The debate over the proposed realignment in high school football is as hot in Lewiston as anywhere else in the state.

Opinions vary on what changes need to occur, but Lewiston coach Bills County is ready for some sort of change. The current Pine Tree Conference format hasn’t been too kind to his Blue Devils in its eight years of two-division existence.

“It hasn’t played well for us for the last couple of years,” County said. “You know, we’ve been 7-1, 7-1, 6-2 — I think we’ve lost six games in the last four years — and we end up on the road in the playoffs every time. What do you have to do?”

All the Blue Devils can do, if they finish at or near the top of the PTC South as most observers anticipate, is hope the lower-tiered teams in their division have more success than they have in recent years.

“What happens is when your conference has a couple of teams on the bottom that don’t do well, you can’t collect those Crabtree points,” County said. “There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Lewiston finished the 2009 regular season 6-2, yet had to travel to Oakland to face 5-3 Messalonskee in the first round of the playoffs.

“We lost by a touchdown,” he said. “I’m not saying home field is everything, but it might be a touchdown.”

The Blue Devils will be trying to score touchdowns in more familiar fashion this year. With strong-armed QB’s Ronnie Turner and Seth Mason directing the offense the last couple of years, they’ve tried to air it out more than County has typically preferred. With Turner graduated and Mason sidelined by recurring concussions, it’s back to the grind-it-out style that was last seen when Jared Turcotte and Wes Myers wore the blue-and-white.

Speedy tailback Jeff Keene is the lone holdover in the backfield and one of only five seniors on the roster. Juniors Jeff Turcotte, Matt Therrien and Joe McKinnon will also pound the ball behind an offensive line anchored by seniors Elliott Chicoine and Ben Wigant. Chris Madden assumes the quarterbacking duties and has options on the option or the passing game from the backfield. The receiving corps is fast but mostly unproven.

Speed will be the Devils’ calling card on defense. Wigant is the brains and backbone of the outfit at middle linebacker. The hard-hitting Keene can be a factor in stopping the running or passing game from the secondary. The question is how quickly the underclassmen get comfortable with the speed of varsity football.

“We’re a hard team to predict,” County said. “We could make a run with these young kids and be quick, or we could be a little inexperienced and it will take us half a year to catch on.”

If things fall into place, Edward Little could catch on as one of the most improved teams in the PTC South. After a nightmarish 2009 in which they went 1-7 and saw their head coach, Darren Hartley, resign, the Red Eddies seemed to have a fresh start when defensive coordinator Travis Dube was promoted to the top job. But then less than a month before the preseason was to start, Dube took a better-paying job at Bridgton Academy to support his young family.

Dave Sterling, a former EL assistant coach and, more recently, head coach at Scarborough, filled the void quickly, and the Eddies insist they haven’t missed a beat.

Part of the reason for the relatively smooth transition is that the Eddies have 20 seniors who don’t want to relive last year’s soap opera.

“Like any preseason, you get a lot of adversity,” Sterling said. “The thing that has been really good is those core guys have stuck together extremely well.”

It will be hard for opposing tacklers to stick to Teven Colon, EL’s elusive senior tailback. Colon is returning to his natural position after spending last year at quarterback, but he won’t just be lining up in the backfield. The Eddies will put him wherever they need to to get him the ball in the open field, where he is among the most dangerous runners in the state.

Junior Josh Delong will replace Colon at quarterback, something he did intermittently last season.

“He got a lot of reps last year at quarterback,, which is good,” Sterling said.

With EL being the latest team to install a spread offense, Delong will likely only need a couple of games to surpass the 20 pass attempts he had all of last season. He’ll have plenty of athletic receivers to throw it to, including Colon, fullbacks Luc Farrago and Cory Spruill, slot Spencer Emerson, split end Ken Treadwell and tight end Zach Leblond.

Sterling is counting on his all-senior offensive line, particularly guards Alex Smith and Ben Bellevue, to allow the offense to be multi-dimensional.

“With us spreading the football out, we really rely on having a great offensive line,” he said. “Our guards are very agile. They can pull very well, and when they pull, we can run on sweeps and waggles with them getting on the edge.”

Oxford Hills hopes it is on the edge of turning around its fortunes. After trying to get more physical on defense during their 1-7 season last year, coach Nate Danforth has installed the I-formation on offense in hopes of getting the Vikings back to their smashmouth roots.

“We’re always talking about being physical, be physical on defense then come over and be physical on offense,” Danforth said. “That’s the state of mind we’re trying to have here, and the kids are buying into it.”

The only problem is, the Vikings are still looking for someone to do the ‘I.’

“The tailback position for us is kind of wide-open,” Danforth said.

Seniors Andy Ripley and Jon Flanders, who is due back from basic training for the Army, are the current candidates, along with a couple of underclassmen. The Vikes also have holes to fill at some other skill positions, including quarterback, where junior Logan Sanborn takes over for Matt Verrier.

The Vikings are very young, particularly up front. The defense boasts a senior-laden secondary led by Chris Priest, Matt Farnum and Danny Taylor.

While his team goes into the season with a number of question marks, Danforth is looking for his team to take the next step.

“We’d really like to get into that playoff hunt and go from there,” he said.

County could get his wish and get a stronger PTC South this season. Cony should return to contention with one of the state’s top QB’s, Luke Duncklee directing the offense. Brunswick loses Rashon Edgerton but still figures to be in the playoff picture.

It has been a relatively lean stretch for Mt. Blue since the Cougars won the 2005 Eastern Class A title, but a highly touted group that was suiting up in junior high then has finally matured into juniors and seniors. Their arrival has folks in Farmington anticipating a possible playoff run.

Mt. Blue will start a senior at 17 of 22 positions, and a total of 23 juniors are waiting in the wings.

“Most of our depth is in the junior class. A lot of juniors who don’t start and going to play,“ said Mt. Blue coach Gary Parlin. “Other than than (sophomore quarterback) Jordan Whitney, we’ll have our freshmen, we’ll have sophomores playing JV, and then all juniors and seniors playing varsity. It hasn’t been like that for a while.”

The Cougars will address their most glaring graduation loss — quarterback Ryan Backus — with a two-man rotation of junior Cam Sennick and Whitney. Sennick, a 6-foot-5 basketball standout, gives the Cougars a different dimension at inner receiver when Whitney is in the huddle.

A.J. Larrabee and Eric Berry give either QB two experienced flankers. And while the rest of the high school football world seemingly can’t wait to embrace the spread offense, Maine’s original practitioners of the run-and-shoot intend to utilize a more traditional look with tight end Ethan Kyes.

“You go with what you’ve got,” Parlin said of the move.

Kyes would line up next to the all-senior offensive line of Brandon Cochran, Dillan Burnham, Brandon Scott, Dakota Savage and Matt Archer.

Senior Matt Davis and junior Isaiah Tracy will share the running back duties.

On defense, linemen Cochran, Archer and Kyes, linebacker Colton Burnham and free safety Sennick all were starters last season.

“In our league, you don’t get too far up in the pecking order without a really good senior class,” Parlin said. “We had seniors last year who were great kids, but there were only five of them.”

Bangor’s senior class is loaded, which is why the Rams are the overwhelming favorites to repeat as conference champs. The combo of 6-foot-7 QB Joe Seccareccia and tight end Josiah Hartley will make up for the loss of Fitzpatrick finalist Lonnie Hackett.  Lawrence could once again be the Rams’ biggest obstacle, although there are some that think the perennial powerhouse won’t be able to reload this year as well as it typically has in recent years. Messalonskee and Skowhegan are playoff contenders who could once again give the North the depth nod over the South.

PTC Class A predicted order of finish

By Randy Whitehouse

1. Bangor

2. Lawrence

3. Lewiston

4. Cony

5. Mt. Blue

6. Brunswick

7. Messalonskee

8. Edward Little

9. Skowhegan

10. Mt.Ararat

11. Brewer

12. Oxford Hills

PTC Class A predicted order of finish

By Kalle Oakes

1. Bangor

2. Lawrence

3. Mt. Blue

4. Lewiston

5. Edward Little

6. Cony

7. Messalonskee

8. Skowhegan

9. Brunswick

10. Oxford Hills

11. Mt. Ararat

12. Brewer

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