Wells High Coach Tim Roche said he, like most coaches, really doesn’t like it when his team is labeled as the preseason favorite.

But with eight returning starters on both sides of the ball after consecutive trips to the Class C regional final, Roche understands.

“If I was looking at another team and knew they’d only graduated four seniors I’d be saying the same thing,” he said. “We have 18 seniors that are all capable of playing. I think we’re very athletic. In 2011, people anointed us as a favorite and it worked out OK.”

Wells won the Class B state title that season.

“The kids are excited, the people in town are excited, and that’s OK,” Roche said.

Owen Berry returns at quarterback to direct Wells’ run-oriented offense, with Evan Whitten and Riley Dempsey back as featured backs.

“Wells is definitely the team to beat in my opinion,” said Jason Veilleux, coach of defending Class C South champ Yarmouth.

The Clippers are thin, with four seniors on a roster hovering around 30 players. One key returnee is talented quarterback John Thoma.

Cape Elizabeth also has eight returning starters on both sides and is the team with the best chance of derailing Wells. Versatile Ben Ekedahl is back as a two-way player. Ekedahl scored touchdowns as a receiver, on interception returns (twice) and a kickoff return. Brett McAlister is expected to be the primary back behind a solid offensive line.

Spruce Mountain, Fryeburg Academy and Yarmouth are expected to round out the top five.

Poland graduated 14 seniors from a 4-4 squad and has a new head coach in Gene Keene, who replaces Ted Tibbetts. Keene is a former head coach at Noble, Winthrop and most recently Edward Little (1996-2001).

Eight of the 10 Class C South teams will qualify for the playoffs.

In the North, six of the 10 teams make the playoff.

Winslow has won four straight Class C regional titles and the past two state championships. Coach Mike Siviski’s squad graduated Alec Clark, the Gaziano Award winner for his offensive line play and a standout linebacker. But the Black Raiders do return Nate St. Amand, who rushed for 1,400 yards, and are riding a 22-game winning streak.

“Winslow is strong every year,” Veilleux said. “I grew up there and that’s just what you do in that town.”

In Class D, Old Orchard Beach and Traip Academy are both expecting to improve on 2-5 seasons in the South. Three-time defending state champ Oak Hill, Lisbon and Winthrop are still the top programs.

“We’re going to compete with those three teams,” said Old Orchard Coach Dean Plante, who returns quarterback Dylan Boudreau. “On paper, they’re the favorites, and then every team is on the same level playing field.”

Boothbay has dropped varsity football for this season, leaving all South teams with seven-game regular-season schedules and one bye week. Six of the seven playoff-eligible teams will make the playoffs, with the top two receiving a bye (Medomak Valley, a developmental program with a Class B enrollment, is not eligible for the playoffs). The 10 teams in D North will play a nine-game schedule, with four advancing to the playoffs.

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