Lawrence’s defense was dominant in the second half of Friday’s 24-14 win over Winslow. In the first game between the old rivals since 1990, the Bulldogs held the Black Raiders to just 37 yards and two first downs in the second half.

So what changes did Lawrence make at halftime to counter the Black Raiders offense?

None, coach John Hersom said.

“We often do this at halftime, we talk to our defense and ask them about our alignments, how are they trying to block you,” Hersom said. “Our kids said that in some of our alignments they haven’t been able to block us. We stuck with that scheme because the kids were giving us that feedback, that Winslow hadn’t been able to block them.”

While Lawrence returns an experienced group offensively, the Bulldogs are still learning on defense. Some players, such as defensive ends Tyler Larouche and Dominic Blaisdell, are learning new positions on the job.

“We’re kind of still in our state of getting kids to understand their jobs. We’re trying not to throw too much at them,” Hersom said.

One young player who stepped up was freshman kicker Zack Nickerson, who nailed a 27-yard field goal late in the third quarter to push Lawrence’s lead to 10 points. Nickerson made his kick in a driving rain storm, but Hersom said he never hesitated in sending the freshman out for the attempt.

“He’s a pretty good athlete. We had a chance to look at him (in the preseason) and get him involved,” Hersom said. “He’d already been under fire up at Brewer (in Week 1), so I knew he’d be confident. He’s not cocky, but he has a lot of confidence.”

Hersom also praised the kickoffs of junior Christian Adams, who had one kickoff go for a touchback in the end zone after a Winslow penalty.

Lawrence (1-1) plays at Hampden on Friday.

• • •

After an 0-8 2016 season, Waterville is making an early run as the most improved team in the region. The Purple Panthers are 2-0, with a 21-7 win over Mt. Blue in Week 1 and a 14-0 win at Medomak Valley on Friday. Coach Matt Gilley said the biggest improvements have come on defense. Waterville gave up an average of just over 50 points per game last season, and the season-low surrendered by the Panthers was 27.

“The game starts with defense. We’ve been preaching that a while, and this group has really bought into the concept. You’re going to put yourself in position to win if you play gap defense. You hold your responsibility and trust the other player is going to do their job. You end up stopping some people,” Gilley said. “It’s all about trust. We had some players try to do too much in the past, and now they’re not. They’re sticking to their responsibilities and welcoming the physical contact. Wanting to hit people is an attitude. Come at us, we’re ready to hit back. We haven’t had that in a little bit.”

Playing a 4-3 base defense, with occasional shifts into a 5-3, the Panthers have been strong up the middle. Defensive tackles John Evans and Trafton Gilbert, and middle linebacker Cooper Hart, have been the core of Waterville’s improved defensive unit so far. Things started with a strong effort in a preseason game at Houlton, Gilley said.

“The last couple years, we haven’t had that momentum coming out of preseason, playing a tough opponent in MCI. This year, that was the theme. Get a little bit better every single day, and build some momentum for Week 1, coming in against a traditional power like Mt. Blue. Now that that happened, these guys are just buying in, and the confidence is incredible. They believe in themselves. They believe they can be in each game because of the defense they play. That is a huge shift certainly, from last year,” Gilley said.

This week, the Panthers have their toughest test, perhaps of the regular season, against longtime rival Winslow (1-1). The Battle of the Bridge will be at Waterville’s Drummond Field. Winslow has five straight wins over Waterville, including playoff victories in 2013 and 2014. Just like Mt. Desert Island, Winslow’s Week 1 opponent, Waterville looks at this game as a measuring stick.

“Here in Waterville, that’s the game we circle. We feel like we do have momentum. We’re playing good defense. We know they’re going to be fundamentally sound, and they’re going to block until after the whistle,” Gilley said. “Do our guys have it mentally, to not back down to that, to continue to step up and play physical football? It feels like we do. The proof’s in the pudding Saturday, but I love the things I’m hearing in the locker room, talking about these very things.”

• • •

After losing a regular season game for the first time since 2013 in a Week 1 game at Oceanside, Maine Central Institute responded with a 12-0 win over Nokomis. A key was having fullback/linebacker Adam Bertrand back in the lineup. A senior, Bertrand missed the Oceanside game after an injury in practice.

“Having Adam back was a spark. We responded to the hardship,” coach Tom Bertrand said. “We really ran to the ball very well. We swarmed to the ball.”

Offensively, the Huskies were able to sustain more drives. Now they need to convert more third and fourth downs, Coach Bertrand said. MCI (1-1) plays at Belfast (0-2) this week. The Lions are coming off a 73-0 loss at Leavitt, but Bertrand said his team can’t look at that result and take Belfast lightly.

“They have some big, athletic backs. We’re pretty sure we’ll see them respond,” Bertrand said.

• • •

It won’t be surprising if Winslow spends a little extra time in practice this week working on special teams. Specifically, kickoff coverage. In back-to-back games, the Black Raiders have allowed a kick return for a touchdown.

In Friday’s game at Lawrence, Tyler Larouche ran one back 89 yards for a score. Against MDI, Billy Kerley returned a kick 91 yards for a touchdown.

Next week’s opponent, Waterville, is Winslow’s second rivalry game in as many weeks. Including Week 1 against MDI, which Winslow has met in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons, the Black Raiders are in the middle of a tough September stretch.

“We’ve got another tough one next week,” coach Mike Siviski said.

• • •

Around the state: The longest road trip of the season didn’t happen. Citing a lack of players, Traip Academy forfeited this past weekend’s game at Washington Academy. The trip from Kittery to East Machias to play the game would have been approximately 500 miles round trip… We’re just two weeks into the season, and already there are no undefeated teams in the Pine Tree Conference Class B North. So far this season, teams in the Pine Tree Conference Class B are 0-5 against the Campbell Conference Class B… How about the stat line for Leavitt quarterback Tim Albert against Belfast on Friday? Albert was 5 for 5 passing for 242 yards and five touchdowns. Each of Leavitt’s first six plays went for a touchdown, and the Hornets took a 73-0 win… The game of the week in the state this week could be Thornton Academy at Scarborough on Friday. Both teams are 2-0 and contenders for the Class A South crown, along with defending state champ Bonny Eagle.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM