FREEPORT — In one of the biggest moments of the Class E football championship game, a sophomore decided to take matters into his own hands.

With Freeport leading Dirigo 22-13 and a little more than five minutes remaining Saturday, Freeport lined up to punt, hoping to pin Dirigo deep in its territory. But Caden Benedict, the up man in the formation, called his own number and rambled 45 yards untouched down the right sideline for a touchdown, capping the Falcons’ 28-13 win.

“It wasn’t a called play, but I called to our long snapper “two, two, two” and he got the message to snap it to me,” said Benedict, who finished with 137 yards rushing. “Tre (Morris), our punter, didn’t even know we were doing that.

“I decided to take it outside, and (Dirigo) crashed it inside trying to block the punt. It was a big call for us. I was just trying to get the first down, but no one was there so I kept on running.”

Freeport Coach Paul St. Pierre, fully supported the call.

“I really trust Caden; he’s one of our smartest players,” he said. “If he didn’t make it, (Dirigo) still had a long way to go.

“We tell them, you are on the field, if you see something, trust your instincts, and it really worked out today.”

After a 1-7 season in Class C in 2017, Freeport opted to move to Class E, a developmental league for teams struggling to find enough players to field a competitive team. Though the Maine Principals’ Association doesn’t recognize an official Class E state champion, the top-seeded Falcons finished as the unofficial champions at 9-1, with their only loss in Week 2 to Class D Poland.

Second-seeded Dirigo finished 8-2.

St. Pierre said the move to Class E was not only beneficial in a successful season but will help bring up the numbers in the program.

“Class E was great for us … we won more games this year than we had in the previous five years,” St. Pierre added. “Physically, we could not compete in other classes. What Class E did is provide us (the chance) to play football at a competitive level, a safe level.

“We were able to get some nice victories and a nice championship for our school and our program. That will help carry us moving forward.

“I think some kids, after a 1-7 season, kind of were scared to come back. I hope … some who will see what we did will come back.”

Benedict and Adam Ulrickson each finished with two touchdowns, and nose tackle Treyvon Murhammer recorded 13 tackles.

Freeport scored three touchdowns in a little more than five minutes in the second quarter to open a 22-0 lead.

Benedict started the scoring with an 80-yard run, following a missed 27-yard field-goal attempt by the Cougars.

A 15-yard punt by Dirigo into a strong wind gave the Falcons possession at their own 43. Ulrickson capped the drive with a 38-yard run – faking out a linebacker just beyond the line of scrimmage as he went into end zone untouched.

Murhammer and the defense forced a fumble by quarterback Cole Brown that was recovered by Aidan Michaud at the Dirigo 17. Ulrickson’s 4-yard run and Michaud’s second 2-point conversion made the score 22-0 with 1:45 left in the first half.

“I just followed the coaches’ plans,” said Murhammer. “I clogged up the middle; (it’s) what I’ve been doing all year. It seemed to work out.”

Dirigo’s running game came alive in the second half, as halfback Alex Gorham (16 carries, 82 yards) and lineman/fullback Liam Burnette combined for 93 of the Cougars’ 130 yards. Gorham crashed in from the 3 to cap an 11-play, 56-yard drive midway through the third quarter, and Chase Nelson’s fumble recovery at the Freeport 16 set up a 7-yard TD by Burnette with 7:05 left – a few minutes after a short hail storm turned to snow flurries.

“I am really proud of how the kids came back in the second half,” said Dirigo Coach Jim Hersom. “We turned it around and made a game out of it.”