SACO — Defense was optional at last year’s Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl, a 58-52 victory for the East in which records were not just broken, but shattered.

West coach Mike Fallon made sure things were going to be different on his watch.

“We knew … they wanted to put the ball in the air. We actually built our defense from the back end in,” Fallon said. “We said ‘We’re not going to let them light up the scoreboard for 50-something points.’ “

The plan worked. The West scored early, broke open the game and wasn’t challenged in the second half, pulling away for a 55-18 victory over the East in the 28th version of the Lobster Bowl at Thornton Academy.

Oh, there was offense — with game MVP Cam Day and Frankie Veino alternating series at quarterback, the West lit up the scoreboard. But the defense, whether it was hassling East quarterbacks Garrett McSweeney and Taylor Heath or halting its opponent’s ground game, never let the East find an answer.

“When we got the teams squared away, we made sure that we put some of our high, high quality players on our defense,” said Fallon, who had coached in the Shrine Bowl before as a defensive coordinator. “In this game, the design of the game, the offense clearly has the advantage because you’re limited, you’ve got one front, you’ve only got three coverages. So you’ve got to be really careful.”

It also helps to take command early and force the opponent to play to your strengths. The West crossed that item off the list on its first drive, covering 66 yards and finishing it off with Day’s 9-yard pass to Oak Hill’s Steve Gilbert for a 7-0 lead with 12:02 left in the first.

“It showed that we can really hang with the big guns,” Gilbert said. “Some people usually doubt Class D. (But) everybody can play.

“It was really important (to score early). I think if we don’t score the first time, I think we have a little bit of a harder time.”

West struck again in the second quarter, with Day’s 15-yard pass to Ben Ekedahl capping a 74-yard drive and making it 13-0 with 9:36 left in the second quarter. West came through on defense on the next drive, with Angelo Succi intercepting a McSweeney pass and returning it 35 yards for a 19-0 lead with 8:38 left in the half.

“I looked at the quarterback, I had a feeling it was coming my way,” Succi said. “I made a couple-step read, I played the flats and I got there.”

It was the signature play for a defense that seemed to have an answer for everything the East tried with the game within reach. Heath (6-of-13, 74 yards, one touchdown through three quarters) and McSweeney (9-of-21, 154 yards, one touchdown) went a combined 5-of-17 for 47 yards in the first half, and lead rusher Dylan Bolduc had only 26 yards on 11 carries at halftime.

“No one gets deep on us,” Succi said. “That’s what we were trying to make our whole scheme. Push them, push them, get them up front. And don’t let anyone deep.”

“It really was a three-tiered concept, and all the kids played with great energy,” said Fallon, whose defense also gave the offense a short field that it used to go up 26-0 on a 4-yard pass to Tyler Halls with 4:38 left in the half. “That’s defense, sometimes. You’ve just got to believe in it and play with energy. And they were very physical, our kids were extremely physical.”

Things seemed to look up for the East just before halftime when Nick Archambault picked off a Day pass and brought it back 90 yards for the score with only five seconds left in the half. The East hadn’t scored on offense, but it had chances, and at 26-6, the game didn’t feel over when the teams left the field for halftime.

“We just had to execute. We weren’t finishing,” coach Matt Perkins said. “Early in the first half, we had three balls right down the middle that we dropped. … We just said ‘Hey, we’ve got to settle down, we’ve got to focus and we’ve got to finish.”

Fallon had a message for his team as well.

“Right away, we’re telling the kids ‘We have to squelch that momentum, right now,’ ” he said.

His team had the perfect start again, getting a 30-yard pass to Tyler Halls and then falling on a bad snap on a punt in the end zone to make it 41-6 with 8:10 left. The East had a final flourish, with Heath finding Tyler Hafford for a 30-yard touchdown and then McSweeney hitting Colby Furrow for a 76-yard touchdown pass that bounced off two pairs of hands before settling in the Mount View receiver’s.

Even that feeling didn’t last long. Veino connected with Ekedahl on a 62-yard touchdown pass three plays later, and a 1-yard run from Day made it 55-18 with 13:42 left in the game.

Day was 7-of-12 for 80 yards and two touchdowns through three quarters, while Veino was 6-of-9 for 149 yards and one touchdown. Ekedahl caught four passes for 114 yards and two scores, while Halls caught three passes for 63 yards, including two touchdowns.

“Frank’s got a good arm, he’s got a cannon. He’s got a way better arm than I do,” Day said. “We just hit them over the top, and we’ve got great receivers too. We’ve got some of the best receivers in the state.”

Furrow’s catch was the longest offensive play of the day, while Hafford was a bright spot for East with four catches for 68 yards in three quarters, including the touchdown.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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