Move along. Nothing new to see here.
That might be an appropriate preseason admonition to anyone handicapping the Class A division of Pine Tree Conference football, where the customary one-two punch of Lawrence and Bangor is expected to prevail once again.
Defending champion Lawrence, winner of all but one regular season game in the past six seasons, welcomes back quarterback Spencer Carey and halfback Anthony Sementelli among a flurry of experienced two-way starters. Oh, and if that isn’t enough, the Bulldogs add Xavier Lewis, who was likely to be Bangor’s starting tailback before he transferred.
Bangor battering ram Cody Chapman, a bruising fullback, and quarterback Carl Farnham will keep the Rams in the running.
League coaches are raving about the potential of Cony, which brandishes QB Ben Lucas, RB Brandon St. Michel and WR Chandler Shostak. If the Rams of Augusta want to crash the playoffs as a new arrival to the four-team party, though, they’re likely to be a rare breed. Despite weighty graduation losses, Messalonskee and Brunswick expect to be in the hunt to reclaim their spots.
“You may be looking at the same four playoff teams and who knows, we might be fifth again,” Lewiston coach Bill County said. “With eight teams, sometimes you get a seven and an eight that are pretty weak, and with four sometimes you get a couple of teams who are deserving that don’t get in.”
Lewiston struggled early under the weight of injuries and high expectations in 2011. Despite impressive wins in its final two games and a 5-4 record overall, the Blue Devils missed the four-team field by a whisker.
This year’s Devils are less touted and dramatically younger, but the talent and potential are no less impressive.
The new look begins in the backfield, where sophomores Sheon James and Quintarian Brown take over from PTC rushing champion Jeff Turcotte as the featured backs.
“They’re fast. They enjoy the weight room. They’re strong kids. They don’t really have that adult body yet,” County said. “They were both lethal as freshmen.”
James and Brown may be asked to use that explosiveness to generate extra yards behind an offensive line that is a work in progress.
Junior Nate Freve is the center. Senior Zach Phelan learned only this past Tuesday that he will be moving from fullback to guard, joining classmate Brian Wigant.
“He’s eager to help the team,” County said of Phelan. “When you tell a kid they’re changing their number from 2 to 62, they don’t always jump up and down and act excited about it.”
Ace Curry, a sophomore receiver, transfers from EL and will start immediately. Curry is the younger brother of former Devils quarterback Ronnie Turner.
Senior tight end Steven Patrie and junior fullback Gabe Johnson provide the offensive experience. They’ll be blocking for one of two juniors, Ryan Allen and Eddie Emerson, jockeying for the quarterback spot.
Patrie (defensive end) and Phelan and Johnson (middle linebackers) anchor the defense. Lewiston likely won’t get beat by the deep pass with Curry and James roaming the secondary.
County isn’t concerned about skill, but depth has dropped off from recent seasons, at least until some of the younger players prove their mettle.
“I may have to slow down the game a little bit and take the air out of the ball, which I’ve been known to do,” he said.
Across the river, a dangerous pass offense is taking shape. Edward Little quarterback Sean Ford has a reliable favorite target in tight end and basketball star Quin Leary.
Fellow senior Bryan Uwaechia and sophomore Ian Mileikis also could be big-play performers in the Red Eddies’ aerial attack.
Ford started the 2011 season as backup to Josh Delong but was usually on the field when the Eddies needed points in a hurry.
“He was third in the league in passing and he was only spot playing for us,” EL coach Dave Sterling said. “Quite a few colleges are looking at him.”
Two-way tackles Alex Sterling (6 feet, 240 pounds) and Mitch Lachapelle (6-1, 245) have done their part to develop the quickness to feed that high-powered approach.
“They came into camp in great shape. They were running 5-(kilometer) races all summer,” Dave Sterling said.
The running game gets a new look with juniros Johnny Boyd at tailback and Jeff Clark at fullback.
Leary and Andrew St. Pierre headline the defense at linebacker. Sterling, Lachapelle and senior end Jake McLaughlin provide strength up front.
Mileikis and Uwaechia give the Eddies quickness at corner.
“I thought the defense played pretty well in our scrimmage at Thornton,” coach Sterling said. “It was 10 plays at a time. We’d stop them four plays but then they had to run a fifth and they broke a couple.”
EL opens with Lawrence at home. Cony, Bangor and Brunswick follow, pitting EL against four of the consensus top six teams in the PTC in the opening month.
“That’s how it always seems to be,” Sterling said. “We’re in the mix. We have to focus on the opponent we have each week.”
The win column looked the same for Oxford Hills in 2011 that it did in the two preceding years — one, at Mt. Ararat’s expense.
If you were reading between the lines and not merely considering the bottom line, however, the Vikings improved throughout the campaign and put up a worthy fight in almost every other game.
“The defense put us in position,” Oxford Hills coach Mark Soehren. “There weren’t any blowouts except for one game at Messalonskee, and we had so many guys out with injury and sickness and whatever that I really don’t know what to say about that game.”
Soehren was an assistant coach last fall. He is the Vikings’ third different coach in as many years.
Prior to that he was in charge four seasons at Poland, where he became closely associated with the flexbone, triple-option offense.
“They’re really learning it pretty well actually. They’re picking it up fast,” Soehren said. “That goes for the coaches too. Everybody bought into it as a staff. I was hired in March and everybody was like, ‘Let’s learn this.’”
Fullbacks are key weapons in the scheme, and Oxford Hills has two good ones in Jordan Croteau and Dexter Turner. Croteau is a three-year starter, while the 6-foot-4 Turner makes the transition from split end.
The offense also requires a mobile, quick-thinking quarterback, and Soehren believes he has three at his disposal. Senior Ryan Godin makes the move to signal-caller after catching passes a year ago, but PTC opponents may also get a glimpse of junior Nick Bowie and sophomore Brady LaFrance before the season is out.
“At Poland I only had one quarterback so it was never even an issue. Now I have three kids I would feel comfortable playing at any point,” Soehren said. “It’s nice to develop a quarterback who might be able to pick it up for a couple of years.”
Billy Leahy, a 6-4, 300-pound guard, anchors the offensive line with senior Tim Hutchinson.
Defensive leaders are Leahy and Turner at defensive end and Croteau at linebacker. Bowie and older brother Ben, baseball players both playing varsity football for the first time, will start in the secondary.
“They’ll make a big difference on both sides of the bal,” Soehren said.
Oxford Hills opens the season with Skowhegan and Mt. Ararat, two teams that have been in its half of the PTC pecking order the past few years. The Vikings see it as a chance to get the Soehren era off to a flying start.
“We just need a little more experience,” the coach said. “We have a lot of physical kids who love the contact piece.”