Just five teams participated in Class D football statewide the last time Dirigo High School of Dixfield competed for a state championship.
And when the Cougars and Boothbay played for the title, the teams settled for a co-championship after battling to a tie through four quarters of regulation play.
So when current Dirigo coach Doug Gilbert hears of his undefeated 2009 team being linked to the 1975 squad that was the last from the school to claim at least a share of a state crown, he prefers to steer away from any comparisons.
“It was a lot different back then,” said Gilbert, whose 11-0 team will face Foxcroft Academy of Dover-Foxcroft for the 2009 Class C state title at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
Dirigo eventually dropped football in 1990, then re-started the program as a cooperative entry with neighboring Buckfield in 2003 before going it alone for the past five years.
The Cougars have improved their record each year since going solo. Dirigo went 2-7 in 2005, 4-5 in 2006, 5-4 in 2007 and 8-1 last year before this fall’s unbeaten run through the Campbell Conference Class C ranks during which its closest regular-season game was a 21-0 win over Oak Hill of Sabbatus.
“We did have some very close halves,” said Gilbert, a math teacher at the school of approximately 315 students located about 10 miles east of Rumford just off U.S. Route 2. “Against Livermore Falls we led just 14-13 at the half [before winning 49-19] and Madison gave us a scare, too, we were up just 14-6 at halftime [before winning 42-6).
“Sometimes we just needed a little wakeup call.”
The Cougars then roared through their regional playoffs, outscoring three opponents by a combined 109-15, including a 41-7 romp over upstart Yarmouth in the Western Maine championship game.
“We had lost in the semifinals last year, and that left a sour taste in everyone’s mouths,” said Gilbert, who has guided Dirigo to a 28-10 record in his four years at the helm.
“The kids all wanted to do better this year, so they spent all winter in the gym. They wanted nothing to stop them from reaching their goal.”
That goal is now just one win away, thanks to a balanced offense and aggressive defense built on speed and big-play potential.
Dirigo’s 36-player roster features six players who earned all-conference status this fall, including quarterback Nic Crutchfield, one of 12 seniors on the roster.
“We’re more diversified this year, we pass a lot better than we did last year,” said Gilbert. “Nic is a lot more accurate with his passing, and his ability to throw it accurately down field 40 to 50 yards enables us to stretch the defense, and his speed in being able to run from side to side also spreads the field and makes everyone on the team better.”
Dirigo’s running game is billed as “Thunder and Lightning,” with fullback Tyler Chiasson supplying the thunder and halfbacks Spencer Ross and Bryan Blackman the lightning.
“Chiasson’s about 200 pounds, and Ross and Blackman both run under 4.7 for the 40, so it’s a good mix,” said Gilbert.
Kyle Hutchinson is an all-conference tight end for the Cougars, while 6-foot-3 Alex Miele is the team’s top receiver and all-conference guard Mason Cote anchors the offensive line.
“It’s pretty balanced,” said Gilbert. “We’ve got five kids that have more than eight touchdowns each.”
Chiasson was named all-conference as a defensive end, where he teams with Hutchinson, while the secondary has 16 interceptions and features two all-conference performers in Miele (six interceptions) at cornerback and Ross at safety.
Dirigo also boasts a quality kicker in Eric Bolduc, who booted a 37-yard field goal in the Western Maine title game.