Brunswick High School ran to its fourth Pine Tree Conference football championship in five years last fall without arguably its best player.
Owen Richardson, a fullback and linebacker who rushed for more than 1,200 yards as a sophomore in 2017, is back with the Dragons for his senior year after sitting out last season with a broken collarbone suffered during the team’s first game of the season.
He’s one of several skill-position players returning this fall as coach Dan Cooper’s club again looms as one of the top contenders to return to the Class B state championship game.
The division has grown from eight schools to 11 this fall after the most recent reclassification process.
Joining returning programs Brewer, Brunswick, Cony of Augusta, Hampden Academy, Lawrence of Fairfield, Messalonskee of Oakland, Mt. Blue of Farmington and Skowhegan are three newcomers that all could influence the playoff chase this fall. They are Gardiner, Windham and the cooperative team of Falmouth/Greely of Cumberland Center.
Windham drops from Class A competition, where a young squad went winless a year ago. Falmouth and Greely separately advanced to the Class B South semifinals last fall, but Greely did not have enough returning players to maintain its own team and opted to join neighboring Falmouth in a cooperative entry.
Longtime PTC fixture Gardiner returns to its most familiar football conference with a fairly experienced squad after most recently playing in Class C. There, it advanced to the South semifinals a year ago before bowing to eventual regional champion Fryeburg Academy.
Joining the physical Richardson in an experienced Brunswick backfield this fall are senior quarterback Noah Goddard, and classmates Jack Harvey and Mitch Lienert. The latter rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown as the Dragons rallied past Lawrence 14-10 in the 2018 Class B North final.
Cony, which went 8-2 last season and fell to Brunswick in the regional semifinals, must replace 10 graduated starters on defense and nine on offense. The Capital City entry continues to produce top-notch quarterbacks under head coach B.L. Lippert, himself a former quarterback at Cony and Colby College.
Following the likes of 2014 Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Ben Lucas and Mitchell Caron, who both played collegiately, is junior Riley Geyer. He stepped into the starting role last fall and quickly emerged as one of the division’s top signal-callers.
Lawrence reached the Class B North championship game a year ago and figures to be a contender again this year with senior Dylan Coombs a returning starter at quarterback. Skowhegan, the division’s No. 1 regular-season seed last season, must replace graduated quarterback Marcus Christopher, a Fitzpatrick Trophy semifinalist in 2018.
Mt. Blue, which returned to postseason play last fall after a two-year absence, has a new head coach in Scott Franzose. He coached Class D Madison for the past seven years and guided the Bulldogs to a 21-9 record over the past three seasons. That included two semifinal appearances and a trip to the 2017 Class D South title game.
Brewer has qualified for postseason play in each of Nick Arthers’ first five years as head coach but will rely on a roster with just four seniors in its effort to keep that streak alive.
“We have a lot of younger players with a small amount of varsity experience who are looking to take on bigger roles,” Arthers said. “The biggest thing for us is learning from mistakes and using them to grow from week to week.”
Among the key players for the Witches are seniors Justin Nutter, Kaleb Bryant and Damyan Greenlaw, and sophomore Logan Levensalor.
Nutter, a tight end last fall, has stepped in as the team’s starting quarterback and also will play outside linebacker. Bryant and Levensalor will line up behind Nutter as the team’s primary running backs, with both players also starters in the defensive secondary. Greenlaw is a returning starter on both the offensive and defensive lines.
“We have a lot of good players who just are still trying to figure out how good they can be,” Arthers said. “Once things start to click then I feel we can be a team with a chance to compete.”
Hampden Academy continues its rebuilding process under third-year head coach Shane Rogers.
The Broncos finished 1-7 a year ago but snapped a 15-game losing streak with a Week 4 victory over Messalonskee. Hampden averaged 16 points per contest in 2018 but looks to improve a defense that yielded 42.5 points per outing.