Dan O’Connell remembers the first time he was a head coach in the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, when a last-minute touchdown pass and successful extra-point kick gave his East squad a 17-16 victory.
“To me, that was a great game,” O’Connell said of that largely defensive-minded 2009 contest, which came the summer after he had guided John Bapst of Bangor to the 2008 Class C state championship. “I don’t know if the audience liked it as well as they would a 98-97 game, but it was fun.”
Now back leading the East team into Saturday’s 30th annual Lobster Bowl at Thornton Academy in Saco, O’Connell and his coaching brethren are not as concerned a decade later about fan enthusiasm for this latest battle featuring the top graduated seniors from last fall’s high school football class.
Points should be plentiful in a game where defenses are limited in what they can do — there’s no blitzing the quarterback — and offenses spread themselves out to produce touchdowns at an ever-increasing rate.
“We have a lot of good athletes, and we hope to be able to utilize that,” Skowhegan quarterback Marcus Christopher said. “It should be a lot of fun.”
West head coach Bill County, a longtime former coach at Leavitt of Turner Center and Lewiston high schools, admits that despite a week of training camp at Foxcroft Academy in Dover-Foxcroft both Lobster Bowl defenses are playing from behind even before the opening kickoff on game day.
“Over the years playing defense in this game has become kind of different and difficult,” he said. “The Shriners now put forth exactly what the defense is going to play and quite honestly the defense is at a disadvantage in this game.
“The spread offense and throwing the ball around and the inside run really facilitates a big score, so I’m thinking this is going to be a donnybrook.”
The Lobster Bowl was not always that wide open.