At one point last fall, Mountain Valley had two quarterbacks and its entire starting secondary standing on the sidelines with a laundry list of medical maladies.

Then the Falcons were beaten soundly by York and Cape Elizabeth, losing back-to-back games for the first time since the current players were in grammar school.

All that, and somehow Mountain Valley crept within eight minutes of another trip to the Class B state final. Only when a fourth-quarter lead slipped away in a rainy rematch at Cape could the high school football world breathe a sigh of relief and consider itself free of the Falcons for another year.

So it doesn’t matter how inexperienced the Falcons look on paper. Nobody making a list of Campbell Conference favorites on that same sheet will scribble too far down the page before etching the initials MV.

“I think it’s still Mountain Valley High School, and all these kids have played a little ball,” said Mountain Valley coach Jim Aylward. “And they care or else we make them.”

First, let’s look at the reasons the rest of the league might not feel completely overwhelmed as each team stares down the Falcons as its next Friday night assignment.

After an amazing run of three state and four regional championships since 2004, the Falcons field their youngest team in recent memory. Among the missing are most of the offensive linemen who saw snaps last season, including all-conference standouts Ryan Laubauskas and Cole Clark.

“We lost four starters. We also lost kids six, seven, eight and nine, so we’re really struggling. We’re moving backs. Every day different backs find themselves with a lineman’s number in our effort to get the best 11 on the field at all times,” Aylward said. “The kids are working hard. I have no problem with the effort. That’s just a major area of concern right now.”

Junior Ryan Glover is the lone returning starter up front. Senior co-captain Ben Higley also is in the mix.

Tyler Mason, one of the team’s starting halfbacks, will be out until at least Week 3 after off-season knee surgery. Last year’s leading rusher, Matt Duka, graduated.

Defensively, Glover at linebacker, Cam Kaubris in the secondary and Christian Durland at defensive end are the only healthy holdovers who are likely to start this fall in the spot they finished last year.

“Realistically we have six positions (combined offense and defense) we’re covering with a returning starter,“ Aylward said. “But don’t cry for us.”

Yes, there’s an awful lot to like about the Falcons.

Start with Kaubris, the quarterback who shone as a sophomore before suffering a shoulder separation in an exhibition game last August. He missed the first four games and saw only limited duty under center before shutting down for the season.

Kaubris is healthy and is equipped with one of his favorite receivers, Durland, at tight end. Izaak Mills, who led the Falcons to a comeback win at Wells as third-string QB last fall, will fuel the offense as either a wingback or receiver.

The Falcons’ backfield should thrive even in Mason’s absence. Taylor Bradley returns after transferring to Skowhegan just before the start of his junior season. Bradley emerged as one of the top 10 rushers in the Pine Tree Conference.

“They couldn’t sign him to a contract extension.” Aylward joked.

Josh Allen, who was a projected starter last year, also will get plenty of carries.

“He is going to have a big year for us,” Aylward said of Allen. “He spent last year in my doghouse. He’s ready to go for sure.”

Mountain Valley’s coaching staff also is impressed with Taylor Carey, a senior who is playing varsity football for the first time after making a name with the wrestling team. Carey is expected to start at nose tackle.

Gray-New Gloucester is shaping up into Oak Hill West, with similar team colors and former Raiders’ head coach Bruce Nicholas joining his former defensive coordinator, first-year head coach Phil Prideaux. The pair that built a solid program in Wales is starting from scratch in Gray.

“We have 34 kids and 22 are freshmen or sophomores,” Prideaux said. “We are, to say the least, building up this year.”

There is reason to expect marked improvement as the season unfolds. The Patriots have good size and athleticism.

Junior tight end Josh Bagdon, the only returning player with significant varsity experience, typifies this, and will be a big target for first-year quarterback Roman Latno. Fellow juniors Colby Bowen and Jon Greenleaf round out the rest of the backfield.

The Patriots relied exclusively on workhorse fullback Taylor Valente last year, but Prideaux plans to spread the ball around. The emphasis early on is to get the basics down, then find out who the play-makers are.

“Starting out, it will be almost a JV level that we’ll be playing at, then as the season goes along, take steps as we go,” Prideaux said.

Poland can tell its Route 26 rivals a thing or two about growing pains. After going winless in 2009, the Knights have 16 of 22 starters back, most of them seniors, and Mark Soehren has challenged them to get the program headed in the right direction.

“This is a group of seniors that has really put in a lot of work,” Soehren said. “I’ve said to them, ‘At some point, Poland is going to turn the corner. What is your legacy going to be?’ “

The Knights are big and experienced up front, with seniors Mike Adams, Frank Benedict and Lucas Salas leading the offensive line. They’ll block for speedy sophomore quarterback Tony Whalen, who will run the triple option with fullbacks Connor Labbe and Cam Woodford and slotbacks Christian Hanscom and Patrick Summers.

Turnovers have plagued the Knights in recent years, so ball security has been the main point of emphasis in preseason. On defense, it has been tackling, and the hope is that having faster athletes and making some adjustments to the scheme will improve that.

Last year, the Knights often dug themselves into first-quarter holes and then frantically tried to make the game competitive. With more experience and better fundamentals, Soehren expects a more consistent effort from his team in 2010.

“The problem last year was we’d get down by 20 early, then play hard for three quarters and then it’s too late,” he said. “We want to be competitive in all of our games, to compete and finish in these games and to really start winning.”

Brad Stephens is set to carry the rushing load for a York squad that lost only 10 seniors and might be considered a slight preseason favorite. The Wildcats won their last Western B title in 2005.

Wells, a league power throughout the 1990s, could be poised for a return to the top of the mountain. Junior quarterback Paul McDonough returns from a breakout season. Nate Chase, Louis Ditomasso and Mike Moats give the Warriors a potent backfield.

Cape Elizabeth will have a new look after a three-year run of standing with Mountain Valley as the clear one-two in the conference. With Jack Barber and Sam Barber running behind big Andrew Lavallee, the Capers should stay in contention.

Keep an eye on Falmouth as a dark horse. The Yachtsmen made their first playoff appearance two years ago and return almost everyone from last fall, including QB Zach Alexander, RB Greg Oulton and WR Jack Cooleen.

Campbell Conference Class B predicted order of finish

By Randy Whitehouse

1. York

2. Mountain Valley

3. Wells

4. Cape

5. Falmouth

6. Greely

7. Fryeburg

8. Lake Region

9. Gray-NG

10. Poland

Campbell Conference Class B predicted order of finish

By Kalle Oakes

1. Mountain Valley

2. York

3. Wells

4. Falmouth

5. Cape Elizabeth

6. Greely

7. Fryeburg

8. Gray-NG

9. Lake Region

10. Poland


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