The Bangor High football team typically has emerged victorious in its meetings with Messalonskee of Oakland — including last year when the Rams had six touchdown runs of 31 yards or longer en route to a season-opening 54-18 win.

But that doesn’t make Bangor coach Mark Hackett any more relaxed this week as the Rams prepared to open its 2008 season Friday night on the road against the Eagles.

“We’ve always struggled to beat them,” said Hackett. “Maybe the score didn’t show that last year, but we never did stop their fullback last year.”

Bangor will field a much different look this fall than a year ago, when the Rams finished 8-2 and fell to Lawrence of Fairfield in the Eastern Maine Class A championship game for the second straight year.

When Bangor played Messalonskee last year, the Rams were using the wing-T offense. This year, they’re back in the I-formation.

“We have a newer offense, and the kids are learning really fast,” said Bangor senior running back Adam Billings. “Once they have all the plays in the back of their head they won’t have to think about them any more and they can just start hitting.

Using the phrase “kids” to describe the Bangor roster isn’t inappropriate, for while Bangor had a veteran nucleus of three-year starters to lead the way in 2007, just three starters return this fall — two-way lineman Jory Tracy, running back Billings and linebacker Steven Seccareccia.

“I’m hoping that these guys are so inexperienced that they do exactly what we tell them to do,” said Hackett, whose team defeated Oxford Hills of South Paris 59-0 in an exhibition game last Saturday. “So far they’ve been pretty willing to do what we’ve asked of them.”

Messalonskee, on the other hand, has few secrets. Coach Wes Littlefield’s Eagles, who finished 2-6 last fall, has a solid corps of returning players from last year, players familiar with running the team’s double-wing offense, a ball-control attack that features tight splits at the line of scrimmage and plenty of deception and misdirection in the backfield.

“They’re going to control the clock because they always do a good job of that,” said Hackett, whose team yielded 301 yards to the Eagles in last year’s game. “We’ve just got to take advantage when we get the ball.”

Bangor will turn the quarterbacking reins over to Joe Seccareccia, a 6-foot-5 sophomore up from the freshman team. Billings, speedy Lonnie Hackett and quarterback-turned-fullback Brian Higgins will work in the backfield, while Pembroke, rangy Nate Henigan and sophomore tight end Josiah Hartley are the primary receivers.

Messalonskee is led by junior quarterback Dylan Foster, who saw some duty last fall when injuries depleted the Eagles’ depth at that position. Matt Stewart, Andy Breton and Andy Nutter form the running back corps, while Chris Pelletier is a veteran presence at tight end and in the defensive secondary.

Kyle Grover, a third-year starter, anchors the offensive and defensive lines at tackle, while linebacker Eric Caron also is starting for the third year.

“We’re playing over there, and they play with a lot of pride,” said Hackett. “They’re a gritty team, they’re tough, their coaches are tough and they’ve built their program on toughness.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...