Lucas Libby of Mountain Valley High School gains yards up the middle during an October 2021 game against Dirigo High School in Rumford. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

When Mountain Valley and Dirigo meet on the Harlow Park gridiron Saturday night in the biggest game of the year in 8-man Small School South, the game might look like a chess match with sledgehammers.

The 6-0 Falcons will be traveling down Route 2 to face the 5-1 Cougars to see who will be the No. 1 seed in 8-man Small South. That means the winner will get homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, including in a potential rematch in the regional final.

But first the two rivals need to get through what should be a physical battle in the regular-season finale in Dixfield, which has been moved from Friday to Saturday.

“I think continuing to bring our physical style of play is going to be pivotal,” Mountain Valley coach Pat Mooney said about the Falcons’ defense, which has given up a division-low 74 points this season.

Dirigo coach Craig Collins, who has overseen a Cougars defense that is second in the league with 100 points allowed, noted that Mountain Valley runs to the ball well and that “they are a very good tackling team.”

Solid tackling, as well as lining up correctly against a Falcons offense that features three different dangerous ball-carriers, will be the keys for the Dirigo defense, according to Collins.


Mountain Valley has scored an 8-man Small South-leading 314 points this season. Dirigo is third with 218 points.

The Cougars put up 51 of those last week on the road at Telstar, with quarterback Charlie Houghton and runner/receiver Trenton Hutchinson leading the way.

Mooney mentioned those two as key players that the Falcons defense needs to stop. He said that Houghton is “the catalyst of their offensive production and is the focal point of their scheme.” Hutchinson, he added, “is very dangerous in space, as he is extremely quick and shifty out of the backfield.”

Robert Leveillee runs up the sideline on his way to one of his seven touchdowns against Telstar on Sept. 1. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Stopping those two and the Cougars won’t be easy.

“They do a great job of putting defenders in conflict to see what portion of the offense is being keyed,” Mooney said. “Dirigo will test the perimeter with jet motion, they will poke holes in zone coverage with short, timed passes, then try to take the top off the defense with deep shots once the coverage plays tight. If they can get defenses to focus on those elements, then they will run their giant QB up the middle for power yardage once the linebackers have vacated the middle of the field.”

Mooney said he is confident that the Falcons’ coaches and players will develop a game plan to take away what the Cougars do best.


Meanwhile, what Mountain Valley does best on offense, according to Collins and probably every other 8-man Small South coach, is run the ball. Specifically, with the three-headed running monster of Robert Leveillee, Kaden Paaso and Lucas Libby.

Mooney said the key for the Falcons’ run-heavy offense is to stay true to the game plan and take what the Dirigo defense is giving it.

“Between the different motions we use, the sequence of plays that complement each other and the number of backs who typically touch the ball for us in any given game, we will need to stay patient and continue testing the front to hopefully find a weak area,” Mooney added.

Dirigo’s Trenton Hutchinson pushes past Telstar’s Will Doyle during last Saturday’s game in Bethel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Mooney notes that Dirigo’s defensive front is big and that the Cougars’ defenders are “smart, disciplined and sound in their fundamentals.”

Collins said that strong play by the offensive and defensive lines will be key for the Cougars.

Both teams have had their fair share of lopsided victories this season — though Mooney noted that Dirigo has shown the ability to overcome adversity and pressure in close games late — but Friday’s pivotal matchup could come down to the fourth quarter.

“Time of possession and turnover battle will be significant,” Mooney said. “This could very well be a ‘Four yards and a cloud of dust’ type game, so controlling the clock, staying in manageable down and distance, and not giving Dirigo extra possessions will be critical.”

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