Oct. 30—Old Orchard Beach looks more than ready to defend its Small School 8-man football state title after running to an undefeated regular season, but if the Seagulls avoid an upset in Friday's South regional semifinal against Sacopee Valley they will match up with a battle-tested team in the South final.
Who that team is will be determined after a couple determined teams, second-seeded Dirigo and third-seeded Maranacook, on the field at Harlow Park in Dixfield on Tuesday at 7 p.m. The game was originally scheduled for last Friday night but was postponed due to last week's shootings in Lewiston.
Both teams lost to top-seeded Old Orchard Beach during the regular season (Dirigo 54-0, Maranacook 66-19), and their regular-season matchup against each other is why the Cougars earned homefield advantage for the playoff rematch.
Dirigo (7-1) won that game — also in Dixfield — 28-22 on Sept. 29, and first-year Maranacook (6-2) coach Skip Bessey said it would be an understatement to say the Black Bears are hungry for the rematch.
"I had a really hard time that night seeing things that we should have been able to exploit and we just didn't execute at all," Bessey said. "I have watched that game and the OOB-Dirigo game a lot with the team and have spent time on the whiteboard. Then getting on the field to put the things in. The players, as well as the staff and parents, are all more ready than ever."
Dirigo coach Craig Collins said the Cougars didn't turn the ball over and they took advantage of field position in the regular-season meeting.
The win allowed the Cougars, who were 3-1 and had already lost to Old Orchard Beach heading into the Week 5 game against Maranacook, to gain "confidence that we could play with the top teams in the region," Collins said.
Dirigo was able to score in all three phases of the game against Maranacook, with Owen Smith's 80-yard kickoff return for a touchdown tying the game 8-8 in the first quarter, freshman Hudson Lufkin's touchdown run giving the Cougars a brief lead in the second quarter, and Dakota White's fumble recovery for a touchdown in the third quarter putting Dirigo ahead for good. Lufkin's second touchdown run made it a two-score game before Black Bears quarterback Kody Goucher threw his third touchdown pass of the game in the fourth.
Collins said the Dirigo defense will need to make sure it lines up correctly and tackles as a team in Friday's rematch. The offense will look to stay out of second- and third-and-long situations.
That will be tough against a Maranacook defense that Collins said runs to the ball and tackles very well. And the Maranacook offense puts extreme pressure on opposing defenses with its ability to run and throw the ball equally well. Robbie Vivenzio is a favorite target of Goucher's, the duo connecting on three TD passes in the regular season meeting with Dirigo.
Bessey's believes that Goucher is a top-tier quarterback with great decision-making ability. Running back Owen Dunn — who also plays defensive end on defense — might be, in Bessey's eyes, the front-runner for Small South player of the year.
The Black Bears will need both to be effective Tuesday night.
"We need to be multi-dimensional. A lot of teams tend to run, run, run. We can do that, but I feel that to achieve long-term success you need to also pass," Bessey said. "I also believe that if our guys do their job up front, we will be very hard to beat."
Bessey also said that the Maranacook defense will need to be physical and beat Dirigo at the point-of-attack against a Cougars offense that blocks well despite not being very big.
This will be the third straight year that these two program face in the playoffs. Maranacook won 50-7 in Dixfield in 2021, and the Cougars exacted revenge, 26-20, in Readfield last year before falling to Old Orchard Beach in the regional final.
"I kind of expect the same type of game that we played the last three times we played. Two teams playing hard for 48 minutes," Collins said. "As for an advantage playing at home, I don't think there is a huge advantage. Maybe a small advantage because don't have to get on a bus and travel. Once the game starts, it's about who executes the best in the game."
Week 9 high school football staff predictions
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