Dirigo’s Cole Brown reacts with dismay after watching one of Freeport’s many touchdowns during Saturday’s Class E championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

FREEPORT — Just as the Dirigo Cougars were starting to resemble the team that had reached Saturday’s Class E final, the Freeport Falcons used the art of deception to earn themselves a title.

Caden Benedict rushed 45 yards for a touchdown on a fake punt late with 5:02 left to play to seal Freeport’s 28-13 win at Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field on a blustery Saturday afternoon.

Benedict led the top-seeded Falcons (9-1) with 180 yards and added an 80-yard touchdown among his 15 carries. Adam Ulrickson added 73 yards and scored Freeport’s other two touchdowns.

Freeport handed Dirigo its only other loss on the season, a 34-14 win on Sept. 28 which was also played on the Falcons’ home turf field.

“They’re a hell of a team,” Dirigo senior Alex Gorham said. “They hit hard. They hit hard all game. They’re explosive. They have a real good balance. They can run it outside, run it in between the tackles, and they really pounded it.”

Gorham led the second-seeded Cougars (8-2) with 78 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Liam Burnette also had a rushing touchdown and finished with 59 yards on 13 rushes.

Trailing 22-0 at halftime, Dirigo clawed its way back to within 22-13 early in the fourth quarter by buckling down on defense and relying on their power running attack on offense.

“I’m really proud of the kids for coming back in the second half and playing,” Dirigo coach Jim Hersom said. “That’s what we just tried to do is play and have fun and we turned it around and made a game of it.”

The defense held after the Cougars fumbled the kickoff to start the second half at their own 41. On their first possession from scrimmage, they featured Burnette and Gorham on the ground to march to the Freeport 4. Gorham ran it in from there, barrelling over a tackler at the goal line to make it 22-7 with 5:29 left in the third quarter.

Freeport seemed to be in position to answer on its next series, but Dirigo’s Chandler Redmond recovered a fumble at his own 21 with 53 seconds left in the third.

The Cougars drove to Freeport’s 23, only to turn it over on downs when Michael Packard was stopped two yards short of the first down on fourth-and-4.  

Chase Nelson pounced on a botched snap to give the Cougars the ball back at Freeport’s 15 with 7:35 to play. Burnette rumbled for 10 and then 5 yards on back-to-back carries to make it 22-13. Cole Brown’s two-point pass attempt to Gorham fell incomplete, keeping it a two-possession game.

Dirigo tried to pooch the ensuing kick for a quick recovery, but Freeport recovered. The Falcons gained 7 yards over the next three plays and lined up in punt formation, but Benedict, the up man, took the snap and raced up the right sideline for the clinching touchdown.

“They had a good play call there. They got the momentum back on the fake punt,” Hersom said. “We made it interesting, anyway.”

Jack Lavorgna’s interception at Dirigo’s 27 gave the Cougar defense an early boost. But with their top rusher, Gorham, limited by an ankle injury, the Cougars tried to change things up offensively to start the game and couldn’t capitalize, thanks in part to a bobbled snap and a false start penalty.

Dirigo had another chance to get on the scoreboard first with 7:01 left in the first half after Brown’s 25-yard completion to Cameron Kidder got the Cougars to the Freeport 11.

After only gaining 3 yards on the next three plays, the Cougars elected to try a 21-yard field goal. Dallas Berry, who booted a 22-yard field goal last week to get the Cougars to the final, was wide left on this attempt, however, keeping the game scoreless.

On the Falcons’ next play from scrimmage, Benedict burst up the middle for an 80-yard touchdown and a 6-0 lead.

Freeport added to its lead in the span of less than two minutes on touchdown runs of 38 and 4 yards by Ulrickson and Aidan Michaud’s two-point conversion. 

“We were trying to do some different things (offensively). We weren’t sure we were going to have Alex at all,” Hersom said. “We wanted to spread them out and throw the football a little bit. But a couple of mistakes early hurt us in the first half.”

Gorham, who battled ankle problems for the latter part of the season, got his first carry in the second quarter after testing himself on defense.

“All week, I was pretty sore, but thanks to (physical therapy), I felt great today,” he said. “It’s a championship game, and that probably played a little bit (into it).”

Dirigo’s Alex Gorham is taken down by Freeport’s Danny Casale during Saturday’s Class E championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Dirigo’s Alex Gorham blasts past Freeport’s Tony Casale and Danny Casale for a touchdown during Saturday’s Class E championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Freeport’s Adam Urlickson sprints down the field for a touchdown during Saturday’s Class E championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Freeport’s Adam Erickson is tackled by Dirigo’s Alex Gorham during Saturday’s Class E championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Dirigo’s Dallas Berry runs the ball down the field during Saturday’s Class E championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Dirigo’s Cameron Kidder evades Freeport’s Tony Casale during Saturday’s Class E state championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Freeport fans react with joy after the Freeport won Saturday’s Class E state championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Freeport’s Aiden Michaud is taken down by Dirigo’s Jack Lavorgna during Saturday’s Class E state championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Freeport’s Connor Fox and Danny Casale celebrate after winning Saturday’s Class E state championship game in Freeport. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)


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