It’s a 1.7 mile drive from Drummond Field in Waterville to Poulin Field in Winslow. On the route, you pass through five traffic lights, and aside from the fact that you drive over the Kennebec River, you don’t feel like you’ve gone from one town to another. Waterville and Winslow blend together seamlessly, save for the body of water that acts as a barrier.

You won’t find rival high schools that sit closer on the Maine map than Waterville and Winslow. Bangor High and Bangor Christian are closer together, just 1.31 miles of Broadway separates those schools, but the discrepancy in size has prevented any real rivalry from ever developing between those schools.

On Saturday, the Waterville and Winslow high school football teams will play the biggest Battle of the Bridge yet. The winner moves on to the Class C state championship game next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

Some fans in attendance at Winslow’s Poulin Field on Saturday afternoon will have ties to each school. With the proximity of the schools, it’s not surprising. Winslow athletic director Jason Briggs came to the Black Raiders this year after spending the last 11 seasons as Waterville’s varsity boys basketball coach. Harold Violette was Winslow’s head football coach from 1969 to 1984. Violette played his high school football for Waterville. Dylan Hapworth is Winslow’s all-conference running back. His mother, Wendy, is a Waterville graduate.

“She doesn’t really talk about it,” Hapworth said.

Chris Downing is a coach at each school. During the football game, he’ll be on the Waterville sideline, where he’s an assistant coach. He’s also the head girls ice hockey coach at Winslow, and when the football game is over, he’ll coach the Black Raiders in an exhibition game.

“You’ve got to separate the two. Right now, it’s all football, and when the game of football’s over, it becomes hockey,” Downing said. “Saturday will be interesting, though.”

Downing, now in his second season as the Winslow girls ice hockey coach, has been an assistant football coach at Waterville for a decade. His hockey team gave Downing just one request.

“The only thing they tell me is, I can’t wear any purple to the rink,” Downing said.

Chris Gilbert can relate. A 1994 graduate of Winslow, Gilbert was a linebacker/fullback on the Black Raiders’ back-to-back undefeated Class B state championship teams in 1992 and 1993. Now, though, Gilbert lives in Waterville, where he helps run the city’s youth football program.

“I’m kind of torn, in between wearing orange and wearing purple,” Gilbert said.

Last Saturday, Gilbert joined teammates from the 1993 Class B state championship team at Winslow’s semifinal game against Belfast. Gilbert wore his old Winslow jacket, but he also wore a Waterville hat.

Gilbert’s old defensive coordinator, Jim Poulin, tried to get him to take the hat off.

“He said ‘Chris, that’s going to give you leprosy,'” Gilbert said.

This year, Downing’s seasons overlap. Downing leaves work at the Waldo County Technical Center at 2:30 each afternoon, and an hour later is at Waterville football practice. From there, he heads across the river to Sukee Arena, where he practices with the Black Raiders until 6 p.m. Downing meets with his assistant coach until 6:30, then he heads home.

Downing is busy. That’s OK.

“I love it. It’s enjoyable,” he said.

Proximity makes the rivalry a friendly one, Gilbert said. If the rivalry got ugly, with so many fans on each side living and working alongside each other, nothing would get accomplished.

“It’s great that (the rivalry’s) being brought back. It just gives a sense of pride to the community. It’s a friendly rivalry. I’m glad both schools will be in the same class for a while,” Gilbert said.

Gilbert plans on watching Saturday’s game with Poulin. He’s rooting for both teams to play well, he said. Once again, he’ll wear his Waterville hat. Once again, Poulin will trump up a disease in an attempt to get Gilbert to take it off.

For Gilbert, Downing and many others, the orange and purple can coexist.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242[email protected]Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM