BREWER, Maine — While 2011 was a year of change — good change, as it turned out — for the Brewer High School football program, the Witches hope to use that base of success as the foundation for even greater accomplishments in 2012.
Coach Don Farnham’s club was shifted from Class A to Class B by enrollment last fall and compiled a 6-3 record that included a six-game winning streak and ended with a last-second loss to Hampden Academy in a Pine Tree Conference quarterfinal.
“We were one play away from winning our first playoff game in a long time,” said Farnham. “The kids are excited.”
Brewer also changed its offensive philosophy last fall, switching from the run-oriented double-wing designed to give the Witches their best chance to be competitive in Class A to a “pistol” spread formation that enabled the team to capitalize more on its open-field athleticism against Class B foes.
And with a year of that new system to draw from and a returning quarterback in senior Chris Miller, Brewer is optimistic that its offense will be a strength this fall.
“Last year was a good year for us because we established ourselves in Class B as a pretty good program,” Miller said. “We’re pretty advanced on offense from last year. Learning it the first year was pretty good, but now we’re taking it to the next level, making it more versatile with our speed so we are able to open the game up even more on the offensive side of the ball.”
The switch to a more modern spread formation — and the success that came with it — not only has improved the offense statistically, but boosted the mood throughout the team.
“Any time the kids can line up and do the same plays they have on Xbox it’s exciting for them,” said Farnham. “Our locker room has turned into almost like a clubhouse. We have Xbox going in there and the kids are thinking football even while they’re waiting for their second [preseason] practice of the day.
“The fact they see it on TV does help. Nothing against the double wing, that’s still a pretty good high school offense but with the pistol it’s a different mentality. You get a different group of kids out there, and we were able to attract two really good receivers who had never played [high school] football before because we’re running this type of offense.”
Those two newcomers, seniors Spencer Valley and Jeremy Bissell, have been successful in other sports at Brewer High School and figure to bring not only significant speed but also additional confidence to the squad.
“We have more speed at receiver now and we’ll be able to throw better to go with our run game,” said senior running back Dillon Smith, who teams with classmate Brody Valley as the Witches’ top returning ground gainers.
And while the Witches must rebuild a defense hit heavily by graduation, the team already is significantly ahead of where it was during preseason a year ago, when the thought of competing in Class B brought new hope to the program but the reality of having gone 4-28 as a Class A program during the previous four years was still fresh in everyone’s minds.
“We had seniors last year who had won only three varsity games their entire high school careers, so we almost had to go back and teach them how to win,” said Farnham. “So every win we had were more wins than any of those seniors had ever had, and it was the same for the juniors and sophomores.
“I think the confidence is there now is that the kids know we can play at this level, and that there’s nobody on the schedule that we look at with any hesitation. There are great teams in this conference, but at least you’re going in thinking you match up well or you have a chance to win, and that’s a big thing with kids today.”
Mt. Blue of Farmington beat Brewer 55-22 in a mutual opener Friday night.
Head coach: Don Farnham (seventh year)
2011 record: 6-3 (Pine Tree Conference Class B quarterfinalist)
Key players: Chris Miller, Sr., QB-DB, Capt.; Brody Valley, Sr. TB-LB, Capt.; Dillon Smith, Sr., TB-DB, Capt.; Jesse Boucher, Sr., C-DL; Spencer Valley, Sr., WR-DB; Jeremy Bissell, Sr., WR-DB; Joey Davis, Sr., DB-WR; Calvin Patterson, Jr., OT-DT; Adam Lufkin, Jr., OT-DT; Josh Lugdon, Jr., OG-DE
Outlook: The Witches are in their second year of utilizing the “pistol” spread offense, and with Miller back to run the attack, Brody Valley and Smith to spearhead the ground game and newcomers Spencer Valley and Bissell providing speed on the outside, Brewer should be a productive offensive team. Whether the team can make another run to the playoffs may come down to how quickly a less experienced defense can round into form.