Dirigo’s Cooper Chiasson runs the ball down the field as Winthrop’s Andrew Pazdziorko comes in on the left and Cameron Gaghan comes in from the right. Dirigo’s Ethan Bryant attempts to clear the path during last season’s Class D semifinal in Winthrop.
The Dirigo/Mountain Valley rivalry permeates all corners of the western foothills and has been played out through the years on baseball and softball fields, soccer pitches and basketball courts. But it has never been played out on a gridiron, at least in a way that counts in the standings.
Harlow Park will be buzzing at 7 p.m. as Dirigo hosts the first regular-season meeting of the two schools. After years of being separated by class, the Cougars and Falcons are now together in Class D South thanks to the realignment of Maine’s high school football classes.
Dirigo vs. Mountain Valley is always intense, no matter where it plays out. But it’s not exactly Hatfields vs. McCoys. Many of the players are friends and were even teammates on the gridiron in AYF. Add in the coaching staffs, led by Jim Hersom and Dirigo and Pat Mooney at Mountain Valley, and the level of respect between the teams won’t be matched on a football field this fall.
Beyond the emotional trappings and bragging rights of the rivalry, Friday night’s game could be vital to each team’s playoff prospects in what many think will be a very deep and tough division.
Both teams have reason to believe they will be major factors in the playoff hunt after coming off of strong 2016 seasons. The Falcons posted their best record since 2011 and made the playoffs in Class C South, and they have many key contributors back on a roster loaded with three- and four-year starters.
Most of that experience is back on the line, and the Falcons are banking on winning games by winning the trenches. Seniors Ian Brennick and Hunter Ames lead the front, and will pave the way for a largely revamped backfield that includes senior Cameron Payne and juniors Jacob Blanchard, Avery Bradeen and Ethan Laubauskas.
The Cougars have the bulk of their starters back from a 5-4 season that included a trip to the regional semifinals. Much of the line that powered their ball control offense is back, including seniors Jon Wainwright, Dalton Berry and Quentin Penley. The backfield is mostly intact, too, featuring senior Cooper Chiasson, one of the top running backs in the league, and QB Luke Lueders, who could get more chances to throw the ball with a year of varsity experience under his belt.
Both defenses have the toughness to match up physically with the opposing offense. Ames, Brennick and fellow seniors Curtis Gauvin and Nathan White set the tone for Mountain Valley. Dirigo counters with a strong, experienced front of its own led by Chiasson, senior Cam Turner and junior Alex Gorham.
It all sets up for what should be a memorable night in Dixfield. If you plan on going, get there early.
Mountain Valley running back Elijah Turner (16) pulls away for a 60-yard touchdown run against Freeport at Pownal Recreation Field last season. Mountain Valley earned a 42-7 Class C South win.