Saturday’s Eastern Class C football championship game is the 85th game in the Waterville vs. Winslow series. Good luck finding a bigger game in the history of the Battle of the Bridge.

The Purple Panthers and Black Raiders have never played for a regional title before. The rivals played Eastern Class B semifinal games in 2005 and 2006, but Saturday’s game at Winslow’s Poulin Field breaks new ground in the Waterville-Winslow series.

Both teams are 8-1, and the winner will face either Spruce Mountain or Leavitt in the Class C state championship game next Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

“There’s a lot of buzz. I’ve had a lot of people tell me how excited they are to have the game mean something,” Waterville head coach Frank Knight said.

A win puts Waterville in the state championship game for the first time since 1994, when the Panthers lost to Biddeford in the Class A final. Winslow is looking to go to the Class C championship for the second year in a row. The Black Raiders lost to Foxcroft Academy in last season’s final.

These teams played one of the best games of the regular season when they met at Waterville’s Drummond Field on Oct. 26. Each team scored a touchdown in the final minute. Waterville scored last, however, and took a 25-21 win.

“The first game, I’m sure it was a real exciting thing for the fans. Obviously, we were a little disappointed,” Winslow head coach Mike Siviski said.

Both teams expect another close game.

“It was a close game the whole game, so we really need to play as hard as we can,” Winslow senior fullback/defensive end Zach Guptill said.

“It’s fun. I like playing those guys because we all know each other really well, but I think we’re ready for each other,” Waterville guard/linebacker Luke Knight said.

In the regular season game, Winslow committed four turnovers, while Waterville committed three.

“If you look at our last game (a 42-28 win over Mt. Desert Island), we had one turnover and one penalty against MDI,” Coach Knight said. “In a close game, which we anticipate, turnovers and penalties can make the difference… Every possession’s vital.”

Each team has a strong running game. Waterville’s Dan Pooler ran for 305 yards and four touchdowns last week, behind a line led by center Ben Cox, guards Luke Knight and Alex Danner, and tackles Duncan Works and Nate Gromek.

“(Pooler’s) a load. He’s fast and nimble. He’s very difficult to tackle. He makes people miss,” Siviski said. “He’s behind a very strong line.”

Winslow’s running game is led by Dylan Hapworth, who ran for 217 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s 39-14 win over Belfast, and Guptill, who went for 200 yards and three touchdowns.

“We expect both teams to line up and try to pound the ball at each other. It’s going to be quite a contest. Passing is something, both teams seem to do to accent their offense,” Coach Knight said. “Establish the fullback and hit the perimeter occasionally, You want to see who can run the ball inside initially, that will probably reveal the strongest team.”

Both teams are playing well right now, and that adds a little more excitement to this game.

“Peaking at the right time is very essential. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t,” Siviski said. “We’re really pleased with how we played last week, and I’m sure Waterville is really pleased with last week, too.”

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