BIDDEFORD — With the Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl having been played at Waterhouse Field since the second installment of the game, the West team has had somewhat of a homefield advantage in the series.

The West squad won the first nine games, 12 of the first 13, and 14 of the first 16. In the all-time series, the West has a commanding 17-7 advantage.

But recent times have not been so kind to the West, which has lost the last two, four of the previous six, and six of the last nine contests.

Last year’s game wasn’t particularly close, as the East coasted to a 32-13 victory.

The side that used to walk onto the Waterhouse Field with a comfortable sense of impending victory would like to get back to that winning way this year.

And thankfully for the West, all the pieces are there for an 18th victory in the 26th edition of the Lobster Bowl.

It starts with the head coach, as Leavitt’s Mike Hathaway was given the reins to the West squad for this year’s game. He’s a coach that is used to winning, as he has taken his Hornets to the state title game in five of the last six years, winning twice.

Wells’ Chris Carney, whose Warrior team lost to Hathaway’s Leavitt squad in the Western Maine Class C final last fall, said that believing in Hathaway’s message is one way that the West can be successful.

“Do whatever he says,” Carney said of Hathaway.

The West will run Hathaway’s spread offense, which Carney said will hopefully mean more points than the 13 the West has scored in each of the past two Lobster Bowls.

“I think we got a good offense. We got a lot of quick players, fast players, big linemen,” said Carney.

In addition to Carney, a running back who was a Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist, the West boasts Fitzpatrick-winning running back Brett Gerry of Marshwood and Fitzpatrick semifinalist Kyle Flaherty, a running back from Oak Hill.

Carney said being in the backfield with those two was surreal on the first day of training camp at Foxcroft Academy this week.

“They’re amazing players. Outstanding. Flaherty is fast, Gerry is a power runner. It is like a dream team,” said Carney.

The West offense also features two quarterbacks with differing skill sets. Bonny Eagle’s Zach Dubiel is a dual threat who can run just as well as he passes. Falmouth’s Noah Nelson is a more conventional quarterback who can stretch the field with his arm. Both will have a large stable of receivers to throw the ball to.

The West skill players on offense will have a mammoth offensive line to block for it. The nine West linemen average 240 pounds, and include Thornton Academy’s D’Andre Morgan and Ben Zuke, Sanford’s Dakota Chapman and Kennebunk’s Jake Boothby.

The West will also look to be strong on defense, as it tries to slow down an East attack that has averaged 27 points in the last three contests. Old Orchard Beach’s Bryan Roberts, who will play middle linebacker in the game, thinks the West defense can lower that number this time around.

“I think our defense is the anchor of our team,” said Roberts. “I think we got a solid defense right here, and I think that we’re going to definitely be able to put up a fight against their offense.”

The East attack features Cheverus running back Joe Fitzpatrick, a Fitzpatrick finalist, and Winslow running back Dylan Hapworth, who had a record-setting day in last fall’s Class C state championship. The East also has a trio of capable quarterbacks in Bucksport’s Matt Stewart, Winslow’s Bobby Chenard and Cony’s Mitchell Caron.

In addition to Roberts, two other local players will take snaps on the West defense, as Biddeford’s Capen Macomber and Thornton’s Jimmy Remmes will line up at defensive end.

The West will once again have homefield advantage in the Lobster Bowl, but will need more than just crowd noise in its favor if it wants to get back to its dominant winning ways. The eight local players in today’s contest could all have something to say in walking out of Waterhouse Field with a win in front of their friends and family.

Players’ perspective

While winning would be good feeling for the West, much of the talk by local players at media day was about something other than the outcome.

The game, as always, is a fundraiser for Shriners Hospitals for Children. Each player has to raise money to play in the game, and ticket sales also go to the Shriners.

The fundraising aspect of the Lobster Bowl isn’t forgotten by the players.

Chapman, Morgan and others mentioned the fundraising aspect and its importance when asked about winning the game. They all admitted the outcome is secondary.

Carney insisted that the kids who the Shriners Hospitals serve are the primary focus for the game.

“It is about winning, but there’s also another reason ”“ it’s about the kids, it’s about raising money. The biggest thing is about the kids. I’m out here working for the kids,” said Carney. “It’s a whole different perspective. We’re out here to win, we’re out here to have fun. But in the long run there’s no winners and there’s no losers in this game. In my eyes there’s no winner and loser, it’s just for the kids. The kids win. I hope my money is going to benefit some kid.”

Carney is no stranger to raising money for charity and playing for something other than a win.

“We did a lot for the Wounded Warrior Project. It taught us that there’s people out there that every day, they lose a limb, or every day they can’t get out, they can’t function the way we do, and we’re so privileged to be out here doing that kind of stuff. To give back to them, to raise money, is the least we can do,” said Carney. “I’ll bust my tail for the guy that goes in today and needs a new arm, or needs a new hip. I’m going to bust my tail to raise money and I’m going to work hard for that guy, because he doesn’t have the privilege and I do.”

The slogan for the Lobster Bowl is “Strong Legs Run ”¦ So That Weak Legs May Walk.” That sentiment has become more than a slogan for the local players and their Lobster Bowl teammates. It’s become a rallying cry.

— Sports Staff Writer Wil Kramlich can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 323 or [email protected]

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