SACO — Maybe it was the venue shift across the Saco River to Thornton Academy.

More likely it had to do with a determined emphasis by the West coaching staff. Either way, the West defense showed up Saturday at the 28th Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic after giving up a record 58 points in last year’s loss at Biddeford’s Waterhouse Field.

Behind its defensive effort, particularly in the first half when it held the East to 78 yards and no points, the West won 55-18 in front of a Hill Stadium crowd in excess of 3,800.

The West had the better defense from the outset, making catches difficult, passing windows small for the acclaimed East quarterback tandem of Garrett McSweeney (Skowhegan) and Taylor Heath (Cony), and even getting a 35-yard interception return for a score by Traip Academy’s Angelo Succi that pushed the West lead to 19-0.

“I read the quarterback, I saw him looking my way, and I had a good feeling the ball might be coming my way,” Succi said. “The coach had a great call because we had been pressing them hard in man coverage and we went back to a cover two that allowed me to sit right there and make the pick.”

Rob Dacey of Deering and Finn Zechman of South Portland also picked off passes, and other defensive backs – including the Wells tandem of Riley Dempsey and Owen Berry and Biddeford’s Patrick Pearl – also made plays, holding Heath (8 of 18, 78 yards, 1 TD, 1 interception) and McSweeney (11 of 24, 161 yards 1 TD, 2 interceptions) in check.

“The work we put in during the week with our defensive backs and the rest of our defense, it showed,” said Dacey, who also had three pass breakups.

“When we put this team together, from past experience, I said we’re going to pay attention to the defensive side of the ball and make sure we have talented guys,” said West Coach Mike Fallon of Sanford.

Robert Hetherman scored a second defensive touchdown for the West when he covered a high punt snap that rolled into the end zone to push the lead to 41-6 midway through the third quarter. McSweeney, the punter, tried to block the path of Hetherman, a three-time state wrestling champ.

“I saw him and I just laid him out, and then I saw the ball, and this was my opportunity to score in the Lobster Bowl,” Hetherman said. “It was a one in a million shot and I’m so happy I got it.”
Conversely, the West’s passing attack worked all game long.

In the first half, West MVP Cam Day of Bonny Eagle (10 of 16, 138 yards, 2 TD passes, one TD rushing) hit quick hitches that players like Ben Ekedahl (Cape Elizabeth) and Ethan Belanger (Sanford) turned into good gains. He threw a 9-yard pass to Steven Gilbert (Oak Hill) on the game’s first possession and a 15-yard touchdown strike to Ekedahl (five catches, 137 yards).

In the third quarter, Sanford’s Frankie Veino (7 of 12, 153 yards, 3 TDs) went deep with two beautiful balls that dropped right into the hands of Tyler Halls (Lisbon) for a 30-yard score and Ekedahl for a 67-yard TD. Veino also had a 4-yard touchdown pass to Halls in the first half.

“He’s a great receiver, big target, quick,” Veino said of Ekedahl.

The Veino to Ekedahl TD came right after a McSweeney pass tipped off both receiver Justin Villone (Washington Academy) and Zechman, then was caught by Mt. View’s Colby Furrow, who motored for a 76-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 41-18 with 2:04 left in the third quarter.

Portland’s Nick Archambault was the East MVP for his efforts at linebacker, particularly when he stepped in front of a short pass by Day and ran it back 90 yards with 5.1 seconds left in the second quarter to give the East its only first-half points. The West led 26-6 at halftime.