In its regional semifinal win over Belfast a couple weeks ago, the Winslow High School football team showed off one of the most impressive running attacks of the season. The Black Raiders had two running backs, Dylan Hapworth and Zach Guptill, each run for at least 200 yards, and all six of Winslow’s touchdowns in the 39-14 win came on the ground.
For the Black Raiders’ offensive line, it was another good day of hard work.
“As a lineman, that feels great,” senior tackle Tanner Gilliland said. “We look at it as, well, it’s us.”
The Winslow offensive line pave the way for a Black Raiders team that averages 40 points per game and is one of the top rushing teams in the state. Winslow (9-1) will play Leavitt (10-0) in the Class C state championship game, Saturday at 6:06 p.m. at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
The Winslow offensive line is led by three seniors, tackles Tanner Gilliland and Troy Ellis, and guard Dustin Fitch. Joining them is junior guard Evan Gammon, who filled in when Fitch missed the first half of the season with an illness, junior center Bryce Gilliland (Tanner’s brother) and sophomore guard Alec Clark.
None of the group is particularly big. At 6-feet, Tanner Gilliland is the tallest of the bunch, and the 250-pound Ellis is the only one listed at more than 220 pounds. The Black Raiders are not going to blot out the sun as they approach the line of scrimmage.
“Coach (Ken) Nadeau, our offensive line coach, has done a great job. We’re really not that hefty. We’re awful fast, we have good technique, and we’re up to a real good challenge against Leavitt’s defense,” Winslow head coach Mike Siviski said. “They’re the No. 1 defense in their league. Obviously, you don’t get to 10-0 for nothing.”
Coming into the season, Ellis and Fitch were the only returning starters, but it didn’t take long for the new group to come together, the players said.
“The improvement is amazing. I didn’t really expect this out of the kids we had, but they’ve really stepped it up and taken it to another level,” Ellis, who was recently named first-team all conference, said.
“We’re all pretty good friends, on and off the field, and I think we bring that chemistry to the line. We just work great together,” Tanner Gilliland said.
Siviski said he liked the way the line has improved all season, and it has looked best in recent games. Siviski cited a 31-20 win over Foxcroft Academy in the next-to-last week of the regular season as a game in which the line played very well. That day against the Ponies, the line led two scoring drives of more than five and a half minutes.
“The last three or four games, we’ve really improved a lot,” Siviski said.
In last week’s 49-18 win over rival Waterville in the Eastern Class C championship game, the Black Raiders gained 377 yards, 272 on the ground. Tanner Gilliland said he can’t point to one moment in the season when things started to come together for the line.
“It wasn’t one game in particular. It was like a slow, gradual thing. At first, we were like, we’ve got some new guys and it’s going to be a little difficult,” he said. “As it’s gone on, it’s gotten easier and easier for us to click as a unit.”
The Black Raiders run-heavy attack seems to suit the offensive line. They won’t name a favorite play.
“Anything smash mouth,” Ellis said.
The re-addition of Fitch only made a strong unit stronger.
“I just got back three games ago, so I’m ready to play. I haven’t played much this year,” Fitch said.
Added Siviski: “He’s really done well. He was a starter for us last year, and the last few games have been his season. I’m really glad he’s doing a good job.”
The undersized Black Raider line has one more game, and against a big Leavitt defensive front, it’s Winslow’s toughest assignment of the season.
“It’s kind of like David and Goliath up front,” Siviski said. “We’ll try to use our speed and technique to counter that.”