The Lawrence and Messalonskee high school football teams certainly don’t have many secrets from each other. Saturday’s Pine Tree Conference Class A semifinal game will be the fourth meeting in just over a year between these teams, and for the second season in a row, the Bulldogs and Eagles meet in back-to-back games.
In last week’s regular season finale, Lawrence (9-0) defeated Messalonskee (6-3), 21-0. Like last week’s game, this one will be played at Lawrence’s Keyes Field.
“The kids are pretty excited about playing (at Keyes Field) and playing against a rival school that’s as good as Lawrence is,” Messalonskee interim head coach Chapin LaBelle said.
In other playoff games featuring central Maine teams, No. 1 Mt. Blue (9-0) hosts No. 4 Gardiner (6-3) in a PTC B semifinal tonight. In the other PTC B semifinal, No. 7 Belfast (5-4) plays at No. 6 Waterville (5-4) on Saturday. In the Campbell Conference Class C, No. 4 Traip (8-1) travels to No. 1 Winslow (8-1) for a semifinal game Saturday.
“I thought we played great last week up front. We need to get a little bit better, more consistent, to be able to compete with them again,” LaBelle said.
Both Lawrence and Messalonskee saw some things last week they want to improve in this week’s rematch. For Lawrence, it begins with an improved run game. Messalonskee held the Bulldogs to 109 yards on 32 carries last week.
“We’ve got to shore up our blocking assignments, I think, and be able to run the ball better,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said. “We were really happy with what we did with our pass game, but we need to be able to run the ball more effectively. That way we can be on schedule, not be faced with too many of those third-and-longs. We were fortunate to connect on them, but at the same time, we don’t want to be in those situations too often.”
Against Messalonskee, the Bulldogs had their best passing game of the season. Spencer Carey completed 6 of 8 passes for 228 yards, with two touchdowns and one interception.
“We’ve got to get them blocked up front. Obviously, they’re very talented in their backfield, and very quick,” LaBelle said.
Messalonskee mixed up its offense a bit last week, running more plays out of a Power I set instead of the double wing the Eagles are known for. The Eagles had some success running the ball, but know what works once against Lawrence doesn’t necessarily work twice.
“We got out of the double wing. We were doing the Power I stuff, and that took them a little by surprise. We have to work off of it, and put in a few more adjustments to get one in the end zone,” LaBelle said. “It’s hard, even if they do suck up on play-action stuff, they’re so quick to get back. We have to be pretty precise with what we’re running and where we’re going with it.”
Messalonskee’s offense is led by Corey McKenzie, who ran for 1,261 yards, quarterback Josh Woodard, and fullback Jake Stinson.
“We’ve got to get off blocks a little better and contain their outside run. They were pretty successful getting around, breaking contain, and getting around the edge. We weren’t happy with that,” Hersom said.
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Mt. Blue edged Gardiner 21-16 in a Sept. 21 regular season game at Hoch Field.
The Cougars feature quarterback Jordan Whitney. However, Mt. Blue will play without junior wide receiver Cam Abbott, who is out with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
“He’s out for the season,” Parlin said.
Senior wide receiver Nick Hyde (ankle sprain) will play tonight, Parlin added.
“We kind of expected this matchup when the playoffs started,” Parlin said. “I really think it’s a good matchup for both of us. We do a lot of the same type of things. It should be a great game.”
The Tigers will lean on senior quarterback Dennis Meehan, who’s a threat to run and throw. Steve Sirois has rushed for about 800 yards, and coach Matt Burgess said it will be pivotal for Gardiner to run the football.
“We need to be able to run the ball against these guys before we can get it to the perimeter,” he said. “Defensively, we’ll have to find a way to shut down that offense.”
And that means, Burgess added, pressuring Whitney.
“They have plenty of offense we have to take care,” he said. “Whitney throws with some real good accuracy. His offensive line gives him good time to throw. We’ll need to disrupt that because good protection makes quarterbacks a whole lot better when they can look at some things.”
Staff Writer Bill Stewart contributed to this report.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242