While changes hit most of the state’s high school football conferences with radical realignment, the same 11 teams return to the Big 11 Conference in Class C North for a third consecutive season.

And like the previous two falls, the favorite is anybody’s guess.

Four of the last five Class C state champions came out of the Big 11, including a pair of dark horses each of the last two seasons. Nokomis won it all as a fourth seed last season, and Maine Central Institute took home a Gold Ball as the region’s sixth seed in 2017. In order for Nokomis to repeat, the Warriors need to overcome the graduation of 13 seniors.

Nokomis players celebrate after they won the Class C state title last season at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Portland Press Herald file photo

“We are very green,” Nokomis coach Jake Rogers said. “Very, very green.”

The Warriors’ most experienced player is center/defensive end Andy Hopkins, a four-year starter on the offensive line. Hopkins will snap to senior Jaden Brooks, who moves to quarterback after serving in a utility role last season. Beau Briggs in the top returning rusher for the Warriors, who will play home games at Lawrence’s Keyes Field this season with construction making the field at Nokomis unusable.

Defense was the staple of Nokomis’ championship run last fall. The Warriors allowed just 24 points combined in four playoff wins. Brooks returns to the secondary.

“We’re just trying to get these guys to understand they can take baby steps and get a little better at one thing every day,” Rogers said. “I believe if we do things the right way, we’ll improve.”

While Nokomis is inexperienced, Winslow is the exact opposite. The Black Raiders graduated just four players and return key contributors — including 18 letter winners — at almost every position.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Winslow coach Mike Siviski said.

Fullback Alex Demers and tailbacks Rob Clark and Isaiah Goldsmith bring plenty of varsity experience to the Black Raiders backfield, as does returning quarterback Colby Pomeroy. Receiver Marek Widerynski gives Winslow a fleet and tall deep threat. Justin Bolduc (center) and Ronan Drummond (tackle) anchor the offensive line.

Defensively, Winslow has depth on the line and at linebacker, where Demers, Nathan Newgard, Clark, Goldsmith, and Cody Ivey return. In the secondary, Widerynski and Pomeroy, both over 6-feet, might give the Black Raiders the tallest pair of corners in the state. Reid Gagnon will play safety.

The Black Raiders will be tested by a tough schedule that begins with a trip to Wells, winner of three straight state titles (two in Class D and one in C). Winslow follows that with a game against Nokomis. Each of Winslow’s eight opponents reached the playoffs last season.

MCI has won at least six games in each of the last six seasons. The Huskies don’t have the depth of their state title teams from 2016 and 2017, but there’s talent in Pittsfield, and it starts on the line with seniors Isaac Bussell at guard and Harrison Sites at tackle. Their experience helps offset the loss of Seth Bussell, who played offensive line and fullback for the Huskies the last few seasons.

“Losing Seth’s tough. We need to shore up the offensive line, but we expect to be competitive,” MCI coach Tom Bertrand said.

Ryan Friend, a junior and three-year starter, returns at quarterback. Elijah Bagley, Cole Steeves, and Nason Berthelette will be the ball carriers, with Will Russell and Dominic Wilson at wideout.

Defensively, Isaac Bussell is a key at middle linebacker.

Waterville lost a strong group of seniors, many who were four-year contributors. The Purple Panthers were the league’s top running team last season, spreading the carries among a group of backs. Now, the bulk of the carries will fall to fullback Trafton Gilbert and halfback Anthony Singh.

Sophomore Liam Von Oesen is Waterville’s new quarterback. Coach Matt Gilley said he hopes to utilize Von Oesen’s speed in the run game.

Defensively, the Panthers are keeping things simple.

“We’re going basic so they go fast and react,” Gilley said.

 

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