Twelve steps through the learning process of the high school football playoffs to date, one for each surviving team:

1. You don’t want Mountain Valley having a second chance to beat you. Are you listening, Cape Elizabeth? The Falcons have avenged their last two regular-season defeats on the road in the playoffs: The Capers (2007 Western Class B final) and York (last week’s regional semifinal).

The nucleus of Mountain Valley’s coaching staff has been together for 21 seasons. It has guided the Falcons through more playoff confrontations than half the current teams in Western B have seen total games, period, in their history. And no community plays the underdog card more effectively than Rumford/Mexico. Mountain Valley eats up, lives and breathes the sociology of “The Rivals” phenomenon. The Falcons live for this time of year. Do not fall asleep on them. Do I make myself clear?

2. Don’t throw the ball against Dirigo. Well, unless you’re desperate or just plain stupid. The way the Cougars play defense, there’s really no discernible difference between a safety, a linebacker and a defensive end. Nic Crutchfield, Alex Miele, Spencer Ross, Kyle Hutchinson, Mason Cote, Arik Fenstermacher and Jake Dowland are an embarrassment of riches for a Class C defensive coordinator. 

If one of those guys doesn’t blindside your quarterback and jar the ball out of his hands, another will go duck hunting and run back an interception for six points. Seven, actually, because the Cougars also have the best kicker in the conference. And all this chatter about Yarmouth being “the hottest team in the league” and having the speed to match Dirigo is only making the home team mad enough to eat silverware.

3. Better have a Plan ‘B.’ Thornton Academy outscored its Western Class A opponents by a zillion points this season. Then two-way Fitzpatrick Trophy contender Steve Trask tried to make a first-quarter tackle against Cheverus and spent the rest of Saturday afternoon developing a new appreciation for smelling salts. Cheverus rolled over the touted Trojans.

It doesn’t matter what round of the playoffs or what class you’re in. You need a second horse to complete the daily double. And your team’s championship hopes are only as strong as your backup quarterback or tailback.

4. Josh Strickland belongs in the pantheon of all-time Leavitt running backs. When the Hornets won two Class B titles in four years during the eclectic 1990s, the common denominator was a tailback for the ages. Jimmy Ray (1995) was enormously gifted. He might have rushed for 3,500 yards that year if the Hornets didn’t lead every game 35-0 by the time the referees broke up the coin flip. Jeff Dube (1998) was tireless, true grit.

Strickland provides the best of both worlds. We already knew he was explosive. Last Friday night’s 265-yard tour de force against Hampden obliterated any questions about his durability. Good luck tackling him, too.

5. Playing Brunswick at this time of year isn’t much fun. The Dragons’ program was given up for dead in the mid-1990s, seemingly a victim of the mid-coast’s enormous soccer program and the ever-changing status of the nearby naval base. But Dick Leavitt’s tenure brought an intensity that had been sorely lacking, punctuated by an Eastern Maine championship.

Dan Cooper has proven himself the ideal keeper of that flame. Now Brunswick is playing for another Pine Tree Conference crown at the scene of the last crime, Bangor’s Cameron Stadium. The Dragons have a knack for playing their best football in October and November. Count them out at your peril.

6. Excellence is hard to sustain. No matter how many trophies overflow your case or how gigantic your feeder system, dominance eventually takes a holiday. Bonny Eagle, Lawrence and Winthrop will be heard from again. But not this weekend. In a related story …

7. Winthrop is the morning-line favorite to win the Western Class C title. The Ramblers are junior-dominated, and they played the second half of a lost cause at Dirigo last Saturday with a fire that told me all I needed to know.

8. Leavitt should move its craft fair back to Veterans’ Day, even when it falls on a Wednesday. Just sayin’.

9. Far-flung conferences create awkward, all-star officiating crews. I know it’s a necessary evil when, say, Leavitt plays Hampden. But just as the strike zone might differ by a millimeter or two from the American to National League, points of emphasis and points of view vary from one regional board to the next.

10. Canceling a fan bus due to H1N1 is alarmist and kneejerk, at best. What, are you planning to stay locked in your basement from now until May?

11. Football is the only sport for which regional playoff games feature smaller crowds than the regular season. Blame it on cold Friday nights and deer on Saturdays, I guess. But it doesn’t say much about fan commitment.

12. Super Saturday has spoiled me. I wanted Mountain Valley to play Friday night, Dirigo to kick off Saturday at high noon and Leavitt to lace ’em up Saturday night. Instead, I get one trip to Dixfield with a fully charged cell phone. Darn it.

Good luck to all!

Kalle Oakes is a staff columnist. He’s been covering high school football so long that he actually believes Foxcroft’s field is named after him.


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