A number of schools switched classes or regions in the offseason, but the changes in Pine Tree Conference Class B were minor. Nokomis joins the league after spending the last two years in Class C, and the conference is still arguably the toughest in the state. Unanswered roster questions in early September could mean your team is sitting home in November.

“In our league, you have to be ready to play, weeks one through eight,” Skowhegan coach Matt Friedman said.

“It’s going to take some time to get our offense going,” Mt. Blue coach Jim Aylward added. “In this league, you’ve got to be able to play tough football.”

Defending conference champion Brunswick is the PTC B preseason favorite. The Dragons return a number of players from 2014, including crafty running back Will Bessey.

Lawrence bounced back from a two-win season in 2013 — its lone losing season in a decade — to reach the conference championship game last season. The Bulldogs return many of their skill position players and look to be a contender again.

The biggest weapon Lawrence has is senior tight end Seth Powers. An all-conference player last season, coach John Hersom said Powers could line up in a number of spots this season.

“We’ll move (Powers) around, and use him in some diverse ways,” Hersom said.

Mitchell Cushing and Walker Thomas return to the backfield, as does Brandon Hallee, who missed much of last season with an injury. On the line, senior Robert Zahoransky is back at tackle, but much of the group lacks varsity experience. Kyle Robinson moves from the backfield to guard to help shore up the line’s depth.

Nose guard Brady Martin anchors the defensive line, while Robinson returns at outside linebacker. In the secondary, Powers moves from safety to cornerback while JT Nutting moves to safety.

Cony’s final game last season came Nov. 8, a 28-27 defeat against Lawrence on a two-point conversion in the PTC B semifinals, but the Rams have hardly forgotten.

“(Coach B.L. Lippert) reminds us all the time,” said linebacker/running back Reid Shostak.

Lippert, who was elevated from offensive coordinator to head coach after Robby Vachon resigned last spring, even kept a count of the number of weight room sessions — 111 — the team held between the loss to Lawrence and the start of double sessions on Aug. 17.

A former quarterback at Cony, one of Lippert’s greater tasks thus far has been figuring out who will be under center for the Rams this fall. Junior Taylor Heath, who saw time last season at wide receiver, held a slight edge ahead of junior Kolton Vining — a Mt. Blue transfer who played the position on the Cougars’ junior varsity last season — in the preseason.

“Obviously, breaking in a new quarterback is a challenge but we have a lot of skill guys returning around whoever it becomes,” Lippert said. “We should be pretty good on defense, we think, with eight guys returning. Every year is different and we’ll see what kind of culture this team establishes.”

A four-year starter, Shostak figures to be the Rams’ anchor on both offense and defense. Regardless of who wins the quarterback job, Shostak and wide receivers Anthony Brunelle and Joel Bennett will give the Rams plenty of weapons. A strong offensive line of center Devon O’Connor, guard Nic Caron and tackle Matt Moore should help to keep Cony’s signal caller upright.

Unlike the past few seasons where offense has carried the Rams, though, defense should rule for this fall’s team with defensive tackles Elijah Tobey and Tyler Dular, defensive ends Benaiah Wilhoite and Dylan Tudeen, linebacker Max Storey, Shostak, Brunelle and Bennett all returning.

Skowhegan just missed the playoffs last year. A bright spot toward the end of 2014 was the development of quarterback Garrett McSweeney, who took over the starting job late in the season. Now a junior, McSweeney is showing a firm grasp of Skowhegan’s spread offense, coach Matt Friedman said.

“He knows the system and has tons of confidence. He’s just a smart kid, and he works hard,” Friedman said.

Wideout Spencer Salley and tight end Sam Baker will be McSweeney’s top targets, while Kam Doucette takes over at tailback. Friedman called the offensive line — led by tackles Owen Boardman (5-foot-10, 245 pounds) and David Washburn (6-0, 210), guard Dan Laweryson (5-7, 190) and center Hunter Allen (6-0, 280) — the biggest he’s coached.

Defensively, the Indians will rely on speed. Baker and Isiah Vigue will be at the ends, with junior Russell Bradley at linebacker. Safety Nick Morris and corners Dexter Lancaster and Jon Bell lead the secondary.

“Even though we’re bigger than we have been, we’re still smaller than most of the teams we see,” Friedman said.

Messalonskee has a few holes to fill, most notably on the offensive line. Tackle Jake Doyon was such a devastating blocker last season he was named conference Player of the Year, a rarity for a lineman. Doyon graduated, and coach Brad Bishop is looking to a rebuilt offensive line to open holes for a veteran backfield.

That backfield is led by senior fullback Jack Bernatchez, a bruising 6-3, 190-pound runner who was among the leading rushers in the PTC last season. Bernatchez is joined by halfbacks Colby Dexter and Caleb Chevarie, each of whom has lead back capability.

“We’re going to hang our hat on (Bernatchez), but the other kids are good runners, too,” Bishop said.

Sophomore Austin Pelletier takes over at quarterback for the Eagles. Guards Caleb Watkins and Chase Besson return to the offensive line. Sophomores Matt Trembly and Alden Balboni take over at tackle, and junior Cam Bickford moves in at center.

Defensively, Messalonskee has veterans Josh Casey and Chevarie back at inside linebacker, and Watkins on the line. Bernatchez moves from linebacker to free safety, with Dexter and CJ Gordon on the corners.

Mt. Blue coach Jim Aylward likes his offensive skill players, including returning starters Ryan Pratt at quarterback, wide receiver Nate Pratt-Holt and running back Alex Gilbert. Improvement on the offensive line, where the Cougars have a lot of new faces, will be the key to the team’s success.

“We need to give Ryan a chance to make plays with Pratt-Holt and Gilbert. We have a lot of skill back, it will just take time with the line,” Aylward said.

Guards Will Gunter and Brandon Durrell, as well as tight end Isaac Collins, will be counted on the lead the young Cougar line. Pratt-Holt and Gilbert lead the secondary, while Durrell, Gunter and Collins lead the defensive front.

Gardiner will look to fight its way into the playoff conversation, but it will not be easy given the talent in the rest of the division. The Tigers lost a number of key starters — Jake Truman, Brad Weston, Chase Begin and Andrew Doody-Veilleux among them — but bring back a deeper group that is hungry to get their turn.

“We have a lot experience even though we did lose some key players, like our seniors, but we’ve grown a lot in the last couple of years,” second-year quarterback Eli Kropp, a junior, said.

Kropp will be looked to as one of the Tigers’ offensive playmakers this season, along with tight end Kaleb Caron and running backs Kody Spencer and Logan Clark.

The offensive and defensive lines should be a strength for Gardiner with Nate Thibeau — a guard who plays outside linebacker on defense — Alex Thang, Orien Seraph and Spencer King. Cornerbacks Jack Hathaway and Isaiah Swan, safeties Hunter Russell and Austin Libby and linebacker Josh Farrin are also expected to make strong contributions.

Nokomis went 4-4 in Class C last season. Now in the PTC B, it will be eligible for the playoffs. Third-year head coach Matt O’Connell said the team had a lot of questions to answer in the preseason, most notably at quarterback. Freshman Andrew Haining, junior Sam Whitmore and senior Sam Drew competed for the job throughout the preseason, and O’Connell did not expect to name a starter until after the Warriors’ exhibition game at Cony.

Nokomis’ strength is on the line, in which center Jake SeeHusen and tackle Jeff Fitzmaurice return. Dylan Thibodeau will be counted on for leadership at fullback and middle linebacker.

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