The Gardiner football team enjoyed a tough opening week of double sessions, coach Matt Burgess said, and the focus toward the annual rivalry game with Cony soon followed.

“We really didn’t start preparing for that game specifically early on,” Burgess said. “In Gardiner, the game is always on our minds. We have it marked on the calendar. The kids are always thinking about it. But we started game planning for the game Monday morning, Tuesday morning.”

Cony started its prep work a bit earlier.

“I would say we really started in November last year,” Cony coach Robby Vachon said prior to the team’s scrimmage against Morse on Monday. “That’s when we were looking at personnel.”

The Tigers and Rams faceoff at 7 Friday night at Hoch Field in the 135th edition of the Cony-Gardiner game. Cony leads the series 67-57-10.

The game is also part of the Drive Out Cancer Challenge. Teams from both schools, including soccer, field hockey, golf, cross country and volleyball, compete and raise money for the Harold Alfond Center for Cancer Care.

Gardiner beat Cony in overtime last season, 36-34

When asked if the sting of last season’s defeat played a role in the early start to the preparation, Vachon added, “each year is different when we would do it. We’ve been looking forward to this game.”

Once again, the game is part of the Great American Rivalry Series in conjunction with the U.S. Marine Corps. The series, founded by Richard A. Ford, celebrates some of the longest high school football rivalries in the country. A trophy is presented to the winner on the field after the game.

“I’ve been looking forward to this one for a long time,” Cony senior wide receiver Chandler Shostak said.

• • •

There is always change, subtle or otherwise, when a new coach is hired.

It was certainly the case last season when Gardiner brought in Matt Burgess, who tinkered a bit with schemes on both sides of the ball.

There are more changes in Year 2, with the most obvious coming in personnel. Burgess has a few new assistants this year, including Shawn Barnes, Mike Madore and Andy Burgess. The trio joins Keenan Blindow, who was around last season.

All coaches will work with players on both sides of the ball, Burgess said.

“Keenan and Andy will call defenses,” Burgess said. “Shawn and I will focus on the offense. But we will all be involved.”

Blindow, a Morgan, Vt., native, played linebacker at Husson while Andy Burgess — Matt’s brother — previously helped run the China Eagles youth football program.

Madore and Burgess played at Gardiner. Madore was named an all-conference tailback when he led the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference with 1,301 rushing yards in 1998.

• • •

The teams have played overtime games in two of their last three games. Each has won one game.

Gardiner won 36-34 last season when Alonzo Connor rushed for a touchdown on the first play of scrimmage in overtime. Gardiner converted the two-point conversion. Cony answered with a score of its own, but its two-point try failed.

Cony took the 2009 game 12-6 in a double overtime thriller. Chris Robinson rushed for a 10-yard touchdown in the second overtime to lift the Rams.

So, what are the chances the teams need a little extra time to decide a winner this year?

“I hope it doesn’t but I don’t know why it wouldn’t,” Burgess said.

Added Vachon: “The last five games, four of them were decided in the fourth quarter or overtime. It should be a great game.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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