BREWER, Maine — The Brewer Witches powered their way into the Class B North championship game last fall before top-ranked Brunswick extracted revenge for a regular-season defeat en route to its second straight regional title.
Brewer figures to contend for a similarly deep playoff run this fall, and power football may be even more the name of the game for the Witches in 2016.
“That’s what we have been preaching all year,” said Brewer coach Nick Arthers, whose club was 9-2 a year ago. “We committed ourselves to the weight room and had a ton of kids in there over the summer. We wanted to get stronger.
“We knew we weren’t going to be a real finesse team with the pass game, we were going to be ground and pound, and we’re getting there. We’ve still got a lot to work on but we’re making great strides and we’re looking forward to the season.”
Brewer’s football power play will be spearheaded by an imposing line that features seniors Austin Lufkin, Cam Green and Lucas McLaughlin, juniors Garrett Graham and Tyler Bean and sophomore Zach Steiger.
That group will fuel a rushing attack led by senior halfback Trey Wood and also including classmates Garrett Ireland and Zac Duncan.
“We feel that our line is as tough as they can get,” said Arthers. “Having Trey behind them is a great one-two punch for us and we’re going to rely heavily on that over the course of the year.”
Junior Cody Wood takes over at quarterback for the dynamic Logan Rogerson, who graduated after guiding Brewer through its playoff run until suffering a dislocated hip in the regional final. Senior Tyler Hafford will be among Wood’s top passing targets.
“It’s always tough stepping in for a quarterback like Logan,” Arthers said. “Cody’s a great athlete himself, but really what we’ve been focusing on with him is maintaining the game, managing the game and being a field general out there rather than going out and making the highlight plays. We’re just looking for him to be really consistent and so far he’s getting the job done.”
Lufkin along the front line and Wood at linebacker are defensive catalysts for the Witches, with junior Hunter Umel and senior Jack Corey key factors in the secondary.
“It’s tough to tell until that first game of the regular season, but right now we’re very happy with where we’re at and very optimistic about what our potential could be,” said Arthers. “We have high expectations for these guys and going forward with the preparation we do every week we should be getting better and better.”
Brewer should battle some familiar opponents for Class B North supremacy. Brunswick graduated Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist Will Bessey, but coach Dan Cooper’s club returns depth at the skill positions to fuel its own power-based attack.
Skowhegan is led by one of the state’s top quarterbacks in senior Garrett McSweeney, who passed for more than 2,000 yards last fall and also was a capable rusher for coach Matt Friedman’s Indians.
“You have Brunswick on top and they’re the top dog until somebody knocks them off,” said Arthers. “Skowhegan is very much improved and they’re going to be right there in contention with a quarterback like [Garrett] McSweeney. They’re going to be very tough with their passing game so it’s going to be interesting when we go up against those teams and it’s going to be fun.”
Mt. Blue of Farmington is another threat, while Lawrence of Fairfield and Cony of Augusta boast top-level quarterbacks in Braden Ballard and Taylor Heath, respectively. Messalonskee of Oakland features its trademark hard-nosed approach while Gardiner and Nokomis of Newport seek improvement, Nokomis in just its second year of Class B play under coach Matt O’Connell.
Another program working toward upward mobility is Hampden Academy, where Fred Lower becomes the Broncos’ third head coach in as many years.
“We’re not a real experienced team, we’ve got some great kids and good athletes, but we’ve got a lot of kids who are coming back to football after not playing since their freshman year and several seniors in their first year of playing football,” said Lower, a former longtime assistant at Bangor High School and Husson University. “We’ve got some experience but the majority are guys who are learning as they go, so we’re really stressing fundamentals.
“My biggest joy so far is how coachable they are,” Lower added.
Four captains, seniors Griffin Nye, Tyler Knights and Cooper Bennett and junior Connor Roy, provide leadership for the Broncos, who are 42 players strong in the high school program and also have strong numbers at the middle school and youth levels.
“Obviously I’m competitive, the staff’s competitive and the kids are competitive, so the first goal is wins and losses, but we also know what the reality is,” said Lower. “We’re a team that was 1-7 two years ago and 2-6 last year, but I look at the schedule and if we continue to grow week in and week out and stay healthy and don’t get discouraged, there are definitely some winnable games.
“Are we going to make growth every day? Probably not, there probably will be days and games when we have setbacks. But if we consistently keep the focus on what we can get better at and check those things off and keep progressing, that will be a successful season.”