GARDINER — From the onset of twice-daily practices in late summer through the grind of a regular season, the motivation never wavered.

“We’ve been waiting for this all year,” Gardiner Area High School senior captain lineman Eddie Donnell said. “It’s been a long season.”

Welcome to the playoffs, which kick off tonight in most conferences.

No. 3 Gardiner (6-2) hosts No. 6 Waterville (4-4) in a PTC B quarterfinal game at 7 tonight at Hoch Field.

In Western C Campbell Conference action, No. 8 Oak Hill (3-5) plays at top seed and defending state champ Yarmouth (8-0) at 7 tonight. No. 3 Maranacook (7-1) hosts No. 6 Freeport (5-3) in a quarterfinal game tonight as well.

Pine Tree Conference Class A will play its final regular-season games this weekend.

Gardiner seeks its ninth straight victory over Waterville since the rivals dropped from Class A to B in 2005. The Tigers have outscored the Purple Panthers 254-127 during the streak.

“It’s no secret we haven’t beaten them in awhile,” Waterville coach Frank Knight said. “It’s a hurdle we have to clear. We have to believe we can beat them. We’ve had a couple close ones.”

Gardiner defeated Waterville 23-6 in the regular season meeting Sept. 17.

Quarterback Dennis Meehan threw a pair of touchdown passes to Steve Sirois and Justin Lovely. The Tigers trailed 6-0 and led just 10-6 at the half before pulling away late.

“I’m glad we’re playing them again,” Waterville running back JT Whitten said. “We want to get them back. I don’t want it to be my last game. We haven’t beat them and this is pretty much my last chance to do it.”

Waterville joined Leavitt as the only teams to contain Gardiner captain Alonzo Connor. The Panthers held the senior tailback to just 94 rushing yards.

“Last time we accomplished our mission to slow down Alonzo, but they had a more effective passing game,” Knight said. “Hopefully, we can have a similar effect on Alonzo and also do better against the pass. We have a young secondary, but we’ve had a few more games to grow, so we are better. It should be a good battle.”

Added Gardiner first-year coach Matt Burgess: “We have to continue to have good balance. We want to make it so the defense just can’t key in on Alonzo.”

The Panthers will look to pound the football and wear down the Gardiner defense with bruising backs Whitten and Aaron Saucier.

Knight said that speedy tailback Racean Wood, who provides a nice change of pace for Waterville, will miss the game with a knee injury suffered in the regular-season finale against No. 2 Mt. Blue (7-1).

“We’ll miss him,” Knight said. “He’s a good runner and he gives our offense a whole new dimension. He gives us speed so defenses can’t cheat. Wood is the fastest of all of them.”

Gardiner will counter with Connor and will look for big plays from other skill position players, including Matt Hall, Lovely and Sirois.

“We want to shut them down early as best as we can,” Donnell said.

Added Connor: “We have to play at our level. They always play hard and are the type of team that builds on momentum. They’ll come ready to play.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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