The first two weeks of the Pine Tree Conference Class A football season have done nothing to dispel the widely held belief that this could be one of the most competitive campaigns in recent memory for the playoff berths that will lead to the Eastern Maine championship.
Adding to the competition is the fact the number of playoff berths up for grabs this fall are half of those available a year ago, when the top eight teams in what was a 12-team league qualified for postseason play.
This year, with Brewer and Mt. Blue of Farmington having been reclassified by enrollment to the PTC Class B ranks, just 10 teams remain in the PTC A.
The league had the option of still advancing eight teams to the playoffs after an eight-game regular season as was the case in the PTC B division last year, but it opted instead to play nine regular-season games and send just four teams to postseason play for the first time since 2006.
“I kind of favor this format rather than the eight teams,” said Lawrence of Fairfield coach John Hersom. “I think it really drives our kids to bear down every week.”
Lawrence is one of just two PTC A teams that remain undefeated after the first two weeks of play, scoring one-touchdown victories over Edward Little of Auburn (26-18) and Bangor (32-25).
The other unbeaten is Messalonskee of Oakland, which whipped Cony of Augusta in its opener before manufacturing perhaps the most significant victory of the PTC season to date with a 48-27 win over Lewiston last Friday night.
Coach Wes Littlefield’s club is averaging 47.0 points per game, thanks in large part to the Eagles’ ability to get the ball in the hands of senior playmaker Sam Dexter and the emergence of sophomore running back Corey McKenzie.
Six other teams — Bangor, Brunswick, Edward Little, Lewiston, Skowhegan and Oxford Hills of South Paris— are all 1-1.
“We’ve seen quite a few of the teams now as a staff, and I think anybody can beat anybody,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett, whose team opened with a one-point win at Brunswick before its loss to Lawrence and is slated to play at Edward Little this Friday night. “It’s high school football, and it all depends on what your attitude is and how you approach the game, the weather, turnovers, penalties, it’s all part of it.
“But there’s at least six or seven teams trying to get into the four slots, and there’s going to be some good teams that don’t make it. So now we’re 1-1 and we better win next week. You have to win the next game.”
Week 3 may begin to better define the playoff chase, as the top eight teams in the conference are all matched up against each other. Other games on the schedule have Lewiston at Brunswick, Lawrence at Oxford Hills and Messalonskee at Skowhegan on Friday night and Mount Ararat of Topsham at Cony in a clash of the league’s two winless teams on Saturday afternoon.
“Messalonskee’s for real and Lewiston is for real, and Brunswick is, too. And certainly Bangor is, so hopefully we’ll stay right even with them throughout our season,” said Hersom. “It’s going to be tough to get those four spots.”