Brewer's Zach Steiger (left) takes down Greely's Nolan Anderson during their football game at Doyle Field in Brewer in this Sept. 22, 2017, file photo. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

Class B North may rank among the more balanced divisions in Maine high school football this season.

Defending regional champion Skowhegan returns one of the state’s top playmakers in senior quarterback Marcus Christopher, who passed for 3,089 yards with 39 touchdowns and just five interceptions last fall.

Lawrence of Fairfield graduated a three-year starter at quarterback in Braden Ballard but returns considerable experience elsewhere throughout its lineup. Brunswick, which lost its first six games last fall before rallying to reach the B North semifinals, also features a bevy of returning veterans, including junior 1,200-yard rusher Owen Richardson.

And not to be overlooked are the Brewer Witches, who have gone 22-9 over the past three years with trips to the regional title game in 2015 and 2016, and a berth in the B North semifinals last fall.

“Class B North is the same every year,” said fifth-year Brewer head coach Nick Arthers. “It doesn’t matter what happens during the regular season, every team is going to be right there, and it’s which team that come playoff time is playing the best football.”

Brewer not only has had considerable team success under Arthers but also has produced some prodigious individual talent, with three recent graduates — linemen Austin Lufkin and Garrett Graham, and running back/linebacker Ray Wood — earning Division I college opportunities.

“The last two years we’ve lost three Division I athletes, and it’s always tough when that happens,” Arthers said. “We have some really good freshmen and sophomore numbers this year, which makes us a little young, but we also have a lot of guys who have been in backup roles and are really looking to step up.”

Credit: Ashley L. Conti

Brewer features another top all-around athlete in senior tight end/defensive end Jacob McCluskey, a fourth-year starter who earned All-Class B North first-team honors on both offense and defense in 2017.

Other key players on the 49-player roster include senior Andrew Kiley, who has shifted from fullback to halfback, and classmate Brandon Glidden, now the starting quarterback after playing wingback last fall.

Senior Zach Steiger anchors the middle of the offense and defense at center and middle linebacker, while junior Ethan Hayes, a transfer from Old Town, also could be a contributor at running back and linebacker.

“You never know this early on,” said Arthers, whose team opens its regular season Friday night with a crossover game against tradition-laden Class B South team Biddeford at Doyle Field in Brewer.

“But you always want to go into each season thinking you’re going to have a chance. With this group, they’re a bunch of competitors, and I think in the upcoming weeks we’ll find out a lot about ourselves, but I think these guys are primed to try to take it to the next level.”

While Brewer seeks to maintain its status as a Class B North contender, Hampden Academy will endeavor to move up the rankings after enduring a winless season last fall.

“We’ve made some progress,” second-year head coach Shane Rogers said. “I expect our offense to be a lot better. I expect our defense to be better. I just think overall we’re a better football team.”

One area of growth for the Broncos is in sheer numbers. The roster has 47 players compared to 28 last fall, and while just six of the returning players are seniors, Rogers believes he will field a much more prepared club this season.

“I think we’re in a spot now where they know what to expect and I know what to expect,” he said. “It just feels like it’s really coming together.”

Hampden, which travels to Class B South Westbrook for its 2018 opener Friday night, will be led by its four captains — senior lineman Luke Kelley, senior running back/defensive back Brady Lobdell, senior tight end/defensive end Kent Oliver and junior lineman Troy Spencer. Junior Will Hodgdon opens the season as the returning starter at quarterback.

The Broncos also should get a boost from two first-year football-playing seniors better known for their exploits on the basketball court for Hampden in wide receiver/defensive backs Kory Winch and Mikey Raye.

“They’ve given us such a lift at the receiver position,” Rogers said. “They’ve given us a lift because they know how to win, they know how to practice, they know how to carry themselves. They’ve played football before but are just getting back into things. I think they can help take us to where we need to go.”

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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...