HEBRON — Zach Lacroix found himself in a lunch room full of his opponents for the 20th Annual Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic and decided to engage some in a conversation.

Yet despite the dominance his West team has enjoyed in the game’s history, the Jay defensive lineman decided it wasn’t the time or place for trash talking.

“I was talking to some of them (Monday) in the lunch line,” Lacroix said. “It was just friendly talk. There were too many East around me.”

Over 80 of the state’s best high school football players have been getting along swimmingly at this week’s training camp at Hebron Academy. As usual, the players have been bonding in the lunch room and their dorm rooms, usually playing video games, while preparing for the last game of their high school football careers and remembering that the game benefits the Shriners Hospitals.

There is one major change this year, though. The game has been moved to 4 p.m.
Saturday at Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field. Organizers made the switch in hopes of making the commute a
little bit easier for fans from the eastern part of the state who might
have declined attending because of the usual Friday night kickoff.

“I like the move to Saturday. That should increase the fan base by a
few hundred, anyway,” said Old Orchard Beach coach Dean Plante, the
West head coach. 

The West won last year’s game, 24-6, to snap a two-game losing streak and take a 15-4 lead in the all-time series. The East will seek its revenge Saturday with an offense featuring quarterbacks Cody Goddard of Edward Little and Derek Smith of John Bapst as well as running backs Wesley Myers of Lewiston, Billy Clark of Skowhegan and Tyler Green of Leavitt.

“I think we’ll be exciting to watch on offense,” said East head coach Dan O’Connell of defending Class C state champion John Bapst. “I think we’ll be athletic and fast on defense. The West will probably be pretty close to that. I think it will either be the slowest game in history or we’ll both be successful and it will be the most exciting football game Maine has ever seen.”

The West, of course, is just as stacked, with a huge offensive line blocking for Fitzpatrick Trophy winning QB Nate Doehler of Bonny Eagle and Fryeburg Academy’s Preston Jones, as well as a talented group of running backs that includes Mountain Valley’s Justin Staires and Joey Eon of Massabesic.

“Our first line probably is a pretty good D-3 line,” Plante said. “Our skill kids are very well-schooled in what they do, and with Nate and Preston at quarterback, we’re pretty solid there.”

“We’re pretty tough on both sides of the ball I think, up front in particular,” Plante added. “It’s a nice luxury to have.”

Players have been lining up next to former rivals or others that they’ve never seen play before, so coaches are scrambling to get their team to jell in time for the game. Having the extra day to prepare helps, but getting over 40 outstanding players to overcome their differences in that short of a time isn’t as easy as it seems, even when it’s for a good cause.

“The thing that makes the difference is how well they put that aside and focus on doing what we’ve asked them to do from an X’s and O’s standpoint,” O’Connell said. “It’s about a lot of the ideals that the game is built around — be a teammate, be accountable, plus be charitable, and whether they can do that during the week on a social level, because you know they’re great players and whatever system you put in there they’ll be able to adjust to it.”

“I’m getting to know a lot of people here,” said Leavitt’s Kolby Youland, who will play linebacker for the East. “We’re doing pretty good, better than I thought we’d do. I thought we were going to have some enemies with the teams we’ve played, but we’re all here to play football and raise some money. We’re all having a good time.”

Other locals expected to play for the East are — Chris Reynolds of Mt. Blue, Drew Jannelle of Oak Hill, Grady Burns and Sean Daigle of Edward Little, Josh Desrosier of Oxford Hills, and Doug Nash of Leavitt.  The West squad includes Jake Steele and Kevin Hart of Winthrop, Aaron Fenstermacher of Dirigo, Matt Hyland of Poland, Zack Brochu of Livermore Falls, Jake Cyr of Lisbon and Matt Laubauskas of Mountain Valley.

The Lobster Bowl has raised over $300,000 in its two decades, and all proceeds go to the Shriners Hospitals. Tickets are $10 for reserved seats, $8 for general admission. They can be purchased at the gate, from the Kora Shrine Center or any Shriner, and general admission tickets are also available at any Shaw’s Supermarket. Gates open at 1 p.m. There will be a pregame concert at 2 p.m. with The Ketchfish Brothers featuring Allure.  

Notes: In addition to the players, cheerleaders from around the state have raised money and will be performing at Saturday’s game. They have been holding their own training camp this week at Central Maine Community College in Auburn…Sixteen coaches have been donating their time to help out with each team. Leavitt’s Mike Hathaway is the offensive coordinator for the East, and is joined on O’Connell’s staff by Bill County of Lewiston and Brad Bishop of Livermore Falls. David Jones of Fryeburg Academy is the offensive coordinator and Jay’s Marc Bonnevie the defensive coordinator for the West. Plante’s staff also includes Joel Stoneton of Winthrop and Lisbon’s Dick Mynahan, Stacen Doucette and Randy Ridley… With Hathaway and Jones serving as offensive coordinators, this could turn out to be the most pass-happy, if not the highest scoring, game in Lobster Bowl history. Both coaches run high-powered spread offenses at their respective schools. “Both of our quarterbacks are very familiar with what we do, so we hit the ground running,”  Plante said. The most points ever in the game came two years ago, when the East beat the West, 47-27.

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