WATERVILLE — This was the game the Waterville Senior High School football team needed, and the Purple Panthers knew it. Four consecutive losses had put the Panthers in danger of missing the playoffs, and a win Saturday over Old Town would put the team back on solid postseason ground.

With big plays on offense and a bend-but-don’t-break defense, Waterville earned the 41-13 win over Old Town, putting the Panthers solidly in the Class C North playoff mix. Waterville, now 3-4, ends the regular season next week at Hermon (5-2). Old Town dropped to 2-5 with the loss.

“The kids knew the deal. At the beginning of the season, the whole talk in the locker room was momentum. We lost that a little bit playing some tough teams and doing some self-destructive things a little bit in a few of the middle games. That was the theme, to get the momentum back,” Waterville coach Matt Gilley said. “They knew the season was on the line.”

Ahead 14-6 with 40.3 seconds left in the second quarter, Waterville took over on its own 20. Chase Wheeler ran 20 yards on first down, stopping the clock with 33.7 left. On the next play, Nick Wildhaber took the ball 60 yards for a touchdown, giving the Panthers a 21-6 halftime lead. On the second play of the second half, Waterville quarterback Jack Thompson went 57 yards on a keeper, pushing the lead to 27-6. With 1:37 to play in the third, Wheeler broke a 64-yard touchdown run, giving Waterville a 34-6 lead.

Tyrone Giger and Trafton Gilbert also scored for Waterville. In all, five players found the end zone for the Panthers.

“That’s just trying to reward work during the week. We’re in a spot where people are competing for the football. The last couple of years, we haven’t been that deep, particularly with people who are varsity ready. They all earned opportunities and they made the most of their opportunities,” Gilley said.

Defensively, the Panthers did just enough to disrupt the Coyotes run game. Ninety-seven of the 188 yards Old Town gained against Waterville’s starting defense came on one second quarter scoring drive, culminating with a 26-yard touchdown run by Ethan Hayes which briefly cut Waterville’s lead to a point, 7-6. The Panthers forced a pair of fumbles, with recoveries by Gilbert and John Evans, and until a late touchdown drive against Waterville’s junior varsity, the Coyotes never threatened to score again.

“We kept the momentum and when we got down, we were, next play. That’s the mentality we had. Never stop, never quit,” Evans said.

“(Old Town) had the size advantage, no doubt. They knew that, and they were coming right at us. We had been preparing for a little more of the spread sweep stuff we had seen on film. To their credit, they saw where their advantage was and they exploited us a little bit. There wasn’t a ton of three and outs, but we did enough on defense against a much bigger Old Town offense, and I’m proud of our guys,” Gilley said.

Hayes gained 133 yards on 16 carries for the Coyotes. Wildhaber ran for 116 yards on 11 carries to lead Waterville. Wheeler added 91 yards on four carries, and Gilbert (12 carries for 51 yards) and Thompson (four carries 60 yards) also ran well for the Panthers.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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