Eastern Class A football aficionados will probably be asking themselves one question come September:

Has the entire Pine Tree Conference gone insane?

Mt. Blue running the double-wing? Edward Little going with a quarterback-by-committee? Lewiston throwing the ball up and down the field? Bangor implementing the Wing-T? Where is the PTC we once knew?

Well, it won’t be completely unrecognizable. One team has been added to the league, Brewer, allowing the conference to eliminate the almost universally-despised bye week and bring back the universally-lauded eight-team playoff format.

“I was 5-3 two years ago and didn’t get in, and that wasn’t pleasant,” Lewiston coach Bill County said.

County probably won’t have to sweat making the postseason this year. Despite losing Fitzpatrick Trophy winner and near-2,000-yard rusher Jared Turcotte, the Blue Devils should be stronger this year with nine starters back on offense and eight returning on defense.

Lewiston has a more-than-capable replacement for Turcotte in the ground game. Junior Westley Myers moves from wing-back to tailback and has big-play speed and elusiveness in the open field. The offensive line he’ll be running behind, led by seniors John Collette, Ryan Coleman, Justin Nickerson and Evan Gardner, remains virtually intact from last season.

Senior quarterback Mason Giroux returns for a second year under center and will lead a passing attack that should keep opponents from loading up against the run. Wide receiver Alfonzo Brooks is the biggest deep threat in the league, both in terms of size (6-foot-2) and speed.

“We think we have the athletes to open it up a little bit, but I don’t think anyone is going to walk away thinking we’re a spread shotgun team or anything,” County said with a laugh.

All-conference linebacker Matt Letourneau, defensive end Adrien Fundis and Collette lead a hard-hitting defense with a revamped secondary.

Lewiston is the prohibitive favorite in the PTC South, where its toughest competition will come from rival Edward Little, Brunswick and Mt. Ararat. The Red Eddies lost 21 seniors and nine or 10 two-way starters, but an influx of talent from a junior class that has only lost one game in the whole time they have played together.

“My juniors believe they’re a good football team,” said EL coach Darren Hartley. “Everybody that looks at us would say this is a team that is a year away, but my expectation with the eight-team playoff, I will be absolutely crushed if we don’t make the playoffs.”

Hartley plans to have juniors Steve Knowlton and Cody Goddard share the quarterback duties in the early going, swapping series until one emerges as the clear-cut guy to lead the Eddies. He said the competition between the two is too close to call right now.

Senior fullback Kyle Bussiere and junior tailback Dylon Therrien head up a deep and speedy backfield. Guards Tim Lagasse and Cameron Camire lead a revamped line.

Numbers are down at several PTC schools this year, and no team has been more affected than Oxford Hills. The Vikings dressed 32 players for their final preseason game with Mt. Blue on Friday.

“Conditioning and avoiding injuries are going to be important, because we’ve got a lot of kids playing both ways,” Vikings coach Bob Austin said.

The Vikings hope to bounce back from a winless 2006 campaign, and their offense has shown explosive flashes in preseason, led by second-year QB Justin Frechette, who threw for more than 800 yards last year. Junior tailback D.J. Drew will be counted on to help re-establish their identity as a running team.

Defensive ends Ian Monzo and Linden Mason will lead the defense.

Brunswick has a new offense and Mt. Ararat and Cony are taking the field with new coaches, but should be improved.

Once again this year, the PTC North appears to be the stronger of the two divisions. Defending state champion Lawrence lost a lot of contributors to last year’s swarming defense, but should still be a tough team to move the chains against. Perennial power Bangor has installed the Wing-T, but the Rams are still one of the favorites in the North.

Talk to coaches around the league about Skowhegan and one word invariably comes up – physical. The Indians have virtually everyone back and should continue their recent trend of being down one year and up the next.

Mt. Blue and Messalonskee have the unenviable task of trying to break up that trio, but coach Gary Parlin likes the attitude his team is taking into that challenge. All-conference quarterback Joe Gilbert, one of the top combo (run and pass) signal-callers in the state, will lead the Cougar Gun for the second straight year. But, in a new twist, he will be running some double-wing, which the Cougars have been mixing into their play-calling during the preseason. Senior running back D.J. Wilbur will be the primary beneficiary of that deceptive formation, with Bobby Duley and Justin Brooks acting as Gilbert’s top targets in the passing game.

The Cougars won’t have as much size as in years past, but Parlin looks for their athleticism to make up for it, especially on defense.

“We need to tackle better. We were a poor tackling team last year,” he said. “We feel we have a lot more speed and playmakers on defense.”


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