WATERVILLE — Now the high school football playoffs start, but it will take some special games to match the intensity and crazy finish to this year’s Battle of the Bridge between Waterville and Winslow.

This game featured four lead changes in the second half, including two in the final 44 seconds. It wasn’t decided until Waterville’s Dalton Denis caught a 37-yard touchdown pass from Brian Bellows with 20.3 seconds left, giving the Purple Panthers a 25-21 win at Drummond Field.

Waterville’s heroics came 24 seconds after it appeared Winslow would pull out the come-from-behind win, when Zach Guptill scored on a 7-yard run to give the Black Raiders a 21-18 lead with 44.7 seconds to play.

“We’ve been on the end of that going the other way, so I’m so glad for our guys, that we were able to pull that out,” Waterville head coach Frank Knight said. “It was looking gloomy there for a while, but we got inspired and made a play.”

Added Winslow head coach Mike Siviski: “That was a crazy finish. Both teams played hard. That must have been a great game for the fans.”

Both Winslow and Waterville end the regular season at 7-1. Despite the loss, Winslow held on to the top seed in the Eastern Class C playoffs. Waterville is the No. 2 seed, and each team has a first-round bye.

Waterville’s winning drive went 58 yards in two plays, and was set up by Dan Pooler’s 17-yard kick return to the Panthers’ 42. On first down, Bellows connected with tight end Troy Gurski on a 21-yard screen pass, a play Waterville installed just this week, Bellows said.

Now with 1st and 10 from Winslow’s 37, Bellows threw a pass that hit Denis in stride down the left sideline.

“It was crunch time. We had to put a drive together. We got a pretty decent return,” said Bellows, who also threw a 61-yard touchdown pass to Shahzaib Khan in the second quarter. “I saw Dalton beat the corner on the wheel route, and I just threw it deep, and he caught it in the end zone.”

The Black Raiders got the ball back on their own 23 with 14 seconds left. Quarterback Bobby Chenard was hit as he threw on first down, causing a fumble. Winslow recovered on their 10, but Chenard’s pass as time expired was batted down.

“Just keep playing hard and good things will happen,” Knight said. “I’m really proud of our team, and I have great respect for Winslow. They fought back and we fought back.”

Waterville’s comeback spoiled Winslow’s last-minute rally. With 44.7 seconds to play, Guptill bulled his way into the end zone from the 7-yard line to give Winslow a 21-18 lead. The play capped a 13-play, 77-yard drive that began with 6:31 left in the fourth quarter.

Each team had four turnovers. Bellows intercepted a Chenard pass in the end zone on the first play of the second quarter to end one Winslow scoring chance. Bellows’ second pick of the day came on the first play of the fourth quarter, and set up the Panthers for a go-ahead drive when Pooler (17 carries for 130 yards) scored on a 42-yard run to give Waterville an 18-14 lead with 10:18 to play.

“We’re proud of our effort. We had some costly turnovers, a blocked punt, things like that that we don’t usually do. But Waterville, they’re the ones that caused it,” Siviski said.

The Panthers jumped in front early, when Denis ran 31 yards for a touchdown on Waterville’s first play from scrimmage, with 10:02 left in the first quarter. The Panthers pushed their lead to 12-0 when Bellows and Khan connected with 10:51 left in the second quarter.

Winslow got on the board when Guptill scored on a 15-yard run with 2:07 to play in the first half, cutting Waterville’s lead to 12-7. The Black Raiders took their first lead when Hapworth (28 carries for 146) ran 21-yards after taking an option pitch from Chenard with 4:32 to play in the third.

Justin Martin had two interceptions for Winslow, both in the second quarter.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242
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