The statewide growth of football is a good thing. Except when you’re an established, powerhouse program and most of that growth is happening in your conference, that is.

With the nation’s most celebrated team sport finally taking hold at five schools in the Greater Portland corridor, it has created a distinct line of demarcation between the haves and the have-nots in Western Class B football.

That’s a double-edged sword in the hands of a team such as Mountain Valley. While there are no guarantees on the high school gridiron, the Falcons are one of the few teams in the state virtually guaranteed a playoff spot before the first snap of the season next Friday night. The only question is: How battle-tested will they be once they get to the post-season?

“Maybe someday, somebody will take a look at Class B and realize that West and East aren’t equal,” said Mountain Valley coach Jim Aylward. “There are some good teams (in the East) that are going to go 3-6 who might go 6-3 in our league. Not that I think we’d necessarily contribute to slapping the East around.”

Still, there’s little doubt that a team that stormed through an undefeated regular season last fall before falling to York in the regional championship game will set up shop in the semifinals and possibly beyond.

Andy Shorey returns to quarterback a team that will feature multi-talented sophomore Justin Staires in the backfield. Tackles Kyle Dow and Thaddeus Bennett and end Steve Lizotte provide size and experience on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

After running into a Brewer buzz saw in last year’s state final, York will challenge for Western supremacy once again. The Wildcats shook off their label of “a year away” with their convincing win at Rumford in the Campbell Conference title game. With senior Zach Pruger returning in the backfield and classmate Anthony Romano providing a huge target at end, York should flaunt a balanced attack.

Mountain Valley encounters the third team seen as a playoff lock, Wells, in next weekend’s season-opener.

“I think it’s a lot like last year,” Aylward said. “We’ll try to sneak out a win against a pretty tough opponent in that first game and then play out the schedule and see where It goes.”

The potential looms for a smattering of 56-0 and 48-6 routs on that victory tour.

In that murky, crowded chase for the fourth and final playoff spot, Greely lost much of the senior corps that elevated the Rangers from developmental team to playoff contender the last two years, leading some rival coaches to believe that Cape Elizabeth could play leapfrog in the standings.

Poland has the potential to surface as the best of the new kids on the block. Although the Knights technically went winless last year, due to the use of a player whose ineligibility was discovered after the season ended, they won four of their last five games on the field.

“We have a feeder system now,” said Poland coach Rick Kramer. “I actually had new kids this year who knew how to put on their pads and get into something resembling a stance.”

The Knights’ first senior class with four years of football experience includes QB Joe Douglass, receivers Chris St. Hilaire and Tyler Merchant, 315-pound two-way lineman Eli Whitaker and defensive leader Ryan Baril.

Not counting the eventual forfeit win over its Route 26 rival, Gray-New Gloucester took the collar in its first autumn of varsity football.

“We ran the table. We’re hoping we don’t go oh-fer again,” said coach Hank Girardin.

Senior tailback Shane Beal, a transfer from South Portland, will enhance the Patriots’ chances of avoiding that distinction.

Fryeburg ended one of the strangest seasons in the history of its football program on a triumphant note, winning its final two games.

That might not sound like much, but considering that the Raiders rebounded from a rainy, eight-touchdown loss to Mountain Valley on their home field only three days after an alleged arson fire destroyed their gymnasium and virtually all their football equipment, those are two wins coach Jim “Fuzzy” Thurston will never forget.

“We had two very short days of practice that first week,” Thurston said. “But then we got back to work, played pretty well against Gray-New Gloucester and went on to beat Lake Region.”

Repeating that finishing kick and finding a way to knock off Poland, Falmouth and either Greely or Cape could be enough to earn the Raiders a rare playoff bid.

Numbers aren’t great, but there is talent to atone for any lack of depth in the person of sophomore QB Preston Jones and junior RB Sequoyah Reynoso, the reigning 200-meter state champion in outdoor track.

“The top three or maybe four teams are pretty obvious to everybody. But I think after that there are two or three teams among the rest of us who could rise to that middle level,” Thurston said.

That may or may not make the league rugged enough to prepare its eventual champion for the likes of whomever emerges from the East.

“We scrimmage Gardiner, and for the first time in a long time, I’m not feeling so good going into that final scrimmage,” Aylward said. “Waterville, Winslow, Gardiner, Belfast, Leavitt Those are five legitimate playoff teams (in the East) right there, and you know they’re not the only ones.”


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