Last year’s Pine Tree Conference Class B championship game produced one of the more fantastic finishes in recent Maine high school football history.
Mt. Blue of Farmington scored a touchdown in the second overtime and kicked the extra point to take a 21-14 lead, only to have Leavitt of Turner Center counter with a touchdown of its own and then come up successful on a two-point, do-or-die, conversion try to earn the 22-21 victory.
It was the 33rd straight win against PTC competition for coach Mike Hathaway’s club and earned the Hornets their third straight Eastern Maine Class B championship.
Some key players have graduated from that team, most noticeably Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Jordan Hersom and two-time 1,000-yard rusher Jake Ouellette.
But the Hornets don’t plan to give up their championship reign without a challenge, which figures to come most prominently from Mt. Blue and Hampden Academy.
“I think you’ve got to put us near the top,” said Hathaway. “We lost Hersom and Ouellette, two pretty high-profile backs, but we’ve got the majority of our offensive line back and the two new kids in there are pretty good.”
Leavitt will be huge upfront, with a pair of 300-pound tackles and a 6-foot-4, 285-pound guard in Matt Child.
Option-oriented junior Tyler Chicoine steps in at quarterback while classmate Josh Faunce will provide speed at tailback. The Hornets can complement their run game with such receiving threats as seniors Brian Bedard and tight end Josh Baker, a starter as a sophomore in 2010 who is back after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament during the first game last season.
Mt. Blue will be led by the league’s top returning quarterback in senior Jordan Whitney, who passed for 1,905 yards and 25 touchdowns in 2011 for coach Gary Parlin’s Cougars.
Cam Abbott and Zak Kendall are among Mt. Blue’s top receiving threats, while Chad Luker figures prominently in the Cougars’ ground game while teaming with Bradley Jackson to give the team a pair of all-PTC linebackers.
Hampden returns nearly intact from the 2011 team that fell to Leavitt in the conference semifinals.
Coach Harry McCluskey’s Broncos feature senior tailback Logan Steward and two quality quarterbacks in incumbent senior starter Brian Fickett and junior Matt Martin. Matt Haws is a versatile performer on both offense and defense, while Hampden also displayed solid play along the line of scrimmage during its 27-12 preseason loss against Class A contender Bangor last weekend.
“Hampden has the most back on paper,” said Hathaway. “They’ve got a very good group of seniors and Logan Steward is going to be one of the best backs in the league.”
Gardiner, the fourth PTC semifinalist last year, is rebuilding along the line of scrimmage and must replace star running back Alonzo Connor, but Dennis Meehan is a top-flight playmaker at quarterback for the Tigers.
“It’s a lot like last year,” said Brewer coach Don Farnham. “Your top teams are probably going to be Leavitt and Mt. Blue. Hampden is loaded, they’ve got a good team, and Gardiner is always consistently good.”
For its part, Brewer returned to Class B last fall and finished fourth in the final regular-season standings to earn the home-field advantage for a first-round playoff game. The Witches ultimately fell to Hampden 22-21 on a last-second touchdown, but they hope to build on that effort as well as its familiarity with the “pistol” spread offense, which it will employ for the second straight year.
Senior quarterback Chris Miller is back to lead the attack, with Dillon Smith and Brody Varney both veteran running backs and newcomers Spencer Varney and Jeremy Bissell providing outside speed.
“Last year we were able to jump in and make the playoffs,” said Farnham. “We ended up being one of the top four teams in the league, and we were happy with that.
“This year it’s the same thing for us. If the injury bug hits us it could be a long season, but if we can keep people healthy we could possibly be better than we were last year.”
Waterville, Mount Desert Island and Morse of Bath rounded out the PTC B playoff field a year ago, and all three are expected to contend again this fall.
MDI is rebuilding in the backfield, but a big and fairly veteran line should make the transition easier for the Trojans’ younger starters. Waterville features a second-year starting quarterback in Aiden Fitzgerald.
“I wouldn’t want to have to play MDI later in the year,” said Hathaway. “They’ve got good coaching, and the straight T [offense] they run can slow down the game a little bit.”
Oceanside High School, the second-year consolidation of the former Rockland and Georges Valley of Thomaston high schools, this week regained the services of head coach Woody Moore. Moore, who had lost his job as that school system’s health coordinator due to budget cuts earlier this year, had resigned from the football job just before the start of preseason practices.
But after regaining a similar full-time job within the school system this week, Moore has returned to the head coaching duties.
Also battling for a chance to advance to postseason play includes Belfast and Nokomis of Newport as well as three teams with new coaches.
Scott Franzose, a former quarterback at Madison during his playing days, takes over at the helm of the cooperative Madison-Carrabec entry that enters its second year in the Class B ranks, while Nick Arthers, former Belfast standout and the son of longtime former Lions coach Butch Arthers, is the new coach at Old Town.
Steve Wadsworth has taken the coaching reins at Camden Hills of Rockport.