Dirigo’s Jack Lavorgna celebrates after recovering a fumble he caused during the first half against Gray New-Gloucester earlier this season. (Sun Journal file photo)
Seventeen tackles, two sacks and a blocked punt.
That’s what Jack Lavorgna did on just defense last Friday in a playoff win over Maranacook. On offense, the senior captain played the guard position the entire game, all the way through the game-winning field goal by Dallas Berry.
Lavorgna has played both sides of the ball all season for the 8-1 Dirigo Cougars, who will travel to face Freeport in the Class E championship game Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
To be such a huge part of the success of Dirigo this fall, there had to be a mindset shift after last year’s 3-5 campaign. That included Lavorgna needing to play both offense and defense.
“Last season we had a lot of ups and downs, that’s for sure, but this season me and my co-captain Alex (Gorham) said we needed to buckle down and grind this season,” Lavorgna said. “We need to get something done because it’s our last season as a Cougar and I don’t want it to be something I regret. I want to go out with a bang.”
After last season’s below-average record, head coach Jim Herson went to his captains and talked about what needed to be done to right the ship.
“I met with Alex and Jack in the offseason and I said, ‘OK, what are some things you want to do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?’” Hersom said. “So, I really think the kids have taken a hold of, ‘Let’s get back to what we do and play good football.’ I think we’ve had good buy-in from the younger kids, and I think it all starts with the seniors.”
Lavorgna has started for Dirigo the past three seasons, and his importance to the team has grown each year. With this being his senior season, Lavorgna has become a leader on and off the playing field.
“He’s matured into this leadership role and has earned everything he’s gotten this year,” assistant coach Chris Whitney said. “He’s been working hard in the offseason, bringing kids in and building up our program. He’s the guy we lean on to make plays.”
The younger players on the team have excelled this season because opposing offenses focus so much on stopping Lavorgna getting to the quarterback. Hersom cannot remember the exact number, but said that Lavorgna has the school sack record with more than 30 in his career.
“We have a bend-but-don’t-break kind of defense that we want to take away what the other team does best. And Jack is at the forefront of our game plans against the other teams because we know offensive teams are going to go at him, so we try to give him the best possible opportunity to make plays on defense,” Whitney said.
While opponents always know where Lavorgna is on the field, sometimes they have mental lapses. And when they do, Lavorgna often makes them pay. Against Maranacook in Dirigo’s Class E semifinal, Lavorgna broke through the line to block a punt. For the senior, it was easy.
“They’re stacking the right side of the line and it looked like two freshmen little kids in front of me, so I’m like, ‘This is easy for me,’” Lavorgna said. “I just went through the line and blocked it. It was a piece of cake. It turned the momentum, the fans were going crazy and it felt great, one of the best moments of my life.”
Those types of moments are what Lavorgna envisioned for his senior season. He has spent a considerable amount of time in the gym, which has helped his endurance as the season heads deep into November. His first three seasons at Dirigo were different stories.
“First year, we lost to Lisbon,” Lavorgna said. “We got sluggish at the end of the season and didn’t really want to play football. This year we bought in and wanted to play for a championship and we aren’t going to take a play off.”
This proved itself last Friday against Maranacook. The game was tied late and energy levels were depleted. Lavorgna’s leadership qualities came into play, and the team finished strong.
“It’s just our mindset,” Lavorgna said. “We were sluggish and tired at the end of it because we played so hard in the first half. Then I looked over at my teammates and said, ‘We need to finish this game off and go into this championship and give it all these last couple minutes.’”
As for the Class E title game against Freeport, Hersom knows what Falcons brings to the table, Dirigon having lost to them at the end of September.
With Freeport’s many playmakers, a huge burden will fall onto the shoulders of Lavorgna one more time.
“With this opponent, they’ve got some good players and some good athletes,” Hersom said. “For us, I think defensively we don’t want to give up the big play. The first time around we gave up three big plays. If we can keep them under wraps, I think (we’re) going to be OK.”
Lavorgna knows that he needs to perform Saturday. All the ups and downs of the past four seasons and a new-found focus on the goal this year has prepared him for this moment.
“Freeport is gonna come out and give us everything they’ve got,” Lavorgna said. “What wins us football games is our defense. … It’s really just a mindset that I need to play most, or all, the snaps in order for us to be successful and go ahead in the season. That’s what my co-captains have done, we said, ‘This is our season, we need to get to this game as much as possible.’ It’s just buying in mentally.”
Jack Lavorgna, right, and Dalton Berry Dirigo High School stop Ethan Laubauskas of Mountain Valley in Dixfield last season. (Sun Journal file photo)