Some thoughts on the final week of the regular season in Classes B and C and the penultimate week in Eastern A:

• No one had Dirigo and Oak Hill playing a winner-take-all game for home field advantage in the final week of the regular season. Both teams were in the “Others receiving votes” category, while Yarmouth, Traip, Maranacook and Winslow dominated the preseason Campbell Conference power rankings.

Yet that’s precisely what the two teams will be doing at a sure-to-be-buzzing Harlow Park on Friday night. Both teams boast 6-1 records (as do Winslow and Traip), but the Cougars currently sit atop of the Crabtree standings by virtue of their wins over Winslow and Traip. They can clinch home field advantage for the playoffs with a win, or the Raiders can leap frog them for that distinction with a road win.

Both teams would love to not have to board a bus from this point on — unless its destination is Portland, of course. But the loser stands to lose as much as the winner stands to gain when the smoke clears Friday.

If Winslow beats Lisbon Saturday (granted, far from a given), chances are whoever loses Friday night will drop back to at least the No. 3 spot in the final Crabtrees and have only one home game on their playoff schedule. It also could face the daunting prospect of a semifinal at Winslow, which, in addition to currently the hottest team in Western C having won five in a row, seems to have an, ahem, distinct home field advantage.

It says here that gaining home field through the playoffs would mean more to Oak Hill. The Raiders are unbeaten at home, Dirigo’s only loss this season, to Maranacook, came at Harlow. The Cougars have played their best football on the road, winning at Winslow and Traip. Also, I have no scientific evidence to back this up, but I believe it’s tougher for teams that play their home games on Saturday afternoons to play on Friday nights than it is for teams accustomed to playing on Friday nights to wait the extra day.

• Lewiston has struggled through a 1-6 rebuilding year, but the Blue Devils can claim to be the best in the state, if not the nation, at kick returns. Quintarian Brown’s 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in last week’s loss to Bangor was their seventh return for a touchdown this season.

A big part of the Devils’ success in the kick game is due to the emerging talents of sophomore returners Brown and Sheon James. But it’s also a tribute to the hard work of the players and ingenuity of the coaches. 

The kick return that Lewiston uses is one assistant coach Dick Leavitt learned while he was head coach at Brunswick. One year at Skip Capone’s Maine High School Football Coaches’ Association clinics, Leavitt listened to a presentation on special teams from then-Army special teams coach John Bonamego, who also coached at the University of Maine and is now special teams coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Leavitt tucked his notes from that clinic away until Lewiston met Bangor for the Pine Tree Conference championship in 2010.

“I took his ‘R2 Breakout’ and tweaked it so that it would work at the high school level for us,” Leavitt said. “The first time we ran it was in that PTC championship game and Jeff Turcotte returned the opening kickoff down to the Bangor 2 yard-line.”

Leavitt said the Devils have run the return successfully a number of times besides the seven that have reached the end zone.

“The kids take a lot of pride in working hard on all of our special teams, but the success we have had with Brown and James taking it all the way a total of seven times has made my job easier,” he said. “The kids have bought into my telling them we have the No. 1 kick return team in the country. (Assistant) coaches (Bruce) Nicholas, Robie Leavitt and (Terry) Jackson have all worked hard on our special teams as well. It has not been an accident that we have had success on this.”

You may be asking yourself why opponents continue to kick to Brown and James, but it should be noted that at least a couple of those touchdowns have been returned on squib kicks or kickoffs where the kicker has deliberately tried to keep the ball out of the hands of the Devils’ top returners. Lewiston does such a  good job of disguising where its returners will be and Brown and James are adept at getting into position to field the kick even when it’s kicked away from them.

• For the second year in a row, Mt. Blue and Leavitt will go into the Pine Tree Conference Class B playoffs the prohibitive favorites to meet in the conference championship. But the Cougars and Hornets know they can’t take anything for granted in their respective regular-season finales this week.

Both teams have very tough, well-coached opponents Friday night, with the Cougars hosting Waterville and the Hornets travelling to Hoch Field to face Gardiner. All the PTC front-runners have to do is look at how much their counterpart had to grind out a victory over their opponents earlier this year. Mt. Blue’s 21-16 win over Gardiner at Hoch wasn’t clinched until Brian Durrell intercepted Dennis Meehan with 56 seconds left. And Waterville hung around throughout its 16-0 loss to Leavitt the following week.

The Cougars and Hornets would be wise to approach their games with a playoff intensity because there is little doubt Waterville and Gardiner will. Each would likely host at least one playoff game with a victory Friday night.

• The other side of Class B offers some interesting, if not as glamorous, matchups. Spruce Mountain and Fryeburg Academy will be locked in what amounts to a play-in game for a spot in the Western B tournament on Saturday in Fryeburg.

Because it played the most difficult schedule in the Campbell Conference, Mountain Valley is in the postseason regardless of the outcome of Friday night’s game with Cape Elizabeth. It’s been a long and trying season for the Falcons and their coaches, and while this meeting of “The Rivals” won’t draw as many cameras as it once did, it will be an emotional night at Chet Bulger Field for both sides.

• Congratulations to Telstar on its first varsity win in 31 years. The Rebels beat Sacopee Valley, 38-0, last week. This is their second varsity season since the program was reborn after folding in the early 1980s.


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