HEBRON, Maine — For some it’s a last chance to play organized football, while for others it’s a chance not only to befriend former rivals but to get a head start on the collegiate phase of their athletic careers.
But for all of the more than 90 recently graduated high school football standouts who will take part in Saturday’s 23rd annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford, there’s a shared understanding that this cause ultimately is about something far greater than any personal motivations.
All net proceeds from the 4 p.m. clash between the East and West all-star teams, including the money each player and cheerleader raised as a prerequisite for their participation in the contest, benefit the Shrine Hospitals for Children.
“I feel fortunate, and the other guys do as well, that we can play football in Maine because a lot of kids can’t,” said East quarterback Jordan Hersom of Leavitt of Turner Center during the teams’ joint training camp this week at Hebron Academy. “I feel blessed for that, and we’re all trying to work hard and have a good time and hopefully the game will be exciting on Saturday.”
Recent Lobster Bowls have not lacked for excitement, as six of the last nine contests and each of the last three games have been decided by five or fewer points — including last year, when the West used an 86-yard kickoff return from Imadhi Zagon of Portland with 4:20 left in the fourth quarter to rally for a 16-13 victory.
“Last year it came down to a kickoff return at the end,” said East quarterback Deven Romain of John Bapst of Bangor, “and honestly this year I think it will come down to execution and focus.”
The West leads the overall series 16-6, having won 14 of the first 16 contests only to have the East win four of the last six meetings.
The West enters Saturday’s game having won all three of the most recent state championship games, with 2011 champions Cheverus of Portland (Class A), Wells (Class B) and Yarmouth (Class C) combining to have six players in the contest — Cam Olson and Spencer Cooke of Cheverus, Louis DiTomasso, Josh Ingalls and Paul McDonough of Wells and Keith McDonald of Yarmouth.
“The West leads the series, but the guys are excited to play the West,” said Hersom. “The West won all of the state games, they’re very good. Obviously we’re going to put our best foot forward on Saturday and they are, too, but there are a lot of guys on both teams who are talented and the lines are going to be good so whoever executes better on both sides of the ball will stand a good chance.”
The spread offense has become the formation of choice in recent Lobster Bowls, and both East coach Dave Hainer of Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln and West coach Joel Stoneton of Winthrop plan to maintain that recent tradition.
“I think we’re here for entertainment value, and I think that’s why both teams are going to run spread offenses and that’s why both teams are going to run no-huddle,” said Hainer. “People come and pay their money and support a good cause, but they want to be entertained, too. There’s a lot of speed on the field on both sides, and there are a lot of physical, big hitters on both sides defensively, and that’s what people want to see — some big plays with some speed and some big hits on defense.
“And a close game is going to be an even better show.”
The East roster features considerable speed, with an offense guided by Hersom — the reigning Fitzpatrick Trophy winner as the top senior player in the state for the 2011 season — and Romain hoping to capitalize on the likes of running backs Jeff Turcotte of Lewiston, Alonzo Connor of Gardiner, slot backs Dominic Mowrer of Orono, Izaiaha Tracy of Mt. Blue of Farmington, Anthony Jackson of Brewer and Shaun Carroll of Lawrence of Fairfield, and wideout Sam Dexter of Messalonskee of Oakland.
“They’ve got some speed that we have to deal with, some good running backs and quarterbacks who know how to run the spread,” said Stoneton.
The East defense will be led by inside linebacker Ellis Throckmorton of Bangor, a standout during the early stages of Lobster Bowl practice week, and University of Maine-bound end Max Andrews of John Bapst.
Olson and McDonough will quarterback a West offense that also will feature Cooke, a Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist, fellow running back Sam Chaves of Massabesic of Waterboro and 6-foot-5 wide receiver Jack Cooleen of Falmouth.
Defensively the West is led by its front line of ends Luke Emery of Maranacook of Readfield and Curtis LaBelle of Bonny Eagle of Standish and 300-pound tackle Andrew Lavallee of Cape Elizabeth.
DiTomasso, a fullback and linebacker who was a Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist, also figures to be an impact player for the West.
“The West has got a lot of talent, and they won the state games,” said Hainer. “We know we’ve got our work cut out for us, but the fact is that for the last five or six years this has been a much more balanced rivalry. I think that’s going to continue.”