Bangor and Lawrence of Fairfield have been the dominant programs in the Pine Tree Conference Class A football ranks since the mid-2000s when Lawrence began its gridiron renaissance under current coach John Hersom.
The teams have combined to win five of the last seven Eastern Class A titles, and Lawrence has dominated regular-season play over most of that span, including this year when the Bulldogs finished atop the final standings with an unbeaten record.
So perhaps surprising is the fact that when Bangor and Lawrence square off for the PTC championship at Keyes Field in Fairfield on Friday night, it will mark their first postseason meeting since 2007.
While Bangor is the two-time defending regional champion, Lawrence’s playoff runs have been derailed each of the last two years by Brunswick, including last fall when the Bulldogs went in as the No. 1 seed and lost at home to the eighth-ranked Dragons.
That made last Friday’s 28-13 semifinal win by Lawrence over Messalonskee of Oakland all the more pressure packed, and all the more satisfying.
“The thought of losing when we did last year made it a long offseason for the players and the coaches,” said Hersom. “And when you think about it being four years since we played Bangor in the playoffs, those years kind of fly by when you’re missing out on the opportunity to get to this big game.”
Bangor (8-2) is playing in the regional final for the fifth time in six years after rolling past Brunswick 42-14 in its semifinal, but this year’s cast of Rams is vastly different from the teams that advanced to the last two state championship games.
“We’re pretty excited to play, these kids are always good that way,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett. “We don’t have to coach them up to get them excited, they’re ready to play.”
Bangor’s offense has averaged 36.1 points per contest this year, led by junior running backs Cody Chapman (127 carries, 947 yards, 22 rushing TDs) and Zeb Tuell (131-772-10 despite missing three games due to injury).
Junior Carl Farnham has stepped in as a first-year starter at quarterback and completed 50 percent of his passes for 752 yards with eight touchdowns and four interceptions.
Senior Nick Sherwood (19.3 yards per reception) and sophomore Xavier Lewis (15.9 yards per catch) have been Farnham’s favorite receivers, with senior tight end Ellis Throckmorton contributing a touchdown reception in each of the Rams’ last two games.
“I don’t think they’re the Bangor team of Week 2,” said Hersom, referring to Lawrence’s 32-25 regular-season win at Bangor on Sept. 9. “Their quarterback is capable of making big plays either passing or on the run, Tuell is a big-play running back and Chapman at fullback has improved a lot.
“Their offensive line has really come together as a whole, and Sherwood is a big part of their passing game. They have a lot of weapons right now.”
Linebackers Chapman and Throckmorton anchor a Bangor defense that has allowed 17.8 points per game.
Lawrence (10-0) counters with one of the PTC’s leading rushers in Shaun Carroll, who gained 192 yards against Messalonskee last week — including an 82-yard touchdown run.
Carroll has rushed for 1,381 yards on 163 carries this fall, including a 229-yard, four-touchdown effort in the earlier meeting with Bangor.
Anthony Sementelli (450 regular-season rushing yards) is another threat on the ground, as is quarterback-turned-wingback/slot receiver Spencer Carey, who is playing with a shoulder injury that won’t allow him to throw but has evolved into a multidimensional offensive threat — rushing for one touchdown and catching a TD pass from quarterback Alex Leathers last week.
“I think they may be even more dangerous the way they’re playing now,” said Hackett.
The Lawrence defense, led by Eriq Steward, Josh Perry and Carey, has yielded just 8.0 points per game in its last eight contests but may be without tight end/defensive end Bryant Wade, who suffered an ankle injury in the last game of the regular season and was limited to playing offense last week.
Hersom is hopeful, however, of getting Carroll’s services back on defense for the first time in several weeks. Carroll, a cornerback, has been nagged by a groin injury throughout the second half of the season that has limited him to offensive duty for the Bulldogs.
CLASS B: Mt. Blue Cougars (9-1) at Leavitt Hornets (10-0), 7 p.m. Friday at Libby Field, Turner Center: This is the regional final everyone who follows the PTC Class B race anticipated from the outset of preseason practices in mid-August.
Leavitt, the two-time defending Eastern Class B champion and four-time reigning PTC B regular-season champion, has won 32 consecutive games against conference foes, including a come-from-behind 22-17 win over Mt. Blue at Farmington midway through the regular season.
The Hornets are guided by senior quarterback Jordan Hersom, who has passed for 1,470 yards and rushed for 881 yards out of the spread formation. Senior running back Jake Ouellette has rushed for 1,222 yards, while backfield mate Ian Durgin also has more than 1,200 combined rushing and receiving yards.
Mt. Blue, in its first season as a Class B program after reaching the PTC A semifinals a year ago, similarly has featured a high-powered offense, averaging 45.6 points per game compared to 46.8 ppg for Leavitt.
The Cougars have amassed more than 4,300 yards in total offense, with the “Cougar Gun” attack led by quarterback Jordan Whitney, who has passed for 1,839 yards and 24 touchdowns.