Gardiner football coach Joe White remembers the last time his Tigers made a trip down to Leavitt’s Libby Field. When Gardiner was the upstart taking on the team that was lighting up the scoreboards at each field it played on. And when the Tigers stuck with the Hornets from the opening snap to the final kneel-down.

“It was dead quiet, and I think the home crowd was impressed with how we fought with them,” said White, whose team lost, 19-7, on Sept. 16. “A week prior they hung 70 points on Belfast, and (they thought) ‘How come there’s not 40 or 50 points on the board against Gardiner?’ I think that got people’s attention.”

Now the question is, can Gardiner do it again? White likes his team’s chances.

“I thought our defense played really well (in September), especially in the secondary,” he said. “I think it’ll be a very good matchup.”

Even so, White knows what his team is up against. Leavitt is explosive, averaging 35.5 points per game during the regular season, and with an attack led by quarterback Tim Albert that is comfortable both running with Albert and Bradley Moreau and working the ball downfield to a cast of receivers led by Oren Shaw, the Hornets can be unrelenting.

“Leavitt is very persistent, in that if they find something that’s working for them, they’ll keep doing it,” White said.

Gardiner’s defense, however, doesn’t let up either. That was on display last Friday, when the Tigers allowed Morse to move the ball downfield, only to stiffen as the Shipbuilders got close. Four drives ended with turnovers on downs, and three came to a halt in Gardiner territory.

“I think our defense has really shown their worth in the red zone, and I think that’s probably where Leavitt is the toughest,” White said. “Chances are, if they have the ball inside the 20, they’re going to score. That’s been our stronghold the last couple, three weeks.”

The strength of the defense is its athleticism. Defensive backs Blaise Tripp and Kolton Brochu fly to the ball and are eager tacklers, corners Collin Foye and Dimitri Paradis are aggressive playing the ball in the air, and Garrett Maheux at linebacker and Roy Appleby and Dylan Spencer on the line have stuffed opponents’ run games and screen plays.

“They’re a very athletic team in the second and third level of the defense,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “They’ve got a lot of guys that can run around and tackle well, and they can play in space. … They can match up pretty well. They’ve got some good athletes out there.”

Whether they’re as good as Leavitt’s stocked arsenal of playmakers, however, will determine whether an upset is in the making or not.

“It’s a lot later in the season now than it was then,” Hathaway said. “I think our guys are a little more able to adjust to things. We’ve seen probably the whole gamut of different defenses over the course of the year. Hopefully our experience will be a little bit better for us this time around than that time.”

• Winthrop/Monmouth is hoping the Cinderella ride has at least one more stop in it.

The Ramblers resurrected a lackluster season by winning three of their last four games in the regular season to reach .500, then scored a playoff upset by beating No. 3 Lisbon, 28-13, as the sixth seed in the Class D South quarterfinals.

Now Winthrop/Monmouth is one game away from a return trip to the D South championship game. But there’s a giant standing in the Ramblers’ way in the form of No. 2 Madison/Carrabec, which crushed Dirigo, 49-14, in the quarterfinals after a 7-1 regular season — with one of those seven wins coming against Winthrop/Monmouth, 47-8.

That game came in the third week of the season, however, and Ramblers coach Dave St. Hilaire said the scouting reports from September won’t do as much good now.

“It’s almost a totally different look from then to now, up front defensively and on the offensive lines, (for) both sides,” he said.

For Winthrop/Monmouth, change has been a theme on both sides of the ball. It’s taken place on defense, where improving health to linemen Noah Elegbede, Zac Wallace and Trenton Wood has turned the front seven into the team’s strength. It’s taken place on offense, where pass catchers Greg Fay, Ryan Baird and Cameron Gaghan, guided by sophomore quarterback Keegan Choate, have turned the Ramblers into a pass-happy team after a season of struggles running the ball.

“Looking at them now on (film), I do see a little bit of a different team,” Madison coach Scott Franzose said. “Not as far as skill, because we’ve always felt they’re skilled, but running more empty formations, a lot of quick passing game.”

It’s been possible thanks to the improvements Choate has made in his first year as a starter.

“I told him the other day before the playoff game, ‘OK, it’s playoff time. You’re no longer a sophomore, you’re a junior now,’ ” St. Hilaire said. “And he really is, with his maturity and experience. That really showed the other day, because in the second half, he drove us. Third-and-8, we’d get 9. Third-and-10, we’d get an 11-yard pass. Just making the right reads, and he really came into his own.”

It’s a tall order for it to match up to Madison’s athleticism, however. The Bulldogs are as explosive as anyone in Class D, with Sean Whalen, Eric Wescott and quarterback Evan Bess forming a trio of rushers than ran all over the Ramblers in their first meeting, and their defense, perhaps overshadowed by the potent offense, limited teams to only 14 points per game in the regular season.

“Team speed is a big part of what we do,” Franzose said. “It can be a deceptive offense. We have a lot of fakes, we run a lot of different schemes. The kids are great at picking them up and executing them.”

Don’t expect a team that’s rolled for much of the season to change anything soon.

“Everything that we do, it’s still the same pass concepts, it’s still the same run scheme,” he said. “We might use a new formation here or there, we might add a new motion, but at the end of the day it’s still the same stuff that we do.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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