Bapst to the 2008 Class C state championship.
“We’ve put in a lot of plays for both Cody and me,” said Smith. “We’ve got a little bit of everything in there, and it should be a lot of fun because we’ve got a lot of good athletes to work with, the best kids in the state.”
The East rushing attack will feature Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Billy Clark of Skowhegan, semifinalist Nate Warren of Bucksport, Wes Myers of Lewiston and Tyler Green of Leavitt of Turner Center.
“I love our athleticism,” said O’Connell. “We’re not overly big, we’re definitely not small, but I think at every position from the first guy to the last guy we’re very, very athletic. We’ve got good speed, and from what I’ve seen since we got here the work ethic for a group of kids that has been adversarial at some levels and didn’t know each other that well has really come together with a sense of teamwork and a sense of pride in the East.
“It looks like a team that’s been together for a couple of years. It’s been great to watch and great to experience.”
The West counters with an offense featuring reigning Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Nate Doehler, the master of the spread offense while leading Bonny Eagle of Standish to back-to-back Class A state championships in 2007 and 2008.
“We knew we had Nate Doehler as a given,” said West head coach Dean Plante of Old Orchard Beach, “and you always start thinking about what you can do based on your skill kids.”
Sharing quarterback duties with Doehler will be Preston Jones of Fryeburg Academy, whose, dad, Fryeburg coach David Jones, is the West’s offensive coordinator.
“Both quarterbacks are very familiar with the system so we’ve been able to hit the ground running,” said Plante. “We’re very solid at that position, they can both run and throw so we’re very comfortable.”
Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Justin Staires of Class B state champion Mountain Valley of Rumford leads the West running backs, along with Joey Eon of Massabesic of Waterboro.
“First of all, when you see [the West team] walk through the door, they’ve got some big kids, and at the same time they’re athletic, they’re strong and they’re fast,” said O’Connell.
“When you put all these kids together in a game, there’s really not a weak link. These kids have all been on the field, they all have experience and they’ve all been the kingpins at their schools so it’s almost like you know what you’re getting into before you walk onto the field whether you look at the roster or not. You know they’re going to be talented.”
Proceeds from the event, including fundraising efforts by the players and cheerleaders in advance of the game, benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children, which provide specialty pediatric care and burn care for children around the country.
The Lobster Bowl has raised more than $400,000 since its inception for the Shriners Hospitals for Children, including an estimated $60,000 this year.
“It’s an honor to be in this football game,” said East wide receiver Tyler Pembroke of Bangor, “not just to play with the best players in the state but to be playing for kids who have disabilities so hopefully they’ll be able to run and play again some day.”