With dusk Friday comes the dawn of a new high school football season.
Defending Eastern Maine champions Lawrence of Fairfield, Gardiner and Foxcroft Academy all will contend to return to the state finals Nov. 22 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland — but no doubt they will face major challenges along the way.
Class A: Lawrence is trying to become the first team to win three straight Eastern A titles since Class A was realigned in 1987. Whether that goal comes to fruition may hinge on the development of a new backfield behind an experienced line.
Bangor, runner-up each of the last two years, has lots of new players getting their first chance to start, and the Rams figure to be much improved later in the season. Skowhegan is a regular contender with a no-star approach using the double-wing offense, while Lewiston has the region’s best running back in Wes Myers. Edward Little of Auburn is seen as the most improved team, with Cony of Augusta not far behind.
Eastern A champion: Lawrence has rebuilt its storied tradition under coach John Hersom, and that tradition and a stocked front line will carry the Bulldogs until its backs catch up — just in time for postseason play.
State final: Lawrence vs. Bonny Eagle.
Class B: Gardiner won its first state title in 60 years last fall, and under new head coach Jim Palmer the Tigers return a solid nucleus.
But Morse of Bath has a veteran team with a strong defense, Leavitt of Turner Center has a formidable offense with good size up front, while Oak Hill of Sabattus boasts a big senior class.
Then there’s traditon-laden Winslow and Waterville and Belfast, along with Mount Desert Island and Hampden Academy, all capable of making a postseason run.
Eastern B champion: Leavitt is poised for a breakthrough in search of its first state championship since 1998.
State final: Leavitt vs. Mountain Valley.
Class C: Reigning state champion Foxcroft Academy has won three straight Eastern C crowns and five in the last six years — and coach Paul Withee’s Ponies haven’t lost at home since 2001.
Foxcroft suffered some significant graduation losses, particularly on defense, but returns senior quarterback Jamie Nason to run an offense that will feature junior wingback Ian Champeon, who probably would have emerged as a standout a year ago save for the Ponies’ depth at that position. Defensively the Ponies may not be as quick as in recent years, but steady improvement during the regular season should leave them ready for November.
The only time Foxcroft has failed to win the LTC title in the last six years was in 2004 — when Bucksport featured speedy Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Nick Tymoczko. There’s a similar scenario in Bucksport this fall, with senior sprinter Nate Warren working behind a veteran offensive line.
Rockland will be dangerous, though a lack of depth leaves the Tigers without a sturdy safety net. John Bapst of Bangor reached the 2007 LTC final, and has enough veterans for another run, while Orono also will be in contention behind senior quarterback Kash Keezer and Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln features 1,000-yard rusher Brady Vose in the Lynx’s new spread offense.
Eastern C champion: Bucksport is a popular choice, but Foxcroft has the track record as well as the talent to retain its stranglehold on the division.
State final: Foxcroft vs. Winthrop.