Not much has changed in the Pine Tree Conference Class B division this season. The league is still one of the toughest, top to bottom, in the state and the playoff scenario likely will not be resolved until the final weekend of the season.

“Brunswick and Skowhegan, on paper, are far and away the best teams,” Mt. Blue coach Jim Aylward said. “Every single team has a right to say they’re in the top six. I don’t see a weak sister in this league.”

Skowhegan came within a point of the conference championship game last season, and that disappointment from last year’s 16-15 semifinal loss to Brewer motivated the Indians in the offseason.

“The coaches are pushing us hard. We’re pushing each other hard,” senior quarterback Garrett McSweeney said.

McSweeney is the top quarterback in the league, and among the top in the state. Coming off a season in which he threw 23 touchdown passes and just two interceptions, McSweeney has a deep and talented receiving group. Senior Mike Berry and juniors Jon Bell, Sean Savage and Cam Barnes, along with senior tight end Russell Bradley, give Skowhegan plenty of options in the passing game.

Seniors Owen Boardman at tackle and Hunter Allen at center lead a line that’s inexperienced but has potential.

“We’re a little concerned about the line but we have great senior leadership,” coach Matt Friedman said.

On defense, Skowhegan is led by Boardman, a three-year starter at defensive tackle. Friedman said the team has enough depth to start some players on just one side of the ball. That could allow players like linebacker Kobe Houghton and corner back Darrione Brown to thrive.

Cony coach B.L. Lippert is excited to have senior QB Taylor Heath starting under center again coming off an impressive junior season in which he threw for 1,970 yards and 19 touchdowns with just six interceptions.

“It’s nice for us to have our quarterback back,” Lippert said. “A lot will be centered around him and we feel like we’ve got a good mix of playmakers around him for him to distribute the ball.”

Heath, who also rushed for 250 yards and four TDs last season, has two of his top receivers back with him, senior Chad Bickford and junior Jordan Roddy, who missed part of last season with a broken finger. But the key will be how the Rams fare along the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

With defensive stalwarts Reid Shostak, Max Storey and Benaiah Wilhoite all gone, Lippert is looking for playmakers to step up on defense.

“We graduated a ton of seniors on the defensive side of the ball,” Lippert said. “It will be interesting to see who emerges to fill that role and be the physical presence and inspirational leader for us.”

Lawrence knows a hot start isn’t necessarily the key to a good season. That said, the Bulldogs do not want a repeat of last season, in which they started 0-4, before winning four straight to earn a playoff spot. Lawrence opens the season against Skowhegan and Brunswick.

“We’re going to really be tested early,” coach John Hersom said. “We’re mature enough to know the season isn’t over after two weeks.”

Junior Braden Ballard took over at quarterback midway through the season last year and showed promise. Now a year older and more confident, Ballard is a good fit to run Lawrence’s wing-T offense. Halfbacks Gunner McAllister and Devon Webb also return. Senior guard Jake Lennon leads a young offensive line.

Defensively, the Bulldogs will run from a base 4-4 alignment to better use their personnel. The team has depth at linebacker, with Curtis Martin, Webb and Lennon leading the way. Aidan Strickland leads the defensive line, while McAllister, Riley Parlin and Isaiah Schooler could see time in an inexperienced but athletic secondary.

Messalonskee lost one of the top players in the state — fullback/safety Jack Bernatchez — to graduation, but the Eagles aren’t starting from scratch.

“We have quite a few kids back. We’re not real big, but we’ve got some athleticism,” coach Brad Bishop said.

Center Cam Bickford and guards Chase Borssen and Alden Balboni return to the offensive line. Balboni moves from tackle to guard, in oder to utilize his quickness. They’ll be blocking for veteran backs Colby Dexter, Austin Pelletier and Tyler Lewis. Sophomore Cam Goff takes over at quarterback.

Many players will be asked to play both ways for Messalonskee, including Balboni and Borssen at linebacker, Bickford at defensive end, Yan Guzmanove (tight end/defensive end), Pelletier at linebacker, and Dexter in the secondary. Stopping the run was a problem at times last season for the Eagles, and improving in that regard will be key, Bishop said.

There might not be a team in the PTC B with more holes to fill this season than Mt. Blue. The Cougars graduated 20 of 22 starters, with guard/defensive tackle Brandon Durrell the lone returning starter.

“We’ve got to jell up front on the offensive line,” Aylward said. “Our skill position kids are unproven, but I think are varsity ready.”

Mt. Blue’s rebuilt backfield includes fullback Makao Thompson, halfbacks Noah Carleton and Nate Everett, and quarterback Cole Dorman. Defensively, the Cougars are led by defensive end Caleb Hall, and linebackers Miles Pelletier and Quinn Guistra.

“Defense, that’s what we’re trying to build around until our offense is up to speed,” Aylward said.

Gardiner coach Joe White decided to change his offensive leader this year, moving two-year starter Eli Kropp from quarterback to wide receiver and inserting junior southpaw Cole Heaberlin in his old spot. He also tweaked the offense to go with a traditional Wing-T, which will feature converted tight end Kaleb Caron at fullback and speedy senior Cody Spencer at tailback.

An influx of sophomores and hockey players has improved the athleticism on both sides of the ball and White believes the Tigers have more talent than they have had in the last two or three years. The hope at Hoch Field is the new offense and newfound depth can help keep the defense from wearing down as it has in recent years.

“We want to keep the offense on the field and get first downs,” White said. “We’ve given up 400 points on average the last two seasons. The defense is on the field too much. With a couple of new bodies, kids are going to be able to be spelled on both sides of the ball.”

Last year was the first for Nokomis in the PTC B, and it was an eye-opening season for the Warriors, who weren’t ready for the size and speed of Class B after playing in Class C.

“Last year was a bit of a shock,” senior wide receiver/linebacker Tyler Provencher said.

Now, Nokomis knows what it’s in for, and the Warriors hope that experience and a little confidence translates into a few wins. Among the key returning players are Provencher, tight end/defensive end Cody Walker, running back/nose guard Cody Rice, and quarterback Andrew Haining.

“We have high expectations for this year,” coach Matt O’Connell said.

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