DEXTER, Maine — The Dexter Regional High School football program has a rich tradition.
The late 1960s and early 1970s produced three Class C state co-championships, and during the mid- and late 1980s the Tigers won two Class D state titles, one Class C state crown and two additional Eastern Maine championship trophies.
The going has been much tougher during the last two decades, the result of such factors as shrinking enrollment in the wake of the community’s departed manufacturing base, as well as the growth of soccer within the school system.
An injury-plagued team finished 1-7 last fall, and just once since 1995 has Dexter qualified for postseason play, in 2009 when the Tigers used a strong late-season rush to finish with a 4-4 regular-season record in the LTC Class C ranks.
Any late-season rush this fall will serve simply to build upon current momentum, as Dexter takes a 4-2 record into Saturday’s home game against Mattanawcook Academy of Lincoln.
“The attitude of the kids has been great ever since the summer,” said Kevin Armstrong, a 2002 DRHS graduate who guided the town’s middle-school team to a 7-1 record last fall. He replaced the retired Tim Wilson as the high school team’s head coach this year. “We had a strength and conditioning and speed and agility program this summer, and we had a tremendous turnout.
“The kids have been having fun and they’re feeding off it.”
While some recent Dexter teams have struggled to maintain a roster numbering in the mid-20s, this year’s team has 48 players, enough for the Tigers to play a full junior varsity schedule that is critical in the development of the younger players.
And the style of play the varsity is employing hearkens back to the good old days of Dexter football.
“What I like about this team is its toughness,” said Armstrong. “The kids like to hit, they like contact and the physical way they’re playing makes a lot of things work that otherwise wouldn’t work.”
The Tigers feature a number of key veteran leaders such as senior lineman A.J. McLaughlin, senior back Andrew Levensalor and junior back Trevor Fogarty, now healthy after a back injury sidelined him last season.
That leadership was in evidence during last weekend’s 49-0 victory at Washington Academy of East Machias, where Levensalor rushed for 154 yards and scored three touchdowns and Fogarty had three pass interceptions.
Dexter’s two losses have come against Foxcroft Academy and Orono — teams with a combined 11-1 record through Week 6 of the season.
And it was that 50-44 loss at Orono in Week 4 that provided the Tigers their biggest confidence boost.
“After the Hermon game [a 20-6 Dexter victory in Week 1], the kids were satisfied with the win but not with the way they performed,” said Armstrong. “But in the Orono game the line just jelled and the backs got the concept of what we were trying to do.”
Dexter has not allowed a point since that loss, earning a 17-0 victory over Stearns of Millinocket before last week’s win at Washington Academy.
“Going into the Orono game, I don’t know if the kids really felt they could play with them,” said Armstrong, “but they’re excited about where they’re at right now.”