High school football realignment expanded the Pine Tree Conference Class B division from eight to 11 teams this season. What was already one of the more competitive leagues in the state got tougher.

Newcomers to the PTC B are former member Gardiner, which moves up from Class C; Falmouth, which adds Greely players to its mix and moves from Class B’s south division, and Windham, which drops down from Class A.

“If you make the playoffs, you could face two or three teams you didn’t see in the regular season,” Skowhegan coach Ryan Libby said of the expanded league.

Lawrence head coach John Hersom watches play during scrimmage against Cony on Aug. 24 at Alumni Field in Augusta. Kennebec Journal photo by Joe Phelan Buy this Photo

“Having these new opponents makes it a little more challenging,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said.

Hersom’s Bulldogs reached the conference championship game each of the last two seasons. Lawrence is counting on veteran groups in the offensive backfield and secondary to make another deep playoff run.

Lawrence returns starter Dylan Coombs at quarterback, with Chrisian Larouche, Paul Morneau, and Nate Regaldo each getting varsity carries last season. On the line, Isaac Plourde returns at tackle. Mike Roy slides down the line to guard after playing center last season. Paul Southwick, a former fullback, moves to guard, and Mason Lunt is the new center.

“We had to move some guys around. We’ll keep working at it,” Hersom said.

As on offense, the defensive line is inexperienced. The secondary should be a strength, with Coombs, Chris Dow and Zach Nickerson back at safety. Regaldo, Morneau and Wyatt Fortin return at corner.

Nickerson has a big leg and can be a special teams weapon for the Bulldogs.

Skowhegan needs to replace one of the top quarterbacks in the state, Marcus Christopher, who graduated. That job falls to junior Cam Green.

“He had a real good summer. He’s taken charge of the offense,” Libby said of Green.

Skowhegan has Cam Louder and Spencer Wyman back at receiver in its spread offense, and Zeb Tibbetts moves from the backfield to tight end. Mason Fitzgerald looks to be the primary ball carrier. All-PTC tackle Chase Carey will anchor the line.

“We’ve been blessed with four years of really good quarterbacks. Maybe we’ll run more. We’ll see who shines each week,” Libby said.

Skowhegan’s defense is young, primarily juniors with a few sophomores in the mix. Tibbetts was an all-conference linebacker last season.

“We have some new faces, but these guys have been around each other all summer. Even though it’s early in the season, they’re starting to gel,” Libby said.

Last fall, Cony went into the season with a stocked defense and a question mark at quarterback. This year, the outlook is reversed, as the Rams have a head start at quarterback but holes to fill elsewhere after graduating the top five receivers and 10 of 11 defensive starters.

Riley Geyer is back after a breakout sophomore season at quarterback, and while there’s not much experience around him, there’s plenty of talent at the skill positions in running back Jamal Cariglia and receivers Adrian Larrabee, Aidan Coulombe and Dakota Andow.

“(Geyer’s) got more confidence this year,” coach B.L. Lippert said. “At times last year, at least early on, if I got on him a little bit I could see his body language change and him get down on himself. … This year, I haven’t really seen any of it.”

Leading the defense is linebacker Devon Thomas, the lone returning starter, while Larrabee showed a playmaking knack at corner.

“(There’s) a lot of uncertainty headed in, which is both a little frightening and unnerving, but also really exciting,” Lippert said. “We’re ready to see who’s going to emerge and be the next guy in the Cony offense and next star Cony defender. They’re out there, we just need to figure out who it’s going to be.”

Gardiner makes the move up to Class B after two seasons as a playoff team in Class C. The Tigers missed the playoffs their last season in B, but coach Joe White said this is a group with a better sense of how to win games.

“They’ve been accustomed to making the playoffs,” he said. “They were able to get some confidence, we won some games. … Moving to B is no big deal. We’ve seen teams do it all the time.”

The Tigers are strongest in important areas. On offense, that’s at quarterback with dual threat Sean Michaud back under center, and on the offensive line with two- and three-year starters in Jake Fles, Parker Smith and Oliver Blanchard.

On defense, Gardiner is balanced. The front seven, led by linemen Dylan Spencer, Ashton Engle and A.J. Chadwick and linebacker Brad Sandelin, is smart, while the defensive backfield, led by safety Blaise Tripp, is instinctive and athletic.

“Our sights are set on the playoffs,” White said. “It looks really positive going forward.”

Former Madison head coach Scott Franzose takes over a Mt. Blue team coming off its first playoff appearance in three seasons. Franzose brings the pistol offense he used effectively in Madison, and has a returning starter at quarterback in senior Hunter Meeks to run it.

“He’s a very coachable kid. He’s really excited about what we do. He’s a motivated kid,” Franzose said of Meeks.

Caleb Haines and Kevon Johnson return to the backfield, where they’ll often run behind Eddie Hebert, Mt. Blue’s 6-foot-4, 335-pound tackle, who potentially could be among the top linemen in the state. Kyle Fox, Preston Ross, and Keegan Roberts will be the top receivers for the Cougars.

Mt. Blue has senior depth on defense, led by Haines and Johnson at linebacker, Owen Soucy, Sam Wrigley, and Hebery on the line, and Fox in the secondary.

Messalonskee also has a new coach, former Maranacook and Spruce Mountain head coach Walter Polky. The Eagles look to rebound from a winless 2018 as they begin play on their new artificial turf field. How quickly the Eagles learn their new offense could be a factor on how successful the season is.

“The tempo and spacing is completely different. The zone (blocking) game is a complete 180 from anything they’re used to,” Polky said.

Senior Declan Thurston is back at quarterback, Garrett McKenna and Sal Caccamo are back at tackle, and Josh Goff returns at running back. Linebacker Sean Rodrigue leads the defense.

 

 

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