DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — Josh Buker might be the Julian Edelman of Saturday’s Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic football game.
Like Edelman did as a collegian at Kent State, Buker played quarterback as a senior at Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield.
Like Edelman, Buker also has considerable experience catching passes. Buker did that successfully for the Huskies before moving to quarterback last fall, while Edelman has made a healthy living as one of Tom Brady’s favorite targets for the New England Patriots.
And like Edelman, whose team rallied from a 28-3 deficit for a 34-28 overtime victory over Atlanta 34-28 in last February’s Super Bowl, Buker’s most recent football game produced a stunning finish.
MCI captured its first state championship since 1974 when Eli Bussell picked up a mishandled field-goal snap and ran 20 yards for a touchdown as time expired to lift the Huskies to a come-from-behind, 20-14 victory over Lisbon in last November’s Class D state final.
“I’ll be grocery shopping with my mother and get stopped and someone will say, ‘Are you Josh Buker?’” said Buker, a 5-foot-11, 175-pounder who passed for 192 yards and rushed for 90 yards in helping MCI rally from a 14-0 halftime deficit. “I’ll say ‘Yeah,’ and they’ll talk about how they watched the state game either sitting at home or at the game and say how happy they are that we were able to bring it back to Pittsfield,” he added.
“It does get brought up a lot.”
The Burnham resident, a first-team All-LTC honoree at both quarterback and defensive back last season, could be a key factor in the 28th annual Lobster Bowl, scheduled for a 4 p.m. kickoff at Hill Stadium in Saco.
But it won’t be at quarterback. Instead, Buker will follow Edelman’s example as a slot receiver in a pass-oriented East offense directed by quarterbacks Garrett McSweeney of Skowhegan and Taylor Heath of Cony of Augusta.
“He’s very smart,” said East coach Matt Perkins of Windham High School. “With his year of playing quarterback, he probably now knows the game a little more than he did before. He understands when he’s running a route what that also means for the quarterback, and that just makes him a better slot receiver.”
Buker also could be a point-producer on special teams after returning a remarkable eight punts for MCI touchdowns last season alone.
“You get in these games and that’s an extra tool sometimes that you’re hoping somebody already has because you’re not teaching someone in a week how to field the ball,” said Perkins. “He already knows how to do that.
“He obviously brings a lot to us on offense, but then to have him be able to do that on special teams, that’s big.”
Buker may have a difficult time finding the same intensity and same reward in the Lobster Bowl — which features the top senior players from the previous football season — that he did in MCI’s state-championship game victory, which came in the Huskies’ third straight title-game appearance.
“My first year playing quarterback and getting back to the state game, that was unreal and the way we came back … we never really had our heads down,” Buker said. “At halftime some people were down but we just brought each other up and the way that game ended, that was crazy.”
Last year’s Lobster Bowl might have been described as crazy, too, with the East outlasting the West 58-52 in the highest-scoring finish in the event’s history.
There’s great anticipation of another offensive shootout when East meets West again Saturday, and Buker has been using this week of pregame practices at Foxcroft Academy to make the most of his opportunity.
“We’ve been working on our pass game for two hours every practice, spending a lot of time with the QBs and receivers to get the passing routes down, so I can see getting a lot of opportunities coming out of the shotgun and spread,” he said.
“Getting a lot of reps has been my main focus. Whether it’s playing the slot or playing outside, I’ll do whatever I need to do.”
Part of that determination may represent a degree of finality about his athletic career. While Buker will begin his studies at Husson University in Bangor this fall he has no immediate plans to continue playing football.
“After the state game you don’t really know if you’re going to get a chance to play here so I wasn’t really even looking at it,” he said. “But two weeks after that game I just wanted to play football again, and then when I got the call for this game I started working out and getting into better shape.
“Whether I play football after this week or not, I’ve met so many great people here. This could be the final game for me and if it is, this is the way to go.”