WALES — It was an uphill battle from the first whistle for defending Class D champ Oak Hill Saturday afternoon.

Dirigo’s Joe Casey brought the opening kickoff back 82 yards for a touchdown as the Cougars led for all but 11 seconds in a 14-6 victory over the Raiders on military appreciation day at Oak Hill. The loss snapped an eight-game win streak for the Raiders, which coming into the weekend was the longest active streak in the state.

“We started off slow and they started off strong,” Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette said. “They played really well.”

Special teams has been an area of concern for Oak Hill so far this season, as three of the four touchdowns the Raiders have allowed have come in that area of the game and the fourth came as a result of a special teams miscue.

“That’s a good start. We just put that in this week, we’ve been running sideline return,” Dirigo coach Jim Hersom said. “We had some good blocking I think, and we had the right guy with the ball and we were able to get up through there.”

After the initial fireworks Saturday the two teams each traded a pair of fruitless possessions, forcing Dirigo to punt backed up to its own 19-yard line with a little over 10 minutes remaining in the second quarter.

Tyler Frost booted away a solid punt for the Cougars to around midfield, but the Raiders’ Kyle Tervo could not cajole the kick and Casey was in perfect position to scoop it up just moments after it hit the ground.

The turnover forced the Oak Hill defense — which had just spent the previous four minutes on the field — to stay out and try to stop the Dirigo attack. The Cougars continued to pound away, eventually finishing off the 10-play, 52-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run from quarterback Riley Robinson with a little less than six minutes remaining in the half.

The Raiders nearly managed to get themselves on the board three minutes later when Alex Mace was knocked out of bounds at the 2-yard line after hauling in a 29-yard pass from Dalton Therrien, but the Raiders fumbled the ensuing play and Dirigo’s Gavin Arsenault recovered the ball.

Oak Hill’s offense continued to sputter in the second half — particularly without running back Kyle Flaherty, who left the game late in the second quarter with a leg injury and did not return — until the very end of the third quarter, when it finally caught a break.

Backed up to its own 23-yard line on 3rd-and-12, Therrien dropped off a short screen pass to Mace. The senior standout — who had 106 yards receiving and 69 yards rushing — broke a number of tackles en route to the left sideline, where he continued to shake off Cougar defenders on his way to a 77-yard touchdown catch and run.

There was a problem with the snap on the point after try, however, and Therrien’s attempt to make something out of nothing came up short to make the score 14-6 with 23 seconds remaining in the third quarter.

“That touchdown made us step back a little bit,” Frost said. “We had to either come to focus there or else they were going to get another one and another one and we’d end up losing. It was bad we let it go, but it was good to keep us focused again.”

Dirigo responded with a quick three and out though, and the Raiders picked up right where they left off on their next possession. A 38-yard run from Mace and 15-yard scamper from Steve Gilbert highlighted a six-play, 63-yard march to a 1st-and-10 situation for the Raiders at the Dirigo 21-yard line with a little less than seven minutes remaining.

“We started getting our heads together, making plays, making tackles and everyone started acting like a family again,” Mace said of the momentum shift. “It was great. It wasn’t just one of us on a tackle, it was every one of us on a tackle.”

Unfortunately for Oak Hill, that would be as close as it would get to tying the game as Gilbert was dropped for a short loss on first down and Therrien’s next three passes fell to the ground incomplete after some fine defending from the Cougars’ secondary.

The Raiders did get the ball back once more with 2:45 to play and the ball spotted at their own 27-yard line, but the drive ended just three plays in when Therrien was picked off by Arsenault to seal the win for Dirigo.

For the game Oak Hill turned the ball over four times to just one for the Cougars, which played in perfectly to Dirigo’s grind-it-out style. The Cougars ran 12 more plays than the Raiders in the contest, and also held an edge in time of possession of 29 minutes, 28 seconds to 18:32.

Frost led Dirigo with 105 yards on 24 carries, while Casey toted the ball 10 times for 47 yards. Flaherty had four carries for 42 yards before exiting, while Gilbert carried the ball 10 times for 33 yards.

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

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Twitter: @Evan_Crawley