Dirigo’s Trenton Hutchinson moves the ball up the field as Telstar’s defenders attempt to take him down during an Oct. 8 game in Bethel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

The key to Friday night’s 8-man Small School South regional final between No. 3 Dirigo and No. 4 Old Orchard Beach might be tackling.

It sounds so simple for a football game, but the Cougars and Seagulls offenses have, at times this season, have been difficult for opponents to take down. Meanwhile, both teams’ defenses have shown the ability to be proficient at one of the most fundamental acts on the gridiron — taking down opponents.

The regional finalists finished the regular season in a three-way tie for second with Maranacook, which won the No. 2 seed through a coin flip. Now the Cougars and the Seagulls are the final two teams standing, and they enter Friday’s title game game (7 p.m. in Dixfield) playing some of their best football of the season.

Old Orchard Beach (7-2) pulled off a 28-16 upset of top-seeded Mountain Valley in last week’s semifinals in part because the Seagulls were the first team this season to slow down the Falcons, holding them to a season-low in points.

“Our tackling has improved and (we) limited our mental mistakes,” Seagulls coach Dean Plante said of the win over the Falcons.

Dirigo (7-2) has won seven its past eight games — the only setback a 32-24 loss to Mountain Valley in Week 8.


Head coach Craig Collins noted from his scouting of the Seagulls, who the Cougars haven’t seen since a 26-20, Week 2 win in Dixfield, that “they are very sound on defense and they tackle and run to the ball very well.”

Dirigo quarterback Charlie Houghton breaks away from Telstar tacklers during a game last month in Bethel. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal

Collins said the Cougars’ offense must be balanced in Friday’s regional final. He added that they have learned to be a physical running team since a .

Dirigo’s running is more than pounding the ball up the middle, according to Plante.

“They force you to cover sideline to sideline and can beat you both in the air and on the ground,” he said.

Plante singled out Cougars senior quarterback Charlie Houghton and running back Trenton Hutchinson as key players on offense for Dirigo. He noted that the Seagulls defense didn’t tackle those players very well in Week 2.

Standout players for the Dirigo defense, Plante said, are linebacker Bode Gray and defensive end Nathaniel Wainwright.


Those players, and the other half-dozen defenders on the field, must stop a quartet of Seagulls playmakers.

“Quarterback Brady Plante, wide receiver Riley Provencher, wide receiver Brady Croteau and running back Elijah Vasquez — they are very dangerous with the ball in their hands,” Collins said.

He added that the Old Orchard Beach offense is running and throwing the ball well at this point in the season. Therefore, lining up correctly on defense and tackling well will be key, Collins said.

“If we do that, we will be fine,” Collins said.

Dean Plante said the Seagulls will try to find offensive success by taking what the Dirigo defense gives it.

Old Orchard Beach’s belief in itself — which was already strong before the playoffs — has grown since last week’s semifinal win over Mountain Valley.

“That game was big, however, as it showed we can go on the road and beat a very good team,” Plante said.

Playing at home should be an advantage for Dirigo, which doesn’t have to make the 90-minute commute between the two schools that the Seagulls do. Another asset for the Cougars might be the experience of playing in last year’s regional final — a home loss to Maranacook (which Dirigo avenged, to an extent, in last week’s semifinals).

“I think (last year’s experience) could help a little, in knowing how to prepare for the game and handling any outside noise that could happen,” Collins said.

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