Hot defenses meet at Hoch Field

On paper, it looks like a mismatch in the making. Fryeburg Academy, off to a hot 3-1 start, traveling to face Gardiner, sitting at 1-3 and looking for a win and some momentum midway through the season.

One-sided, right? Raiders coach David Turner doesn’t think so.

“I think there are four or five teams, I would say five teams, in C South who are very, very even,” he said. “I think that they’re one of the best four or five teams in C South. We certainly are viewing this as regardless of rankings and seedings, whatever. Having seen them on film, they’re a very good football team.”

It’s not just coach-speak. Fryeburg is second in the C South Heal points but Gardiner is right behind the Raiders in third, a reflection of the Tigers’ challenging opening to their schedule. Gardiner’s three losses have come by seven, 12 and three points to Cape Elizabeth, Leavitt and York, respectively, three teams with a combined record of 9-3. Even when the Tigers have lost, they’ve flirted with a victory or two — if not three.

“Absolutely, it’s going to be a good game,” coach Joe White said. “Their defense is solid, our defense is solid, and both offensives have skill guys that if you let them get warmed up, they’re going to put points on the board. It should be a good match.”

It shouldn’t be high-scoring, as both teams make defense their trademarks. Leavitt and York found this out for themselves; the Hornets scored 128 points over two games before being held to 19 and 17 by the Tigers and Raiders, respectively, and the Wildcats managed zero points against Fryeburg and 17 against Gardiner while combining for 82 points in their other two games.

Here’s a look at the matchup:

When: 7 p.m. tonight

Where: Hoch Field, Gardiner

Fryeburg’s Turner on Gardiner: “They easily could have a 3-1 record, or even better, potentially. … They’re a fast defense and they’re active, their linebackers are fast and they cover well. They swarm the football. They’re very well-coached. They just do a lot of things very well, and they don’t give you much.”

Gardiner’s White on Fryeburg: “They have a very good defensive line and experienced, well-coached linebackers. Their 52 is designed to stop the wing-T. … Physicality is one of the thing that sticks out to me watching film. They have very good linebackers and outstanding defensive ends.”

Three keys for Fryeburg:

• Score fast.

Gardiner prefers to rely on the ground game, and will certainly look to get it going early, even against Fryeburg’s tough front. If the Raiders jump on the Tigers early, Gardiner’s offense will have to try its hand through the air sooner, and more often, than it hopes.

• Read and react, and do it quickly.

The Tigers bring plenty of speed on offense, so the Raiders will have to be on top of their pursuit angles to keep the Gardiner backs from breaking plays around the edge.

“This week, we’re playing a team that has the potential to make big plays on both sides of the ball,” Turner said. “We’re going to have to figure out a way to contend with their speed on defense.”

• Get Jared Chisari in a rhythm.

Chisari has been the engine for the Raiders, showing his ability to break big runs with 45- and 48-yard jaunts in Fryeburg’s last win against Poland. If he’s able to have his way against the Gardiner front, the Tigers will have a tough time keeping Fryeburg off the board.

Three keys for Gardiner

• Limit the mistakes.

Pretty much a key to any game, but it’s especially true for the Tigers, who have developed a habit of derailing promising drives on offense with poorly-timed penalties. It was a key plotline last week, as a block in the back penalty took a 70-yard touchdown run off the board that would have likely sealed a win over York.

• Keep your eyes on the ball.

Fryeburg runs its offense out of a spread formation, and likes to run counters and misdirection out of the set. If defenders are spread apart throughout the field, that makes it especially damaging if a defender with a lane to the ballcarrier makes the wrong read. Discipline and vision will be crucial to prevent big plays.

• Don’t be afraid to throw it.

Fryeburg’s defense is designed to limit the run game, and the Raiders play it well. To crack it, the Tigers will likely need to find ways to get the ball to Collin Foye, Kolton Brochu and the rest of their playmakers through the air.

“(Their) defense is very tight, very tough,” White said. “You’re going to have to look at the next level. Their front line is tough, their linebackers are tough. We need to look at the secondary and see where we can find space.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM