Week 1 of the 2011 high school football season will feature the debuts of three new varsity teams and two consolidated programs, the move of existing schools to new classes and amid all that change one constant — several games that will retain great significance deep into October.
The new programs are Hermon High School and Washington Academy of East Machias in Eastern Maine Class C and Telstar of Bethel in Western C.
Oceanside High School, the combination of Rockland and Georges Valley of Thomaston, and Spruce Mountain, the consolidation of Jay and Livermore Falls, join the Class B ranks.
And eight other schools — Brewer, Mt. Blue of Farmington, Old Town, Madison-Carrabec, Marshwood of South Berwick, Westbrook, Poland and Winslow — are in different classes than they were a year ago.
Now for the games.
Bangor Rams at Brunswick Dragons, 7 p.m. Friday at Brunswick: Two of the top teams in in the Pine Tree Conference Class A ranks square off to open the season.
Bangor, the two-time defending Eastern Maine champion, introduces a new backfield in junior quarterback Carl Farnham, junior tailback Zeb Tuell, senior wingback Wyatt Frost, and junior fullbacks Cody Chapman and Cain Corkum to go with senior split end Nick Sherwood and senior tight end Ellis Throckmorton.
Brunswick features its backfield tandem of tailback Dylan Walton and fullback Keith Kitchens.
“I think he’s the best back in the league,” said Bangor coach Mark Hackett of Walton. “He’s strong, he’s quick, he reminds me of (former Bangor star) Mike Prentiss. “He’s got a speed that’s quicker than anyone else.”
The Dragons, coached by Dan Cooper, reached the regional final in 2009 and the semifinals in 2010 — both years after knocking off Lawrence of Fairfield in the quarterfinals.
“They’re certainly one of the best teams in the league,” said Hackett. “They’re aggressive, they’re quick and they’re disciplined.”
Bangor and Brunswick are projected to be among the top contenders in the 10-team PTC, but with just four teams qualifying for postseason play this fall — down from eight a year ago — the head-to-head matchups among contenders take on even greater importance.
“It’s really going to be a battle of fronts, I think,” said Hackett. “Whoever plays better up front is going to win the game, along with whoever makes the fewest mistakes.”
Brewer at Mt. Blue, 7 p.m. Friday at Farmington: It’s a Class B matchup that will feel like a Class A season opener when these two newly reclassified teams meet at Kemp Field, a temporary home for the Cougars this fall while a construction project continues at Mt. Blue.
Brewer moves back to Class B after four years in Class A. Coach Don Farnham’s club also is changing its offense and defense, with the most notable switch going from the run-oriented double-wing offense to the more diversified “pistol” spread formation.
Mt. Blue, which advanced to the PTC Class A semifinals last fall before falling to Bangor, returns its “Cougar Gun” spread formation featuring veteran quarterback Jordan Whitney and wide receiver Cam Sennick.
Hampden Academy at Leavitt, 7 p.m. Friday at Turner: These teams meet in a season opener for the third straight year, with Leavitt — the two-time defending Eastern B champion — winning those previous debuts.
Both teams figure prominently in preseason prognostications for postseason play, with Leavitt and Mt. Blue ranking as favorites and Hampden also expected to make another playoff run after reaching the Pine Tree Conference semifinals a year ago.
Hampden features the running back tandem of junior Logan Steward and senior Nick Stevens working behind junior Brian Fickett, a first-year starter at quarterback.
Leavitt boasts one of the state’s top players regardless of class in senior quarterback Jordan Hersom, who rushed for 1,400 yards and 22 touchdowns last fall while passing for 600 yards and 11 more scores. The Hornets also have senior running back Jake Ouellette, a 1,300-yard rusher in 2010.
Belfast at Gardiner, 7 p.m. Friday: The Belfast football program enjoyed a resurgence in 2010, advancing to the Pine Tree Conference Class B semifinals before falling to Leavitt.
Coach Chris Bartlett’s club may be the youngest team in the division this fall with just three seniors, but the experience gained from last year’s 5-6 campaign by some talented underclassmen could portend even more improvement this fall.
The Lions’ challenge in Week 1 is significant. Gardiner has a new head coach in Matt Burgess, but returns one of the state’s premier backs in senior Alonzo Connor, who rushed for 2,013 yards and 24 touchdowns in leading the Tigers to the PTC championship game.