Orono holds off Dexter in key LTC clash
ORONO — If the first meeting of the season between the Orono and Dexter football teams is any indication, their rematch two weeks from now in the LTC Class D North semifinals should be a classic.
Orono earned the right to host that rematch by rallying from a pair of early two-touchdown deficits to outlast the Tigers 27-26 on Friday, Oct. 21.
Orono (7-1) clinched second place in the conference behind unbeaten Maine Central Institute of Pittsfield with one weekend of regular-season games remaining, while 6-2 Dexter will finish third.
And both teams will enter their second encounter believing they will win, at least based on initial reviews.
Orono displayed the more consistent offense and defense, outgaining Dexter 400-169 in total offense as Jackson Coutts passed for 165 yards and a touchdown and also rushed for 67 yards while Matt Fowler and Keenan Collett combined for 161 rushing yards, 107 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
But Dexter’s special teams were indeed special, with Tyler Beem returning a kickoff 84 yards for a touchdown and Zach White returning one punt 65 yards for a touchdown and another punt for 47 yards late in the third quarter to set up the Tigers’ final score.
Beem, a halfback and linebacker, led Dexter with a strong two-way game, adding 61 rushing yards to his scoring kickoff return while also leading the Tigers in tackles.
Chandler Perkins chipped in 44 rushing yards and a touchdown for Dexter.
Orono’s secondary held White — one of the LTC’s more dangerous wide receivers — largely in check on offense, but only after he scored on a 57-yard catch and run on a third-and-19 play 5:40 into the game.
Quarterback Brayden Miller dropped back and bought time for White to get open as he crossed the field and got behind the defense to give Dexter a 6-0 lead.
After Orono went three-and-out on its next possession, White caught a Coutts punt at the Dexter 35 and worked his way down the sideline all the way to the end zone to make it 12-0 with 4:05 left in the opening period.
Orono then drove 80 yards in eight plays to answer, with Coutts passing over the middle to Collett for the final 31 yards to make it 12-6 with 13.7 seconds to play in the quarter. A 13-yard run by Fowler on the first play of the drive and a 19-yard gain by Collett on the next play set up the score.
Just as quickly as Orono celebrated, Dexter countered.
Beem initially was unable to gain control of the ensuing kickoff, but once he grabbed the ball he was in full sprint mode, motoring down the left sideline and then cutting back across the middle of the field for Dexter’s second special-teams score in less than seven minutes of playing time to give Dexter a 20-6 lead at the end of the period.
But Orono gradually gained control, holding Dexter without a first down on its next two possessions while churning out more yardage offensively.
Fowler scored on an 8-yard run midway through the second period, capping off a six-play, 43-yard march during which the senior halfback rushed four times for 41 yards as the Red Riots pulled within 20-14.
Coach Bob Sinclair’s club then grabbed the lead in the final minute of the half, with Fowler diving in from the 1 to complete a 35-yard drive set up by a short Dexter punt into the wind. A 24-yard middle screen pass from Coutts to Fowler and a 10-yard completion to Collett gave Orono first-and-goal at the 1.
Coutts followed with the extra-point kick to give the Red Riots a 21-20 lead.
Orono extended its lead to 27-20 by driving 60 yards on its first possession of the second half. A keeper by Coutts netted 48 yards to the Dexter 11, and one play later Collett scored from the 6.
White’s 47-yard punt return to the Orono 47 — with Collett making the tackle along the left sideline — rejuvenated Dexter, which marched the rest of the way in six plays. Perkins went up the middle for the final 15 yards to close the gap to 27-26 with 9:58 left, but a rushing attempt for the two-point conversion came up empty.
The Red Riots then preserved the lead by driving from their 22 to the Dexter 10 before giving the ball up on downs after a drive that took 7:34 off the clock and left the Tigers with just 2:22 remaining and 90 yards from a go-ahead score.
Runs by Beem and Perkins netted one first down, but Orono’s pass rush prevented any further inroads with one quarterback sack and three forced incompletions.
PUMPED UP SIDELINE — Dexter players celebrate after their team scored a touchdown against Orono. The Tigers will conclude the regular season Saturday afternoon at home against Washington Academy of East Machias, before returning to Orono for a Class D North semifinal during the following weekend.