GARDINER — Since the high school football season began a little over one month ago Gardiner has had a clear message about leaving last fall in the past.

On Friday night, the Tigers officially laid their winless 2013 campaign to rest.

Gardiner held off Morse for an 8-0 win at Hoch Field behind a stout defense, their first victory since beating Brewer 26-14 on Oct. 26, 2012 in the opening round of the Pine Tree Conference B playoffs.

“It feels good to get the first win of this year and we’ve got to build on that as opposed to comparing it to anything in the past,” Gardiner coach Matt Burgess said. “It’s about winning this year and what we’re going to do now that we’ve got a win under our belt this year.

“We have to figure out how we’re going to move forward from making that huge step forward and getting a win.”

The Tigers began that process Monday, getting back in the film room to prepare for Friday night’s game at Hampden and working to carry momentum from the team’s first win.

It was a new experience for some players, like Eli Kropp. The sophomore quarterback — whose 30-yard pass to Chase Begin late in the first half accounted for the game’s lone score — got his first win in a Gardiner uniform Friday.

“It felt great,” Kropp said. “I’ve been part of the team for two years now and it just feels great to finally get a win.

“…There’s a lot more energy, a lot more excitement. (We’re) ready to go through the rest of the season.”

• • •

First-year Mt. Blue coach Jim Aylward said it best when describing the PTC B at the start of the season.

“There’s no cupcakes in this league,” he told the Morning Sentinel at the time.

Three weeks into the regular season Aylward’s words still ring true. Gardiner’s win over Morse Friday assured that no team will go winless in PTC B this season, and furthermore the fight for the final playoff spot could come down to the final week of the season.

Brunswick — which is averaging a shade under 50 points per game on the season — and Lawrence are the only unbeaten teams in the conference at 3-0, while Mt. Blue and Skowhegan are each 2-1. Messalonskee, Brewer, Cony, Gardiner and Hampden are all knotted up at 1-2, yet each have shown moments where they could be dangerous.

The Rams in particular could be one of those teams at the bottom of the division that could be a major player going forward.

“There’s two or three teams out there that are right in the thick of this and Cony will be one of them,” Brunswick coach Dan Cooper said after his team’s 52-27 win over the Rams.

It was not their best performance Friday night in the loss to the Dragons, but in the first half Cony showed it was more than capable of keeping up with conference’s highest-scoring offense.

“I don’t think they’re (25) points better than us,” Cony coach Robby Vachon said. “…I thought we had a nice rhythm going, but like I said, you can’t turn it over that much and expect to beat a quality football team like that.”

• • •

Kents Hill has scored three touchdowns this season and all of them have come on passes to Manchester’s Luke Arsenault.

The junior wide receiver/safety — who stands a shade under 6-foot-6 — says he put in extra work over the summer, and it’s starting to pay off.

“I think my performance is a lot better than last year,” Arsenault said. “I’ve been working hard over the summer, working during the season, getting extra plays in at the end but I’m saying in my head, ‘it’s not all about me.’

“I’m just trying to keep it up with the team and I can’t play without the 10 other guys out on the field.”

With his size, long arms and athleticism, Arsenault gives the Huskies a mismatch every time he walks on the field.

“When all else fails, we throw the ball up to him,” Kents Hill coach Steve Shukie said. “…He’s tall, he’s a got a great football sense.

“He might not be a natural wide receiver, but he has to play there because of his height and because of his ability and he’s done a great job. I’m really happy we’ve got another year out of him coming up.”

Arsenault also plays basketball and lacrosse at Kents Hill, but said football is his top sport. While he has gotten some looks but no offers, Arsenault hopes to play at the next level — either Division I or II.

Shukie believes Arsenault could play at the D-I level but still has work to do to get there.

“He’s going to get looks. He’s a very smart kid too. He’s one of the best students in the school,” Shukie said. “I know that some of those Ivy League and Patriot League schools will look at him too because of his size and because he does have production numbers, but he does have a little way to go.

“He’s got to improve his overall speed, which he did a lot since last year. He’s still growing into his body. He’s still figuring out what its like to walk around at 6-6 and he’s going to fill out a little bit. I could see a coach from an Ivy League school being like, ‘if we put 35 pounds on this kid and make him a tight end he could be a force.'”

• • •

Maranacook and Winthrop/Monmouth have got off to tough starts, and are the only teams — along with Telstar — without a win in Western D Campbell Conference.

Both teams, however, have played better than their record has indicated at times.

The Black Bears won’t have an opportunity to get their first league win this weekend as they play an exhibition game against Sacopee Valley, but coach Joe Emery was encouraged by what he saw at practice Monday. He also mentioned that the Black Bears have retooled their offense, but he would not elaborate when asked specifically what they had changed.

“We had a really good practice (Monday),” Emery said. “It was good moving forward. We made some changes to our offense and defense too. Things went pretty positive and the kids are excited about it.”

The Ramblers, meanwhile, will have another tough test this weekend. After starting the season playing the conference’s three undefeated teams — Lisbon, Old Orchard Beach and Dirigo — Winthrop/Monmouth will host defending Class D champ Oak Hill on Friday.

“We’re just trying to clean up all the individual mistakes that we make each week,” Winthrop/Monmouth coach Dave St. Hilaire said. “The biggest enemy each week has been our own mistakes.

“…We’re constantly playing catch up and we don’t want to be a catch up team.”

• • •

Oak Hill coach Stacen Doucette said starting running back/linebacker Kyle Flaherty is making progress in dealing with a hamstring injury, but he’s still not sure if the four-year starter will be available for Friday’s game against Winthrop/Monmouth.

“We’re not going to take a chance,” Doucette said. “He’s questionable to play so we won’t know until later on this week.”

Flaherty left late in the second quarter in the Raiders’ 14-6 loss to Dirigo on Sept. 13 and has not played since, sitting out all of this past Saturday’s 21-0 win over Maranacook.

In his stead, senior Alex Mace has had to increase his workload and he has delivered. In three games Mace has racked up 507 total yards and seven touchdowns.

“Alex is a very good football player,” Doucette said. “Both those guys are four-year starters and we have high expectations for both of them.”

Evan Crawley — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley

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