FAIRFIELD, Maine — For the past six years it’s not been difficult to prognosticate the fate of the Pine Tree Conference Class A football ranks long before postseason play comes with the chill of mid-autumn.
Lawrence of Fairfield and Bangor have combined to win five of the last six conference titles and with them a chance to represent Eastern Maine in the Class A state final in Portland.
Lawrence, the defending PTC champion after pulling away from Bangor 40-14 in the 2011 conference title game, has lost just one regular-season contest over the last six years and is the only team from the East (2006) to win the state crown during that span.
Bangor (2001) is the only other PTC team to win a Class A state championship since the turn of the century and has won a conference-leading five Eastern Maine titles during the last 12 years.
And there’s little evidence to suggest that change is in the offing this fall — save for the actual playing of the games.
“On paper it looks like us and Bangor have a lot returning,” said Lawrence coach John Hersom, the 2011 PTC Class A coach of the year. “We’ve got quite a few boys back from last season that are returning, as well as some good holes to fill.
“Hopefully we’ll live up to expectations, but we’re trying to impress on our kids that we’ve got to prove it out on the field and take it one week at a time.”
Lawrence, 11-1 last season, returns 21 seniors including quarterback-strong safety Spencer Carey, now healthy after shoulder issues a year ago. Anthony Sementelli and Josh Doolan step in as the premier running backs, replacing the graduated Shaun Carroll Jr., while junior Xavier Lewis — a transfer from Bangor — is another big-play threat offensive threat.
Senior Eriq Stewart, one of the conference leaders in quarterback sacks last fall, anchors the offensive and defensive lines.
“Obviously, Lawrence is the team to beat,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett, whose team also lost to Lawrence 32-25 during Week 2 of the 2011 regular season. “They beat us last year and they’ve got more guys back than we do, I think.”
Bangor is not without weapons of its own, particularly behind the line of scrimmage where senior quarterback Carl Farnham and senior running backs Cody Chapman and Zeb Tuell lead the way.
Chapman and Tuell, who will be joined by senior fullback Cain Corkum, provide a contrast of strength and speed that gives the Rams plenty of offensive options, while senior wideout Matt Cosgrove has emerged as a top receiving threat to go with junior tight end Nick Ashey.
That contingent also will provide much of the Rams’ defensive strength behind a line led by seniors Greg Duff and Brandon Vang, while Farnham is one of the premier kickers in the region.
“I would say we’re one of the top four teams going into it,” said Hackett, “but how it works out we’ll see, because with only four teams making the playoffs there’s no margin for error.”
Bangor’s opening-week opponent, Brunswick, has reached the PTC semifinals each of the last three years and, while having graduated 18 seniors, is expected to contend for postseason play again this year. Jason Carter is a returning starter at quarterback.
“I think Brunswick’s very talented and very tough,” said Hackett. “They always are.”
So, too, on course for a return to the playoffs is Messalonskee of Oakland, which graduated 2011 PTC Player of the Year Sam Dexter and starting quarterback Travis St. Pierre but whose returning lineup features junior tailback Cory McKenzie and senior lineman Jake Stinson.
“Bangor has a lot of personnel back,” said Hersom, “and I think Brunswick is going to have a good senior group, although they might not be as deep as they’ve been. And Messalonskee has a fair number of kids coming back, with several linemen.”
If a different team is to break into the PTC playoff field this year, it may be Cony of Augusta.
The Rams may have one of the more explosive offenses in the conference, with junior Ben Lucas in his third year as the starting quarterback and wide receiver Chandler Shostak and running back Brandon St. Michel also capable of making big plays.
“I think a sleeper in the East could be Cony,” said Hersom. “They have a lot of skill players back, and their quarterback as a sophomore last year was very talented.”
Edward Little of Auburn has its own passing combination in quarterback Sean Ford and wideout Quin Leary, while rival Lewiston is younger than in recent years after going 5-4 and narrowly missing out on a postseason berth in 2011.
Mount Ararat boasts a little more experience than its recent editions, Skowhegan has a new coach in former Madison-Carrabec leader Matt Friedman, and former Poland boss Mark Soehren is Oxford Hills of South Paris’ third head coach in as many years.