DIXFIELD — Aside from a trick play or an injury-related switch there, not many championship football teams fundamentally change who they are at this time of year.

Almost never will spectators see a regional semifinalist suddenly shift gears from two of the gridiron’s most time-honored offensive attacks to the gadget approach du jour … and actually improve.

But then again, not many schools have the championship tradition of Dirigo, or the luxury of three running backs with such an ideal blend of talents as Tyler Frost, Heath Hersom and Brett Beauchesne.

“We contrast each other really well,” Beauchesne said. “(Frost) runs head down and will run anybody over. (Hersom) is really quick and you never know where’s he going to be. I fight for every yard.”

The difficulties were dividing one football three ways, and getting a full head of steam behind a restructured offensive line that had lost all-Campbell Conference senior Jack Brown to a knee injury.

So with less than a week to spare before its playoff game a week ago at then-undefeated Winthrop/Monmouth, Dirigo and coach Dave Crutchfield took the calculated gamble of putting the Wing-T and Power-I on the shelf. It meant dusting off an approach that’s even older — or cutting-edge, depending on which way you examine it.


It’s the single-wing, more recently popularized as the “wildcat,” thanks to the many college and pro teams that have put at least a limited version of it in their playbook. It involves a direct snap from the center to the running back, who has the option of either throwing or running for his life on every play.

“We’ve been searching for an offense all season. I inherited the Wing-T from Doug Gilbert, and I’m really not a Wing-T guy. I don’t coach it well,” Crutchfield said. “We talked about needing to move the ball and get the ball in our better players’ hands. When Tyler Frost doesn’t touch the ball, we feel it, and at the fullback position it’s hard for him to get the ball.”

As it turned out, the offense that made Pop Warner and Ronnie Brown famous, a century apart, was a perfect fit for the Cougars and their three-headed monster.

While dividing the carries in relatively even numbers, Beauchesne, Frost and Hersom combined for 313 rushing yards, and No. 4 Dirigo stunned No. 1 Winthrop/Monmouth, 22-20, to reach Saturday’s Western D final at Oak Hill in Wales.

“It’s nice to learn something new and incorporate it into our offense,” Hersom said. “It adds another thing to our team that other teams have to prepare for.”

In Dirigo’s conventional set-up, Frost and Hersom emerged as league all-stars this season, while Beauchesne bolstered the backfield as a big-play threat after transferring from next-door Mountain Valley for his senior campaign.


But the Cougars still struggled at times. In games against the other top five teams in the league — Winthrop/Monmouth, Oak Hill, Lisbon, Old Orchard Beach and Maranacook — Dirigo never scored more than two touchdowns in regulation. Counting an overtime victory over OOB in the quarterfinals, the Cougars were only 3-3 against that group prior to last week.

“If you want to block one play, you know the other guy’s going to run just as hard, so it’s a good feeling,” Frost said of the makeover. “It seems like every sport (at Dirigo) the best playing is at the end. It’s everyone knowing that this is when it really counts. It’s not the beginning. It’s the end.”

Without Brown, fellow seniors Joey Hebert at center, guards Julian Baldinelli and Jesse Hutchinson and tackle Dylan Kidder have anchored the offensive line.

Sophomore Clay Swett has successfully converted to tackle, with Kaine Hutchins and Barry Campbell providing additional blocking at tight end.

Brown could return to the mix Saturday.

“I think that we have really good blocking. Winthrop had a really good front,” Beauchesne said. “Our line handled them really well, and then we had good lead blocking from our backs. Whenever one back was tired, we’d have him lead block and have another back take the ball.”


“We’re tough backs and we can take a beating,” Hersom added. “The way we are and the way our line blocks, I think it works to our advantage.”

Crutchfield couldn’t have considered the risk without knowing the caliber of the athletes involved and their capacity to reward his faith.

“They want it,” Crutchfield said. “Most of these kids have been playing in a lot of championship games. They keep their composure pretty good. Sometimes I worry about them. They don’t have nerves. They’re a great group of kids. That has a lot to say about the community. The parents get them to where they need to be. It’s a great community with great sports work ethic.”

The concern for Dirigo, of course, is that its experiment won’t be as effective the second time around now that it’s on film.

But the Cougars do have plenty of options out of their conventional offense, led by sophomore quarterback Riley Robinson, if they choose to go back to it. And the wildcat, while used as a display of power in its first go-round, can be sprinkled with plenty of misdirection and deception.

“We always tweak something to keep them guessing,” Crutchfield said. “Now it’s more trick plays and stuff.”


Dirigo can’t sneak up on anybody at this point.

This is the Cougars’ third trip to the regional title game in five years. They won the Class C state championship in 2009. Dirigo avenged a 31-0 regular-season loss to Oak Hill a year ago, winning 13-6 to get to the Western Maine final.

Oak Hill won the previous 2013 meeting 8-6 in a September rainstorm. Frost, who has been a key component of state championship basketball and baseball teams, hopes that Dirigo’s late-autumn history repeats itself.

“Every year it’s so great to get to a big game like this,” he said. “We’re going to try to work hard and get to the next step.”


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