BIDDEFORD — The East all-stars struggled early during Saturday’s Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, at Waterhouse Field.
But their finish featured a celebration.
The East erased a 16-point first-half deficit with a fourth-quarter flurry, scoring three straight touchdowns to surge past the West 40-35 in the highest-scoring game in the event’s 21-year history.
“We’re all tired, but we wanted this more than anything,” said East wideout Nolan Turner of Hampden, who made seven catches for 179 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown reception. “This was about pride for a band of guys who came together and fought together for a week. We created a bond that no other sport can do.”
The teams combined for 969 yards of total offense — with the East generating 581, including 382 through the air — while exceeding the combined single-game scoring record of 74 points generated during the East’s 47-27 victory in 2007.
The West still holds a 15-6 lead in this annual game that features the state’s top high school seniors from the previous football season, but the East now has won four of the last five contests.
“It’s not all about the football,” said East linebacker Ian Champeon of Foxcroft Academy of the contest, from which net proceeds benefit the Shriners Hospitals for Children. “It’s about what the game is for. That’s what I’m really glad about, but I’m glad we came out on top, too.”
Champeon sparked the East defense with a blocked punt and recovery, two quarterback sacks, a pass knockdown and numerous tackles both on defense and special teams, but ultimately this game was all about offense.
East MVP Lonnie Hackett of Bangor rushed for 155 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, including 96 yards in the fourth quarter alone. The Bowdoin College-bound tailback capped off the East’s scoring with a 34-yard run to give his team a 40-29 lead with 2:19 left in the game.
“The O-line opened up a huge hole and then there was just the linebacker and [defensive backs],” said Hackett of the play that produced his team’s lone rushing touchdown. “Luckily I made the linebacker miss and there was a huge seam to run through. It felt great.
Eric Theiss from Leavitt of Turner Center passed for three East touchdowns and Ronnie Turner of Lewiston added two scoring strikes, while each threw for 191 yards.
Rashon Edgerton of Brunswick added two touchdowns and 83 yards in pass receptions, as well as a two-point conversion pass.
Edgerton caught a 30-yard scoring strike from Theiss with six minutes left in the first quarter to get the East on the board after the West had taken a 15-0 lead on a 7-yard run by Jonathan Day of Gorham after an East fumble on the opening kickoff and a 1-yard run by South Portland’s Ryan Curit.
The West extended its lead to as much as 22-6 on a 29-yard run by Steve Trask of Thornton Academy of Saco, but the East pulled to within 22-14 before intermission on a 7-yard pass from Ronnie Turner to Ricky Orio of Cony of Augusta.
Yet the first half was mostly about missed opportunities for the East, which endured five different possessions that ended without points inside the West 25 — including one after Champeon blocked a punt by Jackson Taylor of Windham and then recovered the loose ball at the 4.
“We went in at halftime and we were down by eight and we weren’t very happy,” said Hackett. “We didn’t play well in the first half but it was still anyone’s game. We just had to finish our drives, and we came out determined.”
Nolan Turner beat a West defender down the left sideline on the East’s first possession of the third quarter and caught a perfectly lofted pass by Theiss to cut the gap to 22-20 — capping off the 73-yard play with a front flip into the end zone.
“It could have been a hitch or I could have faked the hitch and gone long,” said Turner. “I saw where the defensive back was playing up on me, so I decided I could get a step. I got my step, and Eric couldn’t have made a better pass.
The West answered with a 14-yard scoring pass from Taylor (16 of 25, 186 yards) to Jacob Alexander of Portland with 2:11 left in the period.
Sacopee Valley of South Hiram’s Eddie Warren, a one-time Shriners Hospital patient who has two prosthetic legs, then kicked a 40-yard extra point after the West was penalized twice in the aftermath of its touchdown to push the margin back to 29-20.
The East then took control with three straight touchdowns. Theiss hit Edgerton from 25 yards out to close the gap to 29-27 on the first play of the fourth quarter, and the East grabbed its first lead at 33-29 on a 16-yard pass from Ronnie Turner to Bill Wetherbee of John Bapst of Bangor with 11:02 to play.
The East then turned to Hackett and the ground game to hold the lead, though the West did claw back within five points on a 3-yard scoring run by Curit (10 carries, 63 yards) less than 90 seconds after Hackett’s touchdown.
But Orio covered a West onside kick with a minute and a half left, and the East ran out the clock.
“We knew that with 15-minute quarters it was going to be a long game, so after we got behind we just had to dig deep,” said Champeon. “It just took us a couple of series to get into our rhythm, but we did.”
East 6 8 6 20 — 40
West 15 7 7 6 — 35
W—Day 7 run (Curit rush)
W—Curit 1 run (Warren kick)
E—Edgerton 30 pass from Theiss (rush failed)
W—Trask 29 run (Warren kick)
E—Orio 7 pass from R. Turner (Cavanagh pass from Edgerton)
E—N. Turner 73 pass from Theiss (rush failed)
W—Alexander 14 pass from Taylor (Warren kick)
E—Edgerton 25 pass from Theiss (Gaudette kick)
E—Wetherbee 16 pass from R. Turner (pass failed)
E-Hackett 34 run (Gaudette kick)
W—Curit 3 run (pass failed)
PHOTO BY AMBER WATERMAN/SUN JOURNAL
Nolan Turner of Hampden Academy flips himself into the end zone to cap off a 73-yard touchdown pass reception during the third quarter of Saturday’s Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic football game at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford. Turner helped the East gain a 40-35 victory over the West.