High school football fans had mixed feelings about the consolidation of Jay and Livermore Falls in 2011.
One major positive out of the school merger, in gridiron terms, was the idea that the communities would face Mountain Valley again after more than a decade in different divisions.
Someday, maybe even in the next year or two, that arrangement will pay dividends, in the form of a collision of two programs on equal footing. So far, though, Spruce Mountain-Mountain Valley has been a better rivalry on a map than on grass.
The teams will meet for the sixth time Friday night, with No. 7 Mountain Valley (2-6) traveling to No. 2 Spruce Mountain (7-1) for a Class C West quarterfinal at Griffin Field in Livermore Falls.
Only one previous showdown in the series has been close. The Falcons spotted the Phoenix an early lead before rallying to 24-13 home win in 2012.
In Spruce Mountain’s initial season, Mountain Valley won the regular-season game and playoff rematch by a tally of 92-0. The Phoenix finally celebrated with a 45-8 rout in 2013 and coasted 46-12 when the teams met six weeks ago.
Spruce Mountain quarterback Peter Theriault threw for three touchdowns and ran for another in the previous win. Mountain Valley scored both its touchdowns with short drives after fumble recoveries.
That last detail is a refrain that Phoenix coach Walter Polky hopes his team won’t repeat in the playoffs. Three turnovers and a fistful of overturned big plays burned Spruce Mountain in a 28-14 loss to Leavitt last week that cost the Phoenix home-field advantage throughout the regional playoffs.
“We have to execute in the big moments,” Polky said. “We can’t have penalties on long runs. We can’t throw interceptions before the half.”
The Phoenix are explosive and balanced offensively.
Matt Vigue is arguably the most dangerous all-purpose back in the conference. Theriault is adept at running the option and throwing deep to Vigue, Deonte Ring and Dalton Webster.
Dillon Webster and Andrew Darling’s emergence this season has further strengthened the Phoenix’s running game behind an offensive line led by seniors Anthony York, Dylan Smith, Denton Bilodeau and Luke Greenwood.
“I was very happy (against Leavitt) that we established running the ball in the middle,” Polky said.
Mountain Valley is coming off its best defensive game of the season in a 21-0 loss to Cape Elizabeth.
The Falcons beat Lake Region and Gray-New Gloucester and lost to Freeport in overtime. Quarterback Ian Austin, end Caleb Gauvin and running back Logan Wilhoite headline an offense that took a hit when sophomore Kyle Farrar was dismissed from the team.
If Spruce Mountain can bounce back from the bitter disappointment of last week, a playoff run and regional and state titles remain within reach.
“That’s the maturation process of our kids,” Polky said. “We’ll fix it. We’ll watch the tape and make the corrections. The effort was unbelievable.”