RUMFORD — There are still 90 minutes before kickoff, but Roger Viger already is settled into his seat on the top row of bleachers at the Hosmer Field Athletic Complex.

Beyond the south end zone, steam and smoke rise out of three stacks at the Rumford paper mill.

“That smokestack over there – the skinny one,” Viger says, pointing at the stack on the far right, “I worked there for 34 years.”

Viger, 63 – Rumford High Class of ’71 – talks about the old days when the mill employed a lot more workers, and, more recently, when the bleachers at Hosmer featured a lot more fans.

But when kickoff comes, only 90 people are seated in the home bleachers. About 150 stand along the track for a closer view, while another 150, mostly students, walk about, occasionally watching the game. Add about 100 fans from visiting Wells and attendance is close to 500.

“That’s really changed,” says Mountain Valley High football coach Steve LaPointe. “From 2003 to 2010, we put 2,000 to 2,500 in the stadium.”

Those were the “glory days,” as one administrator called them, when a high school football team became the source of pride and morale for Rumford and surrounding towns – a region beset by economic hardship, including the uncertainty of its paper mill.

“The community was in trouble and this was something they could rally around,” says former Mountain Valley coach Jim Aylward.

In a 2009 documentary about the rivalry between Mountain Valley High and Cape Elizabeth High, Aylward is heard telling his players: “When you’re carrying that ball for us, you’re carrying it for the whole town.”

And the Falcons often carried that ball into the end zone, winning four state championships in 25 years under Aylward.

That documentary – titled “The Rivals” and still showing on the Smithsonian Channel – highlighted the different cultures of Rumford and Cape Elizabeth, focusing on their football teams. The apex of the film was their 2007 regular-season game, when undefeated Mountain Valley – along with eight fan buses – visited Cape Elizabeth.

The 2015 Mountain Valley team plays at Cape Elizabeth this Friday. There will be no movie cameras, and no fan buses.

REALLY HARD TO STAY ON TOP

High school dynasties are fragile empires, always depending upon the next class. And when those classes are shrinking – Mountain Valley’s enrollment has declined 33 percent over the past 10 years – maintaining the dominance is a challenge.

“It’s great climbing to the top and great when you get there,” Aylward says. “But it’s really hard staying there.”

Aylward became head coach when Mountain Valley High School opened its doors in 1989 – a merger of Rumford and Mexico high schools.

“We had very motivated kids,” he says. “They lived and breathed football. We had fun, but we took it very seriously.”

But as the enrollment declined – from 623 in 2006 to 418 last year – so did the talent pool, as well as the number of dedicated players.

“We could see what was coming,” Aylward said. After winning the Class B state title game in 2010, and reaching the Western regional championship game in 2011, the Falcons went 3-6 in 2012 and 1-7 in 2013. Aylward, a 1980 Rumford High graduate who still teaches at Mountain Valley, resigned from the football team to become the head coach at Class B Mount Blue (enrollment of 696) in Farmington, 30 miles away.

“I couldn’t be satisfied to keep dropping down,” Aylward says. “I wanted the challenge of coaching at a higher level.”

When high school football expanded to four enrollment classifications in 2013, Mountain Valley became a Class C school. And now, although it is still in Class C, the school’s enrollment is the size of a Class D school. Mountain Valley could have moved down to play same-sized schools but requested to stay in Class C.

“Part of it is pride,” says Athletic Director Alan Cayer, a Rumford graduate (’74) and former assistant coach at both Rumford and Mountain Valley. “We’d like to get back to the glory days.

“We said, ‘Let’s play the Wells and the Capes and see what we can do.’ We didn’t want to go out with our tails between our legs.”

That kind of pride has been experienced in other schools. Biddeford, once a Class A power, resisted joining similar-sized schools in Class B until this year.

The next reclassification of schools takes place before the 2017 season. Will Mountain Valley football stay in Class C? Principal Matthew Gilbert says the school will “look at what we have for a team … what’s the best opportunity for our kids.”

For now, the Falcons are struggling. They finished 2-7 last year, including a 35-0 first-round playoff loss to Spruce Mountain. And, after last Friday’s 42-0 loss to Wells, Mountain Valley is 1-3 halfway through this fall’s schedule.

PLAYER ATTITUDES HAVE CHANGED

The seniors on the football team are looking at a fourth consecutive losing season. These are players who remember younger days, cheering on Mountain Valley at a packed Hosmer Field. They dreamed of the day when they would wear the blue-and-white uniform.

“Yes sir, I did,” senior captain J.T. Greene says after the Wells game. “And our main goal this year was to bring people back to Hosmer Field … but when we do stuff like tonight …”

Standing alongside Greene is teammate and fellow captain Alan Carrier – grandson of steadfast fan Roger Viger.

“We still have heart,” Carrier says. “We just didn’t show it.”

Carrier’s father, Andre Carrier, played for Mountain Valley from 1990-93. He stood with the crowd on the track, urging on players.

“Times have changed,” Andre Carrier says. “It’s the attitude. When we played, we were knocking everybody around.”

Both LaPointe and Aylward would agree. That live-and-breathe-football mentality seems to have diminished.

“The kids work hard, but they’re not lifting (weights) and putting in the extra time. We call it the ‘good old days’ (when the weight room was full),” LaPointe says. “We get 12 to 15 kids lifting (in the summer). We want to get 35. But it’s hard to sell that to them. If they can get a job in the summer, they take it.”

In his final years as the Falcons’ coach, Aylward says he noticed many players were “nice kids, but they didn’t have the same intensity. Football was not as important to them. Fewer kids understood the tradition and the hard work. And it takes hard work.”

Success was taken for granted.

“I think the kids probably thought they were due (to win) when they stepped on the field,” says Cayer, the athletic director. “We’re Mountain Valley, we’re supposed to win. Of course, it didn’t happen.”

And with the losses come smaller crowds.

“Attendance has been very disappointing,” says Jeff Sterling, a Rumford selectman whose sons Jeremy and Nicholas played on state championship teams, and whose daughter Lauren plays soccer. “Those who come out are just as into it as they ever were. … It’s still a lot of fun to come out here on a Friday night.”

RIVALRY ON THE WANE

When Cape Elizabeth played in Rumford last year, Capers coach Aaron Filieo said his team’s 21-0 win was a “hard-earned victory. The Mountain Valley kids played very tough.” But Filieo, who once referred to playing at Hosmer Field as “high school football Americana,” has noticed the atmospheric change.

“Very much so. A lot less people in the stands,” he says. Plus “we didn’t see the dynamic (Mountain Valley) players we saw in the past.”

Because of the documentary, there will always be a connection between Cape Elizabeth and Mountain Valley. But the distance between the two schools, and the Falcons’ decline in Class C, has lessened the rivalry. Filieo mentions Yarmouth and Wells as Cape rivals now, although Filieo emphasizes that he’s not taking the Falcons lightly.

This rivalry may be shelved after next year if Mountain Valley moves to Class D.

Meanwhile, life in Rumford doesn’t get any easier. The mill changed ownership again earlier this year and the latest layoffs – announced in May as temporary but made permanent in September – trimmed 51 workers from the payroll. The mill employs about 750. Viger says the workforce was once over 1,300 when he worked there.

And the local high school has changed, becoming smaller. Other sports are doing well. The field hockey and both boys and girls soccer teams have winning records.

The school takes “a lot of pride in how our kids are doing in all areas,” says Gilbert, the principal. An administrator at Mountain Valley since 2000, Gilbert also knows the school’s tradition. You will find him in the Hosmer press box on Friday nights, serving as the game’s public address announcer.

“This is valuable here. Football has a bigger magnifying glass than anything else. It’s just the nature of it,” he says. “I think football, more than any other sport, exemplifies the grittiness and blue-collar approach that our kids have.”

There just aren’t as many of those kids around. The Falcons, once a big-time program, may have to go smaller to reclaim their glory.