RUMFORD — The Mountain Valley and Dirigo football teams formed two circles about 30 yards apart on Chet Bulger Field, marking the end of the high school football season, or what there was of it.
The Falcons had just dispatched the Cougars, 32-12, in the final game of the fall for both schools, and there was a sense that it would probably be the last time they would be playing a high school game of any kind for some time.
The huddles included players who would normally be looking forward to basketball or wrestling practices starting in a couple of weeks.
“It’s kind of tough to think about, especially with it being our senior year,” Dirigo senior quarterback Cole Brown said. “It’s not exactly what we were hoping for, but I guess we’re trying to do our best to make the best of a tough situation.”
Brown, a four-year starter, missed out on earning a varsity letter his junior year when Dirigo decided one week into the season that it couldn’t complete a varsity schedule due to a low number of players. His final two years of football never came close to resembling the first two.
“I guess the optimistic side of me is happy that we were able to play football,” he said. “But the real side of me is really, really, really angry that we couldn’t put the pads on.”
The Cougars JV finished last season with 10 players and then head coach Jim Hersom resigned. They joined the wave of schools that switched to 8-man football for this fall under new coach Craig Collins, played five games of 7-on-7 against other Oxford County schools, and finished this season with 15 players.
“We didn’t really have any off-season for 8-man, so we were going from 11-man tackle football to 7-on-7,” senior Dallas Berry said. “We kind of jumped right into the season not knowing anything and had to build it up from there.”
“It kind of sucks that I got two years of football at Dirigo and then two years that were kind of screwy,” Berry, another four-year starter, added. “But with all that said, it’s good to be out here because we could be at home sitting on the couch.”
The Cougars and Falcons learned before the game that, for the first time, they would be required to wear masks while playing and not just on the sidelines. They also wore flags for the first time rather than playing one-hand touch as they had in all of their previous games.
Mountain Valley coach Devin Roberts wasn’t sure the rivals would get the final game in, fearing Oxford County would get a yellow designation from the state on Friday.
“I told my AD (Tom Danylik) yesterday, ‘Let’s push the game up to (Thursday). If we wake up Friday morning and all of a sudden it’s yellow, we have nothing left for these guys,’” Roberts said. “We wanted something for them to end on.”
Within the confines of Chet Bulger Field, spectators were limited to senior parents and cheerleaders. Fans from both schools stood outside the fences around the Hosmer Field complex through intermittent showers of cold rain and mist with a little bit of sleet mixed in.
Brown threw touchdown passes to Berry and Chase Nelson, but the Falcons, with 16 players suited up, jumped out to a 14-0 lead and never trailed. Senior Ethan Casey threw a pair of touchdowns to Robert Leveillee and one apiece to Anthony Mazza, Eric Richard and Kyler Heinzen.
Mazza, a standout wrestler who would have competed for a state title this year, knows wrestling, rated a high-risk sport by the state, will be left out in the cold even if winter sports get the green light from the state and Maine Principals’ Association.
“It’s tough. At this point, I’m hoping for a spring (football) season, to say the least,” he said. “We put that in our minds that it might be our last game. I’m not giving up hope yet for a spring season because you never know what might change. But it’s hard getting into my head that this might be our last game.”
“Especially this way,” added Casey, “where it’s not actual football. I’ve just been happy that we’ve been out here as a team and been able to play as a team and I was able to be with my family one last time.”
In his postgame huddle, Roberts told his team that the offseason weight program would start in January with hopes of playing in the spring. He wonders how many players he’ll see in the weight room if there is no hope for spring football then.
“We lost a few this year because we didn’t play football,” he said. “Kids went and did their thing. They did jobs. They stayed home. It was hard to get them to take it serious because we’re playing intramural sports as a serious varsity sport.”
“I think it would have been a little different if we had regular football because we would have had a completely different atmosphere,” he added. “But going forward, some of those guys may never come back. That worries me. If I can get back to those guys in the offseason and say, ‘Hey, we’re back to normal, you can hit again. We can play football,’ they might come back.”