FAIRFIELD — Two teams desperate to keep their playoff hopes alive certainly played like it Friday night at Keyes Field.

A 12-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Braden Ballard to senior Mitchell Cushing early in the first quarter ultimately held up, as the Lawrence High School football team (2-4) held on to beat Gardiner 14-6. The Tigers fell to 1-5 in Pine Tree Conference B with the loss.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said. “They gave us a great game and they were ready to defend us pretty well.”

Lawrence led 7-0 at halftime but the advantage was far from safe midway through the fourth quarter. After an interception from Isaiah Swan led to a touchback, Gardiner went right back to the senior on offense as quarterback Eli Kropp connected with Swan on a 38-yard completion to spark the Tigers’ drive.

Four plays later on fourth-and-10 from the 48, Kropp threw a ball up into coverage to Kaleb Caron, who wrestled the ball away from a Bulldogs defender and rumbled down to the 10 yard line for a 42-yard gain.

The Tigers punched it in three plays later on a well-designed play in which they cleared the right side of the field and pitched the ball forward to Cody Spencer streaking from left to right on a jet sweep. Spencer beat a Lawrence defender to the end zone for the 11-yard touchdown to make it 7-6 with 6:02 remaining.

“In the open field (Spencer) is pretty dangerous — he’s elusive,” Gardiner coach Joe White said. “That’s just one of those misdirection plays that we saved for just the right time. It was a big play.”

Gardiner went for two, but Kropp’s pass was well-defended and knocked away by Jarrett Hill to preserve the Bulldogs’ lead.

“(Hill) has done really well since we started to use him more on defense,” Hersom said. “He has good coverage on a couple of other occasions when they went his way and on that breakup, he really had the guy covered for quite a while. When the quarterback finally decided to let it go, he had a good break on the ball.”

Gardiner was down, but not out. The Tigers stymied the Bulldogs on their next possession after picking up a first down and seemed poised to get the ball back with a little over two minutes and two timeouts remaining.

The ensuing punt from Seth Powers went through the arms of Gardiner’s return man, though, and Lawrence gunner J.T. Nutting managed to dive onto the ball to recover it for Lawrence at the Tigers’ 18 yard line with 2:18 to play.

“He’s got that job to try to get free and put some pressure on the return guy,” Hersom said. “He was able to break the guy’s block down so he could get there. It bounced our way and we were pretty happy for (Nutting) making that play.”

The Bulldogs then pushed their lead to 14-6 four plays later on a 5-yard touchdown run from Tyler Larouche. Gardiner got the ball back needing to go 81 yards in 1:06, but could not find any last-second magic to tie the game.

“This group just keeps digging and clawing to find that win. To close it off has been our thing,” White said. “We played actually pretty tough D last week against Mt. Blue, we just couldn’t get an offensive thing going.

“Defensively we shined, offensively we still have to try and put some things together to get points on the board.”

Kropp paced the Tigers — who were limited to just 50 yards rushing on 36 attempts — with 117 yards on 10-of-17 passing. Spencer caught six balls for 16 yards to go along with the 11-yard touchdown rush.

Lawrence rushed for just 100 yards Friday, 54 of which were accounted for by Cushing. Seth Powers had three catches for 69 yards and also picked up 23 yards rushing on three attempts.

The Bulldogs wasted little time in getting on the scoreboard Friday night, as they scored on their first possession of the game and marched 66 yards on six plays to go ahead 7-0 with 7:30 remaining in the opening quarter. Seth Powers had an 11-yard run and 34-yard reception on the drive to set up the score, a swing pass to Cushing along the right side of the field.

The Bulldogs only other scoring opportunity came with 7:19 remaining in the second quarter when Zoli Nagy missed short and right on a 42-yard field goal attempt.

Gardiner nearly got in the end zone late in the first quarter after taking over at the Lawrence 39-yard line. A 24-yard run from Logan Clark on third-and-10 got Gardiner into the red zone and four plays later the Tigers converted a fourth-and-11 down to the Lawrence 3 yard line when Kropp found Hunter Russell over the middle.

The Tigers could not punch into the end zone, however. Josh Farrin was stuffed for no gain on first down, while Kropp threw an incompletion and was stopped at the line of scrimmage on second and third down, respectively. Gardiner called Clark’s number on fourth down, but he was stopped at the 2-yard line on a rush to the left with 1:45 remaining in the opening half.

The Tigers tried to scrap some points out of quarter after forcing Lawrence to punt from its own 1 yard line with 15 seconds left in the half, but Powers got the kick away cleanly. The Tigers got the ball back with six seconds to play in the half but could not find the end zone.

Evan Crawley – 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Evan_Crawley


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