Lucas Libby of Mountain Valley High School gains yards up the middle during a game earlier this month against Dirigo High School in Rumford. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Playoff brackets are set for both the Large School and Small School Conferences as Maine heads into its second eight-man football postseason.

Telstar, Dirigo and Mountain Valley hold the top three seeds, respectively, in the Small School South Division, with Telstar heading in undefeated and Dirigo on a five-game win streak.

In the Large School South Division, Spruce Mountain enters the postseason as the third seed on a three-game winning streak and has averaging more than 37 points per game this season. And Gray-New Gloucester holds the sixth seed and is excited for the challenge it faces Saturday at Lake Region.

Here is a brief look at each area eight-man team in the first week of the postseason:

COUGARS RIDING WIN STREAK

Dirigo has won five games in a row is feeling confident heading into the eight-man Small School South Division playoffs.

“The morale is pretty good,” Cougars coach Craig Collins said. “We are excited to be in the playoffs, but we still have a lot to improve on.”

Second-seeded Dirigo (5-2) will take on No. 7 Sacopee Valley (1-5) in the first round of the playoffs. While the Cougars have won five consecutive contests — the most recent a 58-46 victory over Yarmouth — Collins said there are areas that need shoring up. 

“Tackling a little better, I don’t think we tackled well against Yarmouth,” Collins said. “Continuing to tackle better as a team, basic defensive stuff. We are trying to build on what we feel like we need to work on. We are running the ball well, we aren’t running our routes as well as I would like. That kind of stuff offensively as well as working on the passing.”

Collins said that quarterback Charlie Houghton “played well” against Yarmouth and connected with Trenton Hutchinson on three passing touchdowns. Hutchinson also had a punt return for a touchdown. 

When the Cougars trailed heading into the fourth quarter last week, the run game stepped up. 

“The one thing I was really excited about was when we needed to run the football we were able to run the football,” Collins said. “We were trailing heading into the fourth and the kids stepped up and the offensive line.”

FALCONS FLYING HIGH 

Despite their 2-3 record, the Mountain Valley Falcons’ early season win over Boothbay (46-22) and last week’s 48-26 victory over Old Orchard Beach were enough to clinch the third seed in the eight-man Small School South Division. 

Mountain Valley head coach Devin Roberts said the record doesn’t tell the whole story of his team. 

“The team’s pretty excited even though our record doesn’t tell the tale of us being in the playoffs,” Roberts said. “We came off a huge win over OOB, and to win that and go to the playoffs as a three seed, we’re sitting at a good spot.”

The Falcons’ first game of the season was canceled due to COVID problems at Maranacook, then three weeks later Mountain Valley had to cancel its game with Sacopee Valley due to COVID cases on its own team. The stop-start nature of the early season of the Falcons’ first eight-man season was a rocky beginning for Roberts and the players. 

“It was hard to stay consistent,” Roberts said. “The main goal for everybody is to win a gold ball, but a step-by-step season, it was hard to do.”

Throughout the season, Mountain Valley has dealt with COVID cases and injuries. Nearly the entire team is back now, but in the interim, players stepped into different roles. 

“I have to give some applause to captain Jonah Byam,” Roberts said. “He’s had to play multiple positions the whole season. He’s done well in every position. Started out as a guard, then we moved him out to tight end, then to fullback, then back to the line. Pretty much between those positions I’ve set up things where I can move him around to be in certain positions, and for him to do that was a huge step up. The selflessness to do that for us is amazing.”

HIGH-SCORING PHOENIX

No. 3 Spruce Mountain is heading into the Large School South Division playoffs with a three-game win streak, including, most recently, a 50-0 victory over Lake Region.

The Phoenix are streaking, currently averaging over 48 points per game during their win streak. They also are 5-1 since quarterback Cam Phillips returned in Week 2, with the lone loss being to Cheverus.

“It’s been really good,” Spruce Mountain coach David Frey said. “The last three weeks we’ve played pretty well. Offensively, it’s starting to click.

“We’re executing much better, their confidence is much better, we have a lot of speed. I can get two backs in, then I can sub them for two more and we don’t miss a beat.”

On Friday, the Phoenix will face off against No. 6 Yarmouth at home in the first round of the playoffs. Frey said the team is ready for any team it faces in the postseason.

“We believe we can,” Frey said. “I told these boys that the way they’ve played in the last three weeks, everything is clicking and they’re believing in themselves and they are coming out playing aggressive and really hard. They’ve been working hard in practice every week and I told them at the end of the regular season that it starts now, a new season.”

Frey said the Phoenix are fully healthy, and back from injuries and COVID-19 quarantines. Throughout that adversity, the team has been boosted by strong leadership.

“The leadership has been so great, the senior class has been great,” Frey said. “Cam Phillips, our quarterback, is great to work with. He can make a lot happen out there. That’s the tradition of our Spruce quarterbacks.”

PATRIOTS BATTLING THROUGH INJURIES

Even with injuries throughout the team, the Gray-New Gloucester Patriots, the fifth seed in the Large School South Division, are excited to be in the playoffs for a second straight time after making it in 2019. 

“We’re feeling good and they’re excited,” Gray-NG head coach Brian Jahna said. “Physically, we are beaten up a bit, but they love each other, being together and playing football together is always fun. We’re having great practices, a great time together, but they get excited about playing and practicing.”

While the offensive line has been consistent, according to Jahna, he is trying to place different players in different positions to fill injury holes. 

“The first couple days this week was used finding out who is healthy enough to play,” Jahna said. “Having to move guys around, we will have some folks out of position. This is our second time playing Lake Region, so finding places we could have done better has been big. Some places we did well. A lot of it has been trying to get progress in new positions.”

Gray-NG lost 36-20 in the opening week of the season to Lake Region. The team’s two victories this fall over Sacopee Valley and Yarmouth have helped grow the program, and Jahna excited for the future. 

“The team has bought in and the team culture has grown, our numbers have grown,” Jahna said. “… We feel like we are building it the right way, character-first, and we win because of it, not in spite. We also know the community supports it, and we know that if we put wins up, they’ll show up. The kids feel that, too, so it’s exciting.”

TELSTAR STAYING SHARP

Telstar, the top seed in the Small School South Division, finds itself with a bye week after No. 8 Traip Academy withdrew from the game due to injuries and low player numbers. With the extra week, head coach Tim O’Connor is hoping to keep the Rebels sharp and ready to play. 

“Conditioning, staying in the grove, making sure we stay sharp going over the plays, those are the three main things we are working on,” O’Connor said. 

The Rebels will play the winner between No. 4 Old Orchard Beach and No. 5 Maranacook next Saturday. O’Connor said the Rebels will be ready for either opponent. 

“Old Orchard Beach were tough in the first half when we played them earlier in the season, and in the second half we capitalized,” O’Connor said. “I think when Maranacok came in we were feeling a bit over-confident, and I don’t want that. They lost three games this year, to Mt. Ararat, Dirigo and us. They’re a decent team, up and down because of COVID stuff.

“I think the break will be a benefit for us.”

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