It’s big because it means something.
That was the consensus feeling among players and coaches from the Winslow and Waterville high school football teams as they prepared to face each other in Saturday’s Battle of the Bridge.
“I’ve always been competitive with Waterville, in baseball and in football now,” Winslow senior Zach Guptill said. “I haven’t really had the chance to compete with them in football and be in the same class, so it’s going to be great. It actually counts.”
Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. at Waterville’s Drummond Field. Waterville leads the all-time series, including exhibition games, 50-29-4.
The last time Waterville and Winslow played anything other than an exhibition game in football was in 2010, the last time the rivals were in the same conference. In 2011, Winslow moved to Western Class C, while Waterville stayed in the Pine Tree Conference Class B. With the expansion of high to football to four divisions this season, the Black Raiders and Purple Panthers were put back in the same league, the Eastern C Big Ten Conference.
The rivalry has been intense in other sports in recent seasons, most notably baseball, where Winslow defeated Waterville in the Eastern Class B championship game last spring. For the seniors playing in Saturday’s game, this is likely their first taste of how intense the football rivalry between the schools can be.
There’s more than bragging rights at stake. Winslow (7-0) can clinch home field throughout the regional playoffs with a win.
“We’re pretty much guaranteed one (home playoff game), but we want them all here. Having the home crowd, on our home field, would be nice,” Guptill said.
Waterville (6-1) has the chance to earn the top seed with a win, but a loss could drop the Panthers out of the running for a first-round bye.
“It’s my last regular season high school game. It’s a big game for us. It could mean first place or all the way down to third place for us,” Waterville senior Brian Bellows said.
The chance for both teams to be undefeated was lost when Waterville lost at Mt. Desert Island, 42-35, last week.
“In the end, it doesn’t matter. The (playoff) implications are still there,” Waterville head coach Frank Knight said.
This game features the two most complete teams in the league. Waterville leads the league in scoring (46.9 ppg), and is second in points against (15.6 ppg). Winslow is tops in the league in points allowed (11.9 ppg), and is second in scoring (41.3 ppg).
“They’re a solid football team,” Winslow head coach Mike Siviski said of Waterville. “They haven’t been the highest scoring team in the state for most all the season for nothing. They have some nice talent.”
Offensively, Waterville has a number of weapons. Bellows and Aidan FitzGerald split time at quarterback. Running backs Dan Pooler, Dalton Denis, David Bailey and Trevor Gray run behind a line led by guards Luke Knight and Alex Danner, tackles Duncan Works and Nate Gromek, and center Ben Cox.
Wideout Jordhan Levine and tight end Troy Gurski are Waterville’s top receivers.
“A lot of kids are getting the ball and helping the team. It’s not a one-man show. We’ve got a lot of running backs, a line that can block, and we do things well,” Bellows said.
Waterville must contend with a Winslow defense led by Aaron Lint on the line, Mike Clark and Dylan Hapworth at linebacker, and Ricky Crayton and Justin Martin in the secondary.
The Black Raider offense is led by Guptill at fullback and Hapworth at tailback. Wingback Matt Fortier will see some carries, and quarterback Bobby Chenard will look to tall receiver Justin Martin down the field.
“Hapworth, he’s a hell of a player himself. They’ve got some great linemen. We’ll have to block well, read our keys, and just do what we’ve been doing all year,” Bellows said.
Senior tackle Troy Ellis and senior guard Dustin Fitch lead Winslow’s line.
“We’ve been improving. We’ve had some real nice games where we spread the ball around. I think at Madison six different kids scored touchdowns,” Siviski said.
“They have their typical, aggressive defense. They have a tough, strong running game. They’re well-coached,” Knight said. “They know us pretty well, so they’ll know how to attack us. Every year, they’re good.”
Cox, Works and Dante Herman lead Waterville’s defensive line, with Luke Knight and Gray at linebacker. Bellows and Bailey lead Waterville’s secondary from the safety positions.
Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242