While the weather outside doesn’t indicate it, another high school football season is upon us. As with every year, many pundits and media outlets offer up their predictions as to who will take home regional and state accolades once the mercury dips sharply before Thanksgiving. Here in The Press Box I have my own thoughts going into this upcoming campaign that I’m not bashful about sharing.
Who will be the surprise team or teams this year? Who will be Bonny Eagle, which finished 2-6, missing the play-offs in 2012 before hoisting gold last November? Who can match MCI’s turnaround, going from a winless 2012 season to a semifinal berth last year? Only time will tell but without further ado, here is how I see the 2014 Eastern Maine football season playing out in all four classes:
Starting in Class A East, I know it seems strange taking about Eastern A football with Bangor being the only east school north of Lewiston, but with the recent four-class realignment, that’s what we have. Bangor appears to be much improved from a year ago and should be one of the most physical Ram squads in recent memory.
Leading the way will be their big, physical offensive line. Dane Johnson is a load at tailback, moving from fullback from a year ago. Johnson, a junior, is the classic, tough, prototypical I-formation back. He can run through people and has elusive speed. Combine that with fullback, Langston Hamer-Nagle, who played on the line a year ago and the Rams will be tough to contain on the ground. Bangor should be able to physically over-power the majority of their opponents. The key will be how well their junior quarterback, Jeff Lewis, develops and if they have enough playmakers on offense against the better opponents on their schedule.
Another interesting development in class A east comes out of Lewiston where all-purpose tailback, Quintarian Brown is now the signal caller at quarterback. If the Blue Devils can shore up their defense, particularly against the run, they should be much improved.
Portland returns quarterback Jordan Talbot along with a strong line on both sides of the line of scrimmage while cross town rival Deering and Windham return a good deal of talent and should be competitive.
My pick to win Eastern Maine Class A is the defending regional champion Cheverus Stags. The Stags need to rebuild along the line of scrimmage but return their top rusher in senior, Joe Fitzpatrick. Ironically, Fitzpatrick should be one of the front runners to garner the trophy bearing his last name. Zordan Holman at 6’5″ will be a target at tight end and will be a top defensive end and handles kick-off duties, most of which go into the end zone for touchbacks. The Stags also have someone on the sidelines who can coach a little bit in John Wolfgram.
Class A East Play-off Teams
State Final: Cheverus over Bonny Eagle
The Class B season ended in dramatic fashion with Cony’s 99-yard drive in the final minutes to defeat Kennebunk for their program’s first gold ball since 1932. Gone is the conductor of that engine with the graduation of Fitzpatrick Trophy winner Ben Lucas but the capitol city Rams should contend once again. Cony most likely won’t be as pass happy and will likely run the ball with tailback Reid Shostak.
Like last year, class B appears to be a wide-open division with a number of schools having a chance to take regional honors. Taking over the reigns at Mt. Blue High School will be longtime Mountain Valley coach, Jim Aylward. Look for the Cougars to go from a spread attack to a more ground attack out of the wing-T. Skowhegan, conversely will likely utilize more of a spread attack and should be in the hunt as well. Lawrence, coming off a rare 2-6 campaign, will likely be improved and make the play-offs, however may lack the size on both sides of the line to contend. Messalonskee has one of the top playmakers in the league in Jake Dexter, although they appear to lack a great deal of depth on their roster.
Brunswick returns powerful senior fullback Alex Bandouveres and junior Will Bessey at tailback should also receive his share of carries. The power running game has been a trademark of Dan Cooper’s teams, if they can build the line, they could be taking home regional honors.
Class B East Play-Off Teams
4. Mt. Blue
State Final: Marshwood over Brunswick
Moving on to Class C, Waterville and Winslow last met on the gridiron in last year’s Eastern Maine final and there is no reason to believe this year will be any different. The Black Raiders return perhaps the best back in the league in Dylan Hapworth. Winslow also has an experienced signal caller in Bobby Chenard. Justin Martin, a big wide receiver, will be one of Chenard’s favorite targets. How quickly Winslow’s young line develops will determine whether or not the Raiders can repeat as regional champions.
Across the river in Waterville, optimism abounds with the return of a big, strong offensive line. The Panthers have a number of backs to carry the ball, led by senior, Dan Pooler. Foxcroft should also contend led by the ground attack of Peter Boyer, while Hunter Smith is a threat at wide receiver. Belfast should also be in the thick of things behind a veteran offensive line. Nokomis is not eligible for the play-offs but return the bulk of their roster from a year ago in hopes of being play-off eligible in class B next year. Old Town has a new coach in Lance Cowan while MDI is young but always competitive under veteran coach, Mark Shields.
Class C Play-off Teams
5. Nokomis *Not play-off eligible
6. Old Town
State Final: Winslow over Cape Elizabeth
In Class D, MCI made a monumental step forward, going winless in 2012 before falling to Mattanawcook Academy in last year’s Eastern Maine Semifinal. The Huskies return the majority of their club, featuring the league’s leading rusher in senior tailback, Jonathan Santiago. Bucksport also returns a plethora of talent from their 2013 Eastern Maine title run. The Golden Bucks graduated LTC player of the year, Josh Gray, but return senior quarterback Matt Stewart for his second year behind center.
Mattanawcook Academy returns most of their offensive and defensive lines but the key will be replacing graduated quarterback, Tristan Pelkey. Look for the Lynx to pound it out on the ground.
In Eastern D, only four teams qualify for postseason play. A number of teams will be in the hunt for that fourth and final spot. Coming off a 2-6 campaign, look for John Bapst to be much improved in 2014. Led by senior tailback Jackson Leonard and junior quarterback Spencer Baron, the key for the Crusaders will be how well the offensive line gels in their spread and I-formation looks. John Bapst should be much improved defensively in 2014.
Eastern Maine Class D Play-off Teams
4. John Bapst
State Final: Oak Hill over MCI