Lewiston players participate in a drill during the preseason. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — As Lewiston begins a new era on the new Don Roux Field this fall, the close losses of last season still sting coach Bruce Nicholas.

“Two games by six, one by one and one by three. We’re hoping to turn a couple of those into W’s and maybe go a little bit farther this year,” he said.

There is reason for optimism, and not just because of the new athletic complex. The Blue Devils should be more balanced offensively and even faster on defense than the team that last season went 4-5 and earned a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Tanner Cortes returns as quarterback for his second full season under center.

“He’s a little bit bigger and a little bit stronger, and is throwing the ball better, too. He had a great summer,” Nicholas said.

The senior, who earned the starting job during his sophomore season, expects more consistency on offense.

“I think we’re going to improve a lot,” Cortes said. “We have a lot of younger kids with a lot of talent. We have lot of speed. We can get around the edge. We can do things up the middle. We’ve got an improved offensive line, I think.”

Three of five starters are back on the line. They will block for a backfield that lost the leading rusher in Class A North, Garrett Poussard, but one that might be deeper and faster. 

Senior Hunter Landry, a big playmaker on offense and special teams last year, will play a more prominent role in the offense.

“He had a great yards-per (average), regardless of whether he ran it or caught it, so he’s going to get more touches,” Nicholas said.

Landry is intrigued by the potential of a running roster that also includes juniors Jaheim Whiting, Dylon Jackson and Jabrie Meyers.

“We made pretty big strides in the first week of double sessions,” he said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys, a lot of depth in every position. The chemistry is there. Everything is meshing well.”

Whiting and Meyers will play big roles on defense, too, as part of a revamped pass rush ravaged by graduation. Overall, the unit should remain fast and stout with Cortes and Hunter in the secondary and lineman Tom Brochu and linebacker Dominick Colon.

“We’ll pick up whatever slack there is, but until you step on the field and play another team you never know what you’re missing. But I think the guys that we have can definitely step up,” Cortes said.

Last year, the Blue Devils were motivated by their desire to extend their one-year stay at Bates College by hosting a playoff game, which they did. They lost that game to Portland.

This year, Nicholas believes they have all of the motivation they’ll need — maximizing use of their own turf by winning a playoff game and perhaps even hosting a regional final.

“When you have the facilities, it’s kind of easy to get that extra hop in your step,” Nicholas said.

Lewiston coach Bruce Nicholas talks to players during a preseason practice. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)Two Lewiston players participate in a passing drill at practice during the preseason. (Randy Whitehouse/Sun Journal)