Maine statewide football preview

The football landscape has changed with the addition of a fourth class and reorganization everywhere. Here's a look at the top contenders in each class in 2013:

Class A East

MaineAsk anyone outside of Lawrence Bulldog territory, and that person would probably tell you the two best teams in Maine high school football last year were Thornton and Cheverus. This year, under the new alignment, they have the chance to meet in the Class A state final.

Cheverus was undefeated last fall until losing to Thornton, 20-13, in the regional final. The Stags graduated Fitzpatrick Trophy-winning running back Donald Goodrich and quarterback Liam Fitzpatrick, but should keep rolling. The top returning runner is Cody O'Brien (76 carries, 400 yards, 5 TD), and he's backed by Joe Fitzpatrick and Will Hilton, and new quarterback Ethan Jordan. Kicker Patrick Mourmouras booted 48 extra points as a sophomore a year ago.

Offense will be a key for Portland, which scored a total of 13 points in four losses last fall. The Bulldogs may be able to solve that problem themselves, as they bring back Justin Zukowski (180 carries, 991 yards, 11 TD), Jayvon Pitts-Young (79 carries, 472 yards, 3 TD) and quarterback Ryan Ruhlin. Another one to watch is Ronald Hargrove, a transfer from Concord-Carlisle Regional in Massachusetts.

Bangor will be an interesting case this season. The Rams had the burden of high expectations every year – partly because of their history, and partly because of a school size that theoretically gave Bangor a much deeper pool of players than its opponents.

Those expectations were blasted away last year by a 30-point loss to Lawrence and a 34-point loss to Cony. Football is still a big deal in Bangor – the Bangor Daily News wrote a preview story on the Lawrence-Bangor preseason meeting, then covered the game (a 13-6 Lawrence win) as well – but how will the Rams fare against the bigger southern Maine schools?

In an interesting subplot, Xavier Lewis is back at Bangor. Lewis played for Bangor before helping Lawrence to the state final in football and the regional final in basketball during the past academic year.

Windham and Deering look to bounce back from graduation losses, while Edward Little, Lewiston, and Oxford Hills look to improve.

Class A West

Thornton went with a 1-2 punch last fall of Andrew Libby (151 carries, 1,008 yards) and Nick Kenney (164 carries, 940 yards). With Kenney graduated, Libby could easily get in the neighborhood of 25-30 carries per game, and none of Thornton's opponents are excited about that. On the down side, quarterback Eric Christense (973 yards passing, 402 rushing) has graduated, and the Golden Trojans didn't have shutdown defense even last year, when all but two of their opponents scored at least two touchdowns. Still, Libby and Cody Lynn are stalwarts on defense, and if Thornton averages 38.7 points per game again, a couple touchdowns the other way won't matter.

Scarborough didn't play Cheverus last year, but looked pretty good against every other team on its schedule save Thornton. The Red Storm lost 35-7 to Thornton in the regular season and 49-14 in the playoffs. Scarborough brings back Dan LeClair (69 carries, 353 yards, 5 TD) and running/receiving threat Charlie Raybine.

Bonny Eagle could make a leap from last year's 2-6 record. The Scots opponents had a combined record of 43-21, but they still never lost a game by more than 17 points. Now they've added running back Jon Woods as a transfer from Gorham, along with some experienced talent like Zach Dubiel and Joe Bissonette. You can make an argument that Bonny Eagle's season might have turned out much differently if the Scots hadn't been plagued by bad snaps and turnovers in an early-season loss to Thornton last year. This season might show what Bonny Eagle is capable of.

Sanford had one of the best backs in the state last season in Alex Shain (201 carries, 1,426 yards, 27 TD), but the Redskins still scored a total of 32 points in their four losses, including a 42-16 first-round playoff setback to Scarborough. If Josh Schroder (86 carries, 457 yards, 6 TD) and new quarterback Chase Eldredge can't find a way to score against the top teams, a defense led by linebacker Colby Perigo may spend too much time on the field.

Class B East

The story of high school football in Maine is the story of the better teams beating up on the weaker teams. Scores like 42-13 and 72-0 are too common, and while teams like Traip and John Bapst have shown that a team can rise from the depths to the heights, it’s rare when a league has more than a few legitimate contenders.

That’s what makes Class B East so interesting this fall. You’ve got Lawrence, the defending Eastern A champion. There’s Mt. Blue, the defending Class B state champion. There’s Brunswick and Cony, both of whom come down from Class A and could contend for a state title. And don’t forget Skowhegan (4-5 in Class A last year) and Hampden, who won seven straight in Class B last fall (six of them by at least 28 points) before being upset by Waterville in the playoffs.

Brunswick was all Jared Jensen last year, as Jensen rushed for 2,315 yards and 27 touchdowns and led the Dragons in interceptions. But it’s worth remembering that Jensen came almost out of nowhere last year, and it’s also worth remembering that Brunswick graduated only nine seniors from last year’s team. Lukas McCue (43 carries, 262 yards) should be a force on offense and defense, while Jacob Duffy is a solid linebacker. Alex Bandouveres (33 carries, 194 yards) also provides some experience.

Mt. Blue captured a state title last year, winning in the quarterfinals by a point and in the state final by a 44-42 score over Marshwood. The Cougars did that behind quarterback Jordan Whitney (1,809 yards passing, 638 yards rushing), who many felt was robbed of the chance to win the Fitzpatrick Trophy. With Whitney graduated, the new quarterback will probably be Andrew Pratt, a heady player and solid athlete. Cam Abbott (27 catches, 438 yards, 4 TDs) will be one of Pratt’s top receivers. Brian Durrell returns as one of the key players on a defense that lost a lot to graduation.

In John Hersom, Lawrence has one of the state’s best coaches. The Bulldogs couldn’t really pass last season (no one had more than six receptions), but didn’t really need to (nine different backs gained at least 100 yards on the ground). Still, that team was led by its seniors. Ethan Powers (49 carries, 323 yards, 3 TD) is the leading returning rusher, and will get help from Beau Grenier (38 carries, 257 yards, TD).

Cony takes the opposite approach to offense. The Rams have Ben Lucas, who is a Fitzpatrick Trophy candidate this year. Lucas threw for 2,133 yards and 29 touchdowns last year, and returns Tayler Carrier (36 catches, 430 yards, 7 TDs) as one of his top targets. Reid Shostak, a freshman running back/linebacker last year, could be an impact player. There’s always the question about how a pass-first team will do in Maine come November, but if the Rams can run, they may run all the way to a state title.

Keep an eye on Hampden, which returns quarterback Matt Martin and also picked up Austin Spencer, who transferred after a strong season for John Bapst last fall. Skowhegan couldn’t compete with the top teams last season, but this is coach Matt Friedman’s second year at the helm, and last year he brought in a spread offense after Skowhegan went years with the double wing. Quarterback Adam Clukey (1,421 yards, 13 TD) should put up big numbers again. Messalonskee’s new coach is Brad Bishop, a former coach at Lawrence and Livermore Falls and an assistant with Mt. Blue last fall. Corey McKenzie led the Eagles with 1,141 yards rushing and 14 touchdowns last year.

Class B West

Alex Rotsko and his Wing-T will be back at Marshwood this year. After winning 11 Super Bowls at Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts, Rotsko came to Maine and took a Hawks team that was 2-6 in 2011 to the Class B state final in 2012. Cameron Roll (736 yards rushing, 11 TD) returns at quarterback, and he’ll get the ball to Brett Gerry, who rushed for over 1,200 yards as a sophomore. When the Hawks do throw, it’s usally for big yardage: Their 15 completions last year were for an average of 29.6 yards.

The best bet to challenge Marshwood for the title might be Kennebunk, which went 5-4 in Class A last season and lost to eventual state champion Thornton by only eight points in the playoffs. The Rams bring back versatile quarterback Nick Emmons (1,096 yards passing, 10 TD), and three receivers — Larson Coppinger, Nicco DeLorenzo, and Tyler Elkington — who can be as tough on defenders as they are on headline writers. Emmons and Elkington can also pick up yardage on the ground.

York will look to challenge Marshwood for the regional title. The Wildcats did that last year, losing 21-20 to Marswhood after a game-tying extra point was wiped out by a penalty and the re-kick was no good. That will certainly inspire some motivation this year. The big names for York on offense are running back Sean Kelly, who rushed for over 400 yards in three playoff games, and quarterback Ross Hogan.

Greely lost two games last year, by a total of five points. One of those was, 9-7, to Wells in the opening playoff game. The Rangers graduated only 12 seniors, but many of those were key players, so the Rangers may take a step back this year. Kyle Heath returns as the starting quarterback at Westbrook. As a former running back, Heath is a definite threat passing or running.

Class C East

The new Class C East not only revives the Waterville-Winslow “Battle of the Bridge,” it also puts Foxcroft and Winslow in the same class after those two teams played for the state title last year. Those three teams are among the top contenders this fall.

Winslow might very well have won that state title game if the Black Raiders hadn’t fumbled a snap while trying to kill the clock in the final minute of the first half. Foxcroft cashed that in for a touchdown and a 15-7 halftime lead on teh way to a 22-20 victory.

The Black Raiders had three backs who rushed for over 900 yards last year, and Zach Guptill (210 carries, 970 yards, 22 TD) and Dylan Hapworth (138 rushes, 924 yards, 8 TD) are both back in the lineup this year. Hapworth also caught 21 passes for five more touchdowns, and is a reliable kicker. Quarterback Bobby Chenard has the job to himself this year, after throwing for 562 yards last season. Chenard has the kind of arm to go deep if teams crowd the box to stop Winslow’s running game. Mike Clark and C.J. Kelley are returning standouts on defense.

Belfast could be the sleeper team in this league. The Lions certainly filled that role in last year’s Class B playoffs, shocking Leavitt in the first round with a game-winning touchdown as time ran out. Quarterback Zach Collier is a good one, but the Lions have 35 freshmen and sophomores on their 58-player roster. On the other hand, that could mean this team is once again primed to be peaking for the playoffs.

Foxcroft quarterback Hunter Law (1,385 combined yards rushing and receiving) returns for the Ponies. But the bad news is that Ryan Rebar had 32 of the team’s receptions, and Donnie Boyer ran for 1,120 yards, and both have graduated. So did Alex Stevens (459 yards rushing), which means Law is both the leading returning passer and runner. Peter Boyer (365 yards rushing, 96 tackles) will provide more than a little help.

For years, Waterville’s bugaboo in Class A was that the Purple Panthers didn’t have the depth to compete with the best teams. That was less of a problem in Class B, where the Purple Panthers reached the regional final last year, and could be even less of a concern in Class C. What will be a concern is proving that the Purple Panthers are the team that made that run through the playoffs, and not the one that finished 4-4 in the regular season and ended up losing twice to Mt. Blue, by scores of 53-24 and 42-14. Quarterback Aidan Fitzgerald and versatile Brian Bellows may have the most to say about that.

Nokomis and Camden Hills are competing in Class C, but because they are “playing down” a class, they are ineligible for the playoffs.

Class C West

Probably no team in the state this year is motivated by one game more than Leavitt. The Hornets were looking ahead to a rematch with Mt. Blue in the Class B playoffs – perhaps too far ahead, because they lost to Belfast in the first round when the Lions scored on the final play. The game even produced the dreaded “Leavitt Coach Mike Hathaway was unavailable for comment after the game” in the local Lewiston Sun Journal.

Much of what Leavitt does this year will depend on returning quarterback Tyler Chicoine (65.4 percent completion rate, 708 yards passing, 302 rushing). Levi Morin returns to a tenacious defense, and Hathaway has clearly built one of the top programs in Maine.

Wells is also a Class B refugee, and handed eventual regional champion Marshwood a 36-6 loss last season. The Warriors dropped the playoff rematch, 15-13. The key this fall is probably Jake Moody, who rushed for 191 yards in those two games. Part of Wells' strength last year was that the Warriors had several offensive weapons, particularly in the running game. If they can duplicate that, they can make a run at Leavitt.

Cape Elizabeth will try to find a more consistent offense this fall after scoring seven points or less in all six of its losses last year. Yarmouth, with quarterback Brady Neujahr, is a tough team and will try to will its way up the standings. Freeport graduated only eight seniors and Spruce Mountain graduated only nine, so those teams will join Mountain Valley in looking to improve to winning records.

Class D East

Bucksport’s season ended last year with a 45-0 loss to eventual state champion Foxcroft in the semifinals. The Golden Bucks began this season with a 12:01 a.m. practice on the first official day of the fall season. That brought the team a lot of exposure, as well as a lot of comments about how they were the first team on the field this season because they wanted to be the last one off of it.

Bucksport graduated only four seniors, which makes them a good chance to make some noise in the new Class D. Matthew Stewart, who threw two touchdown passes when Bucksport defeated Foxcroft in the regular season, is back under center again, and linebacker Nic Bishop and defensive back Josh Gray are back as part of what should be a stout defense.

Orono will go as far as Christian Mowrer (1,126 yards, 10.6 yards per carry, 18 TD) will take the Red Riots. The Bangor Daily News reported that Mowrer missed the preseason after an auto accident. Cameron Mowrer will also make his presence felt on both sides of the ball, and Chad Orn (6 TD) is back at quarterback.

Dexter and John Bapst are probably both a year away. Dexter has 43 players — not bad at all for a school with under 300 students — but nine are freshmen and 15 are sophomores.

Class D West

Oak Hill had a superlative offensive line last fall, which made things easy for quarterback Parker Asselin and running backs Alex Mace and Kyle Flaherty. All three are back from a team that lost only once in the regular season. The line was hit by graduation, but remember: Coach Stacen Doucette changed a lot of things in the program last year, which means the Raiders could me even more comfortable this season.

If you want to, you can think of Old Orchard Beach as the defending Class D champions. The Seagulls won the last Class D title in Maine by defeating Madison in 1986. Current coach Dean Plante was on that team, and just like last year, running back Joe Gildard will be the focal point of the offense. OOB will look to prove it's the team that won four straight last year by a total of 20 points, and not the team that was handled by both Maranacook and Traip.

Lisbon has one of the state's most exciting players in 5-foot-7 Quincy Thompson. He's shifty and will run on any down – coach Dick Mynahan told the Sun Journal that Thompson ran the fake punt six times in a row, and scored five touchdowns. Thompson can also back up Kyle Bourget (a pretty good player himself) at quarterback.

Dirigo made it to the Western C title game without scoring more than 35 points in any game last season. The Cougars will need to replace the rushing of Spencer Trenoweth, and one-third of the 39 players on the Cougars' roster are freshmen.

The new Winthrop-Monmouth co-op not only bolstered Winthrop's depth, it provided an early favorite for quote of the year. One of new players from Monmouth is 6-foot-1, 265-lb Cole Arsenault, and Winthrop senior Ethan Squires told the Kennebec Journal, “The first time I saw Cole Arsenault, I nearly peed my pants.”

Optimism is almost a requirement this time of year, but the Ramblers could make a significant improvement over last year's squad, which was shut out in three consecutive games and finished 2-6.