This Friday night’s Dirigo/Livermore Falls contest is a hot ticket, even for us ink-stained wretches at the Sun Journal.

Knowing I would have competition from my colleague, Kalle Oakes for this coveted assignment, I started lobbying the boss for the job a couple of weeks ago. I pointed out that through the first four weeks of the season I hadn’t covered a game that finished closer than 20 points.  My trump card was the fact that I had just come off a weekend where I had seen two games with a combined score of 123-8.

It was clear three weeks into the season that the Oct. 9 meeting between the Cougars and the Andies pitted the two best teams in Western C, and I needed to see it just to restore my belief that there was still good competitive football being played in our three-county corner of the state. 

Griffin Field is going to be the place to be tonight, no doubt. There are going to be several other tempting matchups under the lights (Lewiston/Lawrence, Windham/Bonny Eagle, Biddeford/Sanford, Jay/Old Orchard Beach, to name a few), but few will be able to match the intensity of Dirigo/Livermore Falls, which, as my father would say, is going to be a real slobber-knocker. 

Yes, indeed, some slobber will be knocked up on that hill just south of downtown Livermore Falls. You’ve got two undefeated teams. You’ve got the Campbell Conference’s stingiest defense (Dirigo’s) against the highest-scoring offense (Livermore’s). You’ve got the two early favorites for the John Taglienti Award (Western C’s top player) in Dirigo’s Nic Crutchfield and Livermore Falls’ Chandler White. Home field advantage throughout the Western C playoffs is probably at stake.

Yup, it’s going to be a great game. But it is not going to be the game of the year. Not by a longshot. I’ve already seen the game of the year and I’ve taken the liberty of retiring the trophy.

If you were among the 750 or so (I’m terrible at estimating crowds) soaked folks at the Don Gouin Complex last Saturday,  then you know how thrilling the five-overtime instant classic between Edward Little and Oxford Hills was, not just as a roller-coaster football game, but as pure theater. If you weren’t there, you’ll just have to take my word that had you been there, you’d never forget it.

First of all, don’t judge the game by the standings. The teams were a combined 1-7 record going into Oxford Hills’ homecoming, with the Vikings coming off the only win, a 28-7 victory the week before against Mt. Ararat. That snapped a 15-game losing streak. EL, coming off a near story book 2008 campaign, was still looking for its first win of the 2009 season and seemed to have a dark cloud hanging over it caused by injuries and some internal issues.

There were dark clouds everywhere Saturday, and they pretty much guaranteed there would be some sloppy football. The slippery pigskin did hit the turf 11 times (only two of those fumbles were lost). Some of those bobbles altered or interrupted scoring opportunities. The conditions all but destroyed any hope of a passing game, though thankfully neither team went into a conservative shell with its play-calling.

Not surprisingly, the first three quarters of the game moved quickly and had little scoring. Oxford Hills led, 8-6, at the end of the third quarter. No one could have expected that 90 more points were on the horizon, but things were definitely getting tense heading into the fourth quarter.

Every great game needs controversy, and this one had some just two plays into the game. It involved an apparent fumble, a penalty and a ball spot Vikings fans didn’t particularly support. EL scored a touchdown on the next play, putting the Viking faithful on edge almost immediately. Oxford Hills answered with a touchdown of its own before the end of the first quarter, but the bizarre beginning wasn’t forgotten.  

Every great game needs a see-saw element to it at some point. The fourth quarter was like a see-saw with sumo wrestlers seated at each end. Every great game also needs a great finish, and the final minute went from pulse-pounding — from Teven Colon’s 37-yard run to put EL ahead to Matt Verrier’s pinball-like escape from pressure and desperation pass to a leaping Eli Dolloff in the end zone that tied it with no time left — to pulse-stopping (a penalty flag left the final play in doubt until officials indicated it was against EL). The Eddies, who at that moment were saying “Oh, God, you’ve got to be kidding me,” as coach Darren Hartley put it, somehow picked themselves up long enough to block what would have been the game-winning extra point.

The crazy fourth quarter ensured that both teams would be spent for overtime. Neither could stop the other from scoring, and had it not been for the slick, pointed end of the football slipping through the fingers of an exhausted Oxford Hills running back, they might still be playing today.

Edward Little celebrated as if it had just won the state championship. Oxford Hills watched in disbelief, as teams that lose a state championship on the last play always do. That was all that separated the two teams at the end of the day, regardless of what the scoreboard read (56-48, if you hadn’t heard). There was no goat. There were countless heroes beyond the guys who piled up the yards and scored the touchdowns.

Of course, it wasn’t a state championship game or a clash of unbeatens. It wasn’t a “Game of the Week” with the requisite pre-game hype. Unlike Griffin Field, which will probably be crawling with us media goons Friday night, there was only one TV news camera and a couple of print reporters there to chronicle it. And unlike Friday night’s game, it will be remembered by
no more than 1,500 people who saw it in person or listened to it on the
local radio station.

The game wasn’t pretty or glamorous. What it was was two teams who may or may not be playing into November pouring their guts out on a wet and gloomy October afternoon. It was individuals going beyond their pre-conceived physical and emotional limitations in order to make one more play.

It was the essence of high school football, and I doubt Dirigo and Livermore Falls will be able to top it. I’m sure they will try, though, which is why I can’t wait for Friday night.

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