BIDDEFORD, Maine — The style of play has changed over nearly a quarter-century of Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic football games.
While defenses — and the West’s defense in particular — ruled the early contests, spread offenses have taken control.
Three of the highest-scoring games in the 23 previous encounters have come in the last six years, with the West’s 48-24 victory a year ago topped only by East victories in 2010 (40-35) and 2007 (47-27).
But what hasn’t changed throughout the years is the reason for the game — it’s a fundraiser for the Shriners Hospitals for Children that generated more than $73,000 last year alone — and the lasting impression it makes on those who participate.
Steve Stinson knows all about it. He was a lineman for the 1992 West team that defeated the East 18-7.
Since then he has served as an assistant coach twice and this year is the head coach for the West squad that will take on the East at historic Waterhouse Field in Biddeford on Saturday in the 24th annual edition of this game that features the state’s top high school senior players from the previous season.
“It was over 20 years ago when I played in it, but there’s still the clarity of the memories of that experience,” said Stinson, South Portland’s head coach. “We were down at [the University of New England] at the time when they split the squads up, but I remember the kids I met that week and I remember playing in the football game.
“The kids today are going to remember this 20-plus years down the road because it’s such a special event, and they’re such a select group of young men who have been chosen to do it.”
This year’s contest has the potential to be another high-octane matchup, with both teams featuring plenty of star power.
The West roster includes reigning Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Donald Goodrich, a halfback from Cheverus of Portland, and backfield mate Alex Shain of Sanford, another Fitzy finalist.
Quarterbacking the West will be Jake Desrocher of Massabesic of Waterboro and Dillon Russo of Scarborough.
“Offensively we’ve got some kids in Shain and Goodrich and Desroscher who can finish a lot of plays,” said Stinson. “I know people are excited to see these kids carry the ball on Saturday, and I know the East is ready to defend that so it’s going to be a great game.”
Defensively the West features the linebacking tandem of Bobby Begin of Thornton and Ryan Casale of Cheverus along with a secondary that includes safeties Tyson Goodale of Bonny Eagle of Standish and Kenny Sweet from Deering of Portland and cornerbacks Damien Shepard of Windham and Ethan Beaulier from Noble of North Berwick.
“We’ve got some great athletes on the defensive side of the ball, very aggressive and very athletic at all three levels,” said Stinson.
That West defense will be challenged by an East offense directed by quarterback Jordan Whitney of Class B state champion Mt. Blue of Farmington.
“We wanted to highlight his talent,” said East head coach Dave Sterling of Edward Little High School in Auburn. “Jordan’s probably one of the best quarterbacks I’ve seen and seeing him in practice has made me even more impressed. Seeing him being able to move his feet, fit the ball into windows and deliver it downfield, or when he’s rolling one way then throwing across his body back 50 yards is amazing.”
Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Chandler Shostak of Cony of Augusta will be among Whitney’s passing targets, while Brunswick tailback Jared Jensen rushed for more than 2,300 yards in 10 games last fall.
Defensive catalysts will include safety Spencer Carey of Lawrence of Fairfield and end Kurt Massey of John Bapst of Bangor, winner of the Frank J. Gaziano Memorial Defensive Lineman Award after last season.