March 29, 2020

Witches host Belfast in must-win situation

For several teams in the Pine Tree Conference Class B ranks, Week 8 of the high school football season marks the playoffs to make the playoffs.

While Class A and Class C teams in the region have two more weeks of regular-season play, this is it in Class B.

Several teams, including undefeated Gardiner and once-beaten Winslow and Waterville, already have punched their tickets for postseason play that begins next weekend.

For several other teams, among them Brewer and Belfast, playoff security is still a win away.

Belfast Lions (3-4) vs. Brewer Witches (3-4), 7 p.m. Friday, Doyle Field, Brewer: This matchup between the defending state champion Witches and perennial power Lions is essentially an elimination game. The winner moves on to the playoffs, while the loser’s season likely comes to an end.

Four teams advance from the PTC B’s northern division. Winslow is in, and so likely is 4-3 Hampden Academy, which hosts 1-6 Maranacook of Readfield on Friday night. Mount Desert Island, also 4-3, is poised to return to the playoffs for the first time since 1998 with a win at 0-7 Old Town.

That leaves one more spot, one both the Lions and Witches covet.

Belfast already has answered the must-win call once in a 56-22 victory over MDI last Friday night. The Lions feature one of the conference’s top rushing attacks, with senior Travis Lee topping 1,000 yards for the season after a 216-yard, two-touchdown performance against the Trojans. Lee was one of two Belfast ground-gainers to surpass 200 yards last week, as Ricky Bernosky added 206 yards and two TDs.

Despite a 51-6 loss at Winslow last Saturday, Brewer has derived much of its success from its defense.

The Witches will need a strong defensive effort against the Lions, as their young offense has averaged just 11 points per game, fewest in the conference.

Bangor Rams (5-1) vs. Mt. Blue Cougars (3-3), 7 p.m. Friday, Caldwell Field, Farmington: Coming off a bye week, Bangor hopes to get back on the winning track after suffering a 3-0 loss to undefeated Lawrence of Fairfield two weeks ago.

Coach Mark Hackett’s Rams also carry the memory of last year’s 42-0 Homecoming loss to Mt. Blue at Bangor into Friday night’s game, but are armed with the knowledge that if they defeat the Cougars and then handle winless Oxford Hills next weekend, a home playoff game will be in the offing.

“We’re a better team than we were last year, and I hope Mt. Blue isn’t as good as last year,” said Hackett. “It’s their Homecoming, and we hope to return the favor.”

Things are desperate for Mt. Blue, the reigning Eastern Maine Class A champ. A 45-21 loss at Messalonskee of Oakland last Friday night leaves coach Gary Parlin’s club seventh in the latest Crabtree point standings – and only four teams make the playoffs.

“They run the ball and they throw it equally effectively,” said Hackett of Mt. Blue’s offense. “And they always play us tough.”

Mattanawcook Academy Lynx (4-3) at Rockland Tigers (5-2), 7 p.m. Friday, Wasgatt Field, Rockland: Mattanawcook enhanced its LTC Class C playoff hopes with a victory over John Bapst of Bangor last weekend, and would take another step toward returning to postseason play with a win against the Tigers.

The Lynx’ backfield tandem of Brady Vose and Steve Braley came up big in the 27-14 win over the Crusaders, combining for 231 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

They worked behind strong line play led by brothers Ian and Nathan Nevells, who shared LTC Player of the Week honors for their efforts on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Rockland is closing in on its first playoff berth since 1988, but likely needs one win in its last two games against MA and Bucksport to take its postseason fortunes out of the hands of the Crabtree point system.

The Tigers were in a similar position last year but lost to both the Lynx and the Golden Bucks to miss the playoffs in a tiebreaker. They will need a big two-way effort Friday night in order to avenge last year’s 51-12 loss to the Lynx.

“They’re big and physical and come right at you and try to wear you down,” said Rockland coach Daryle Weiss. “And as big as they are, we better be ready to play. They’re a good high school football team.”

Rockland should get a boost with the return to the lineup of senior tailback Mike Marsh. One of the conference’s top rushers, Marsh has been sidelined for the last two games with a broken hand.

Foxcroft Academy Ponies (7-0) vs. John Bapst Crusaders (4-3), 7 p.m. Saturday, Cameron Stadium, Bangor: John Bapst faces the toughest test possible as it tries to halt a two-game losing streak.

The Crusaders were quite competitive in a 27-14 loss at Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln last week, locked in a 7-7 tie at intermission and trailing 13-7 entering the fourth quarter before the Lynx pulled away.

John Bapst found some success through the air against MA, with juniors Charlie Merritt and Kyle Gallant combining to pass for 212 yards.

Coach Dan O’Connell’s club will need to have success both passing and from the rushing tandem of Gallant and Nick Smith in order to upend the Ponies.

Reigning Eastern C champion Foxcroft ran its regular-season winning streak to 15 games with a 53-6 victory over Stearns of Millinocket last week.

Coach Paul Withee’s Ponies already are poised to have home-field advantage throughout the regional playoffs, and hope to have starting tailback-safety Brad Bellemare back after he sat out last week’s game with a shoulder injury.

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