Familiar faces are expected to adorn the top of northern Maine’s high school football standings in 2015. How long will it take all of us to get used to saying north and south rather than east and west? With every season ultimate gridiron success is determined by such factors as who has put in the most work in strength and conditioning in the off-season. Injuries to key players can derail a team off track over an eight game schedule. Generally speaking, you can point to programs with long-tenured coaches and strong traditions.
While 2015 seems to feature familiarity, I expect several programs to gain movement towards the upper echelon of their respective classes. So, without further ado, here are my unbiased, non pom-pom waving season predictions. These are the teams who will compete in the playoffs as well as the programs who will garner regional and state championship honors when the weather gets much, much colder.
The Windham Eagles were expected to be a year away when they reached the state title game a year ago. Windham is the prohibitive favorite to reach the gold ball game again, spearheaded by physciality on both sides of the ball. While Windham was ground oriented a year ago, they may be more diverse offensively with Desmond Leslie at quarterback and Dylan Koza at tailback.
Look for Cheverus to challenge, as they were a blocked PAT away from possibly returning to the state game a year ago. Unlike Windham, the Stags were hit hard by graduation losses, including star running back Joe Fitzpatrick and tight end, defensive end Zordan Holman. Cheverus has a rugged week 2 challenge at Thornton but John Wolfgram is still patrolling the sidelines. They will get better and better each week
Portland and Bangor should both feature punishing ground games and could both be in the hunt as well. Bangor returns three starting interior linemen as well as one of the state’s top backs in Dane Johnson. Look for Oxford Hills to show continued improvement as well as Edward Little.
5. Oxford Hills
6. Edward Little
State Championship: Thornton over Windham
Of all the divisions this might be the most balanced top to bottom. Many teams appear to be improved from a year ago and some with questions to be answered.
Brunswick reached the state championship game a year ago with its punishing ground attack. Half of that duo is gone with the graduation of bruising fullback Alex Bandouveres but the Dragons return their speedy tailback in senior Will Bessey. Bessey should be one of the top backs in the conference. Thomas Hanson returns for his senior season behind center. He may be asked to put the ball in the air more as defenses load the box to shut down their vaunted ground attack.
Cony has been a power over the past four seasons and new coach B.L. Lippert should have the Rams from the Capitol City contending once again. Mt. Blue under second year coach Jim Aylward returns a number of skill position players from a year ago. Messalonskee will be strong on the ground once again with a number of starters returning on the line as well as senior running back Jack Bernatchez and junior back Colby Dexter.
Lawrence might have the most question marks left to be answered having lost a number of players to graduation. Will the Bulldogs simply reload or will it be a rebuilding season such as two years ago when they finished 2-6 and missed the play-offs? I think the answer falls somewhere in the middle.
Then there are the Brewer Witches. Prior to preseason, I expected Brewer to make progress this year from their play-off appearance a year ago. They still could be a year away. The word out of Brewer in Coach Nick Arthers’ second season is they could be ready now. The commitment in the weight room and conditioning was tremendous from everything I’ve heard. They return senior quarterback Logan Rogerson, who has started since midway through his freshman season. He has an offensive line to operate behind that should be vastly improved. They have solid depth on the ground with senior tailback Dylan Severance and junior fullback Trey Wood.
6. Mt. Blue
State Championship: York over Brewer
Like Class B, there are about six or seven teams you can really split hairs over. Unlike B, there appears to be one favorite, the Winslow Black Raiders. This after they lost tremendous seniors in do-everything back Dylan Hapworth, quarterback Bobby Chenard, and receiver Justin Martin. The reason for such optimism: eight starters back on defense.
Speaking of how injuries can derail a season, Foxcroft Academy was dealt a major blow losing one of the league’s top players in senior quarterback Hunter Smith to a dislocated hip early in their preseason tilt versus Orono.
A couple of programs looking to move to the upper levels of class C are MDI and Old Town, each coming off losing campaigns. MDI should keep it on the ground led by senior tailback Taner Bickford. Look for the Trojans to possibly go to the air a bit more with sophomore quarterback Andrew Phelps, who started late in his freshman year. The Coyotes featured one of the league’s most prolific offenses a year ago and should be able to spread it out with senior quarterback Jake Jarvis. Improvement on defense should get Old Town back into the playoffs.
Look for Belfast to challenge despite the graduation of big tailback Stephen Davis. The Lions should feature experienced athletes at virtually every position. Madison/Carrabec should also be able to put points on the scoreboard with their spread attack. Waterville could be in a bit of a building mode but should improve as the season progresses.
4. Old Town
State Championship: Winslow over Wells
The MCI Huskies have experienced a transformation in their program over the past few seasons. Only three years removed from a winless season, the Huskies are the reigning LTC champions. There is still reason for optimism in Pittsfield to win that one final game that eluded the team a year ago. The Huskies will feature one of the top backs in the league in senior fullback/linebacker Alex Bertrand. MCI has plenty of experience behind center in senior signal caller Greg Vigue.
Looking to knock the Huskies off their pedestal are Mattanawcook Academy and Orono. The Lynx return a number of skill position players but line play could be a question mark, although they did have depth a year ago. MA may be a bit more diverse from last year’s ground oriented attack. Orono featured a very young team ago and just missed out on the playoffs. This year the Red Riots will be paced by junior quarterback Jackson Coutts along with a number of experienced players.
Bucksport will feature one of the youngest teams they’ve fielded in several years. Look for Joel Sankey’s Golden Bucks to be a tough out come late October.
Looking for a sleeper that could challenge? How about the Mt. View Mustangs? Mt. View should be able to put points on the board but how well they defend will determine whether or not they can challenge for the title.
Houlton was very competitive a year ago in their inaugural season, winning a couple games. Look for the Shiretowners to make significant strides this season as they will feature one of the more formidable lines in the league. Junior quarterback Jared Fox, a transfer from Washington Academy, will be able to throw to the likes of speedy receivers Garrett Ring and Daniel McNally. Houlton also features good numbers will 34 players dressed in their exhibition game versus John Bapst.
2. Mattanawcook Academy
5. Mount View
State Championship: MCI over Lisbon
Of course, this column self destructs when the footballs are kicked off this Friday night. Enjoy the season everybody!