BANGOR — The Lewiston Blue Devils have served as a measuring stick of sorts for the Bangor High School football program in recent seasons, having met the Rams five times in postseason play since 2001.
Usually the games have been played in Bangor, and coach Mark Hackett’s club won the first four of those meetings, but the last time they met during the Pine Tree Conference Class A playoffs was 2008 at Lewiston, where the Blue Devils held off a youthful Rams team 34-26.
Two years later, that youthful Bangor team is now an experienced club seeking its second straight Eastern Maine Class A championship, and only Lewiston stands in the way — with the two rivals set to square off again at Cameron Stadium in a 7 p.m. start Friday for the regional title.
“The kids are excited about making the trip up there,” said Lewiston coach Bill County. “We’ve played up there a lot in the last few years.”
Second-seeded Bangor (9-1) is coming off a 22-12 semifinal victory over Mt. Blue of Farmington after a 16-0 quarterfinal victory over Edward Little of Auburn.
“Bangor is big and disciplined,” County said. “They do what they do because they’re big and athletic.”
No. 4 Lewiston (8-2) rebounded from a 26-7 loss to Edward Little in its “battle of the bridge” to end the regular season to defeat Messalonskee of Oakland 42-13 in the quarters and No. 8 Brunswick — the first-round conquerer of top-ranked Lawrence of Fairfield — 20-7 in its semifinal last Saturday.
“They’re very physical, very tough, and they probably like to run the ball even more than we do,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett. “They don’t look pretty doing it all the time, but they get the job done.”
Bangor is led offensively by senior tailback Josiah Hartley (184 carries, 1,121 rushing yards in eight games, 15 total touchdowns) and senior quarterback Joe Seccareccia (943 passing yards, 13 TDs, four interceptions). Junior Nick Sherwood (25 receptions, 511 yards, eight TDs) is Seccareccia’s favorite target, while senior fullback Jon Fader has come on strong in recent weeks after recovering from an ankle injury.
“Bangor will come right at you, and if you can shut Hartley down then Seccareccia is capable of throwing very well,” said County. “They run the belly play and traps quite well, and if you load up on Hartley their fullback (Fader) can really hurt you.”
Lewiston’s offense features the Wing-T and I formations and utilizes a running-by-committee approach that includes fullback Joe McKinnon (127 carries, 939 yards, nine TDs) and tailbacks Jeff Keene (78-719, 10 TDs) and Jeff Turcotte (116-655, eight TDs). Turcotte, incidentally, is no relation to recent Lewiston Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Jared Turcotte, now at the University of Maine.
“It’s like a 1-2-3 punch,” said Hackett. “They go at different speeds but they all come at you, and all three of those kids get the ball about the same number of times so you can’t key on any one of them.”
Lewiston quarterback Chris Madden has averaged just 8.1 pass attempts per game, but has completed 42 of his 81 passes for 793 yards with six touchdowns and six interceptions. Tight end Cody Dussault (six TD catches) is the Blue Devils’ top receiving threat.
Bangor’s defense welcomed free safety Seccareccia back to its lineup midway through last weekend’s win over Mt. Blue after the team’s leading tackler had sat out defensively during the EL quarterfinal due to a shoulder injury. Tackle Tyler Shanklin, strong safety Dylan Morris and linebackers Nic Cota and Joe Stanevicz are among the other leading tacklers for a Bangor defense that has allowed just 7.8 yards per game. Sophomore Zeb Tuell leads the Rams with four interceptions.
Lewiston’s defense features linebacker Ben Wigant, the PTC’s second-leading tackler this season.
The Blue Devils are seeking their first trip to the state final since 1987 — the first year of Class A’s current East-West format.
“At the beginning of the season we started seven or eight underclassmen on each side of line of scrimmage, but we had high expecations based on team speed,” said County. “We’ve enjoyed sneaking up on people a little bit because during the preseason people didn’t give us much of a shot.”
As for Bangor, the Rams are one victory away from returning to the state final for a second straight year — and they believe it’s a familiar formula that will get them there.
“The team that plays the best defense and plays the most physical at the line of scrimmage will win this game,” said Hackett.