Football: East triumphs big over West in 29th Lobster Bowl

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SACO—The East – surprisingly, as they weren’t favored – battered the West 40-14 in this year’s Maine Shrine Lobster Bowl Classic, held on Saturday, July 21 at Thornton Academy. The Easterners (clad in red and yellow) held the Westerners (blue and silver) silent for nearly three full quarters, building a 20-0 advantage en route to the triumph.

A number of local athletes earned slots on the game’s rosters: For the West, Arlo Pike, Zach Klein and Connor Sirois (all of Bonny Eagle), as well as Jack Niles (Gorham), and for the East Tanner Bernier, Nate Watson and Marcus Canty (all of Windham).

“Being selected to the Lobster Bowl has always been a goal of mine,” Niles said, asked what it meant to him to make the lineup. “To see my hard work come to fruition with being selected meant a lot to me. I couldn’t think of a better way to end a career than to get to meet guys who are just like you who love football and are excited to put on a show for the fans.”

“Being selected was a huge honor for me,” Pike said. “I always saw pictures of guys from Bonny Eagle that played in it before me and I’m glad I was able to be a part such a great cause.”

The game proceeded – especially at first – as a series of defensive stands by both sides. Not until midway through the second did either squad (the East, of course) manage to get on the board, and when that happened, it happened on a big play: Following a West punt, the East gained short yardage on their first down before QB Braden Ballard (Lawrence) pitched to Jordan Roddy (Cony) and Roddy broke away running.

The net result: a 55-yard play for 6-0.

Come the start of the third, Ballard found Jon Bell (Skowhegan) for another big passing TD, this one an 84-yarder. Shortly thereafter, the East scored again on yet another huge play, Austin Pelletier (Messalonskee) ditching a would-be tackler and dashing 42 yards to make it 18-0. Ryan Fredette (Winslow) then added a two-point conversion run.

“I don’t think much went wrong,” said Pike, asked about his boys’ unexpected defeat. “It was an all-star game and we knew that there was going to be good plays because it’s a game filled with good players.”

Niles figured his boys misstepped mentally in those moments the East slipped free of them. “On big plays, I think it was just a loss of focus,” he said. “Normally, playing in a regular high school football game, talent alone can carry a player. But when you’re playing against the best players in the State, you have to focus on every single play because you never know what will happen.”

Finally, late in the third, the West dug up their first points of the afternoon. The team assembled an 84-yard push – QB Jack Bryant (Falmouth) hit four passes along the way – that culminated in a four-yard Bryant keeper.

The West scored once more – on a 51-yard Bryant pass play to Sean Whalen (Madison) – but the East continued to outpace them, adding three further TDs of their own. QB Grant Hartley (Edward Little) hit Jack Freeman (Oceanside) in the end zone on a 14-yard throw; Garrett Poussard (Lewiston) carried a four-yarder over the goal line; and Vinnie Pasquali (Portland) intercepted a Sirois pass attempt, returning it 48 yards to cap the action.

“No one wants to lose the Lobster Bowl,” Niles said. “However, we all know the point of the game is helping others. ‘Strong legs run so others may walk’ is the mantra of the game, and both sides know that the fundraising and the children are what we’re playing for. Of course when you get a lot of competitive players out there we want to win, but in the end both sides are working for the same thing and that is to help children get better through Shriners hospitals.”

“The charity aspect of the game is huge to everybody involved,” Pike said. “It’s the main focus of the players and coaches, and everybody on the West team knew from day one of camp that the score of the game didn’t matter. What mattered was the fact that children were getting the treatment they needed thanks to our help.”

Easterner Tyler Beem (Dexter) set a new fundraising record, amassing donations totaling $12,322. Beem lost friend and classmate Matt Simpson to cancer the night before the game, and the stadium paused for a moment of silence prior to kickoff.

The Lobster Bowl is also an opportunity for players who’ve only ever competed against one another to finally vie as teammates, as comrades.

“Playing alongside guys from TA, Scarborough, South Portland, Massabesic and Sanford was awesome because I knew they were great athletes,” Pike said. “Playing with guys from Class B, C and D was just as great; everybody knew that they were great football players and the Lobster Bowl was a great way to meet these people and become really good friends with the entire team.”

“It was amazing meeting the players I’ve been rivals with and turning those into friendships,” Niles said. “And finally getting to play with some of the most talented kids I’ve played against was such a great experience. They said, the first day of camp, ‘You’ll make lifelong friends this week,’ and I really think I did.”

Saturday’s contest was the 29th annual Lobster Bowl; the East has taken four of the past six, but the West leads the series overall, 19-10.

Adam Birt can be reached at abirt@keepmecurrent.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Bonny Eagle’s Connor Sirois quarterbacks for the West.

Jack Niles represented for Gorham on the West roster.

Tanner Bernier barrels toward the action, on defense for the East.

Windham’s Marcus Canty collides with a West opponent.

Bonny Eagler Arlo Pike jumps in on a tackle.

Bonny Eagle’s Zach Klein plunges toward the fray.

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