DIXFIELD — Quarterback Charlie Houghton led Dirigo to a come-from-behind 35-30 victory in the eight-man Small School South semifinals against Mountain Valley on Friday.

After the Falcons took a 30-27 lead with 3:40 left in the fourth quarter, Houghton led the second-seeded Cougars down the field and scored the game-winning 25-yard touchdown run, his fourth of the game, to put Dirigo up 35-30 lead with 2:11 remaining.

“Like I told them all year, one play at a time,” Dirigo head coach Craig Collins said. “It doesn’t matter what the situation is, play our game and we’re gonna be fine. Believe in each other.”

Dirigo (7-2), which won its seventh straight game, will face the winner of Saturday’s game between No. 1 Telstar and No. 5 Maranacook in next week’s Small School final.

Friday’s high-scoring game was much different than Dirigo’s 16-6 win in the rivals’ regular season meeting Oct. 1.

The Cougars got the scoring started early in this game. On the third play of their first drive, Houghton connected with Trenton Hutchinson for a 72-yard touchdown pass. Hutchinson scored the extra point, and Dirigo led 7-0 only 90 seconds into the game.

“Our line was great tonight,” Hutchinson said. “We practiced and played hard. They helped us out a lot, and they kicked Mountain Valley off the ball pretty good and we just went with it. They gave us time to throw and run it.”

Third-seeded Mountain Valley’s Robert Leveillee was a workhorse for the Falcons (3-4) on their first drive, running for all 64 yards, including a 38-yard touchdown run after he took a direct snap and a cut to the right sideline. The two-point conversion failed, so Dirigo kept a hold on its lead, 7-6, with 8:07 left in the first quarter.

Leveillee ran for 314 rushing yards and scored four touchdowns in the game.

The scoring took a backseat to some sloppy offense by both teams in the latter half of the opening quarter.

Dirigo’s Trent Holman fumbled after catching a pass, and Mountain Valley recovered at around midfield. Five plays later, Holman redeemed himself with an interception to give the Cougars the ball at their own 25-yard line.

“All week coach has been telling me that the quarterback is going to roll to the right and the backside guy is going to come through, so when he started to come through I just knew it was going to be there, and so I crept up behind him and I saw the quarterback eyeing him, so I had to make up for that fumble I had,” Holman said. “It definitely helped me out, making up for that play. Ever since I was a kid I’ve gotten down on myself on mistakes, but I knew I had to stay in it and my team helped me out. They kept my head up.”

However, three plays after Holman’s interception, Curtis Errington fumbled the ball back to the Falcons on their own 49-yard line.

Mountain Valley turned the ball over on downs, and Dirigo marched down the field, mistake-free, thanks to 72 passing yards by Houghton, the last 28 to Holman for a touchdown down the left sideline, putting Dirigo up 14-6 with 7:41 left in the first half.

Dirigo forced a punt, and a few plays later Houghton ran the ball up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown that extended the Cougars’ lead to 21-6 with 2:39 left in the first half.

Leveillee carried the Falcons down the field on the ensuing drive, running for 64 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown run and then the two-point conversion to get Mountain Valley within a score, 21-14, with 17 seconds remaining the first half.

Right before halftime, Houghton tried a Hail Mary throw down the right side that found Hutchinson for a 54-yard gain, but Hutchinson was forced out of bounds as time expired.

Houghton threw for 271 passing yards in the first half and finished the game with 323. The junior QB also finished with 61 yards rushing, while Errington ran for 100.

In the third quarter, Dirigo’s defense forced a turnover on downs after Mountain Valley drove into the red zone, then the offense went to work on adding to the lead.

Houghton and Errington took turns running the ball until Errington broke loose for a 49-yard touchdown run up the left side that made the Cougars’ lead 27-14 lead with five minutes left in the third.

“They’re unreal,” Collins said of Houghton and Errington. “They’re the cogs that make things work, then we have Hutchinson and Holman outside. We’ve got a lot of skill guys, and with skill guys, good things will happen.”

Leveillee helped the Falcons get into the red zone again on the ensuing drive with 34 rushing yards, but a holding call knocked them back to the 31, Leveillee fumbled off a teammate’s pads, and Dirigo recovered at their own 36.

The Falcons turned around and forced a punt and Leveillee went back to work, running a couple of times to set up a 45-yard touchdown run off a toss to the left side. He then ran the ball in for the two-point conversion and, as time expired in the third quarter, Mountain Valley trailed by only five points, 27-22.

Both teams traded punts on the next three drives. Leveillee returned one of those punts from the Mountain Valley 15 to midfield with six minutes remaining. Leveillee followed with a 15-yard run to advance Mountain Valley to Dirigo’s 35-yard line.

On third-and-13, Airik Richard found a diving Kaden Paaso for a 33-yard pass to get the Falcons to the 5-yard line, and from there Leveillee ran it into the end zone for a touchdown and then he scored the two-point conversion to give the Cougars a 30-27 lead with 3:40 left in the game.

Dirigo didn’t flinch. 

“Poise,” Collins said. “It was poise. Everywhere we are poised. We understood we could make plays and move the ball. They’re a great team, (Mountain Valley) coach (Devin) Roberts has done a great job, and No. 5 (Leveillee) made some big plays, but I told the guys all week we just need to make one more play than them, and we did.”

The Cougars quickly moved the ball down the field, reaching the Mountain Valley 25 with 2:20 left in the game. Houghton tucked the ball and ran the ball to the left, and helped by a block by Holman, scored the go-ahead touchdown with 2:11 remaining. A successful two-point conversion put Dirigo up 35-30.

“I am so happy for this community because they deserve this,” Collins said. “After what happened a couple years ago (when Dirigo dropped to JV after on varsity game), this community deserves this. Like I tell my kids, one day at a time. I am just happy to be here.”

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