CAPE ELIZABETH — The run came out of nowhere for the Gardiner Area High School football team. Out of a 1-5 start to the season, through one favored team after another, all the way to the verge of the Class C state championship game.

And against Ryan Weare and a swarming Cape Elizabeth defense Friday night, the run came to an end.

The Capers pushed the Tigers around in the trenches, Weare ran wild through the carved-out holes and their defense swamped any effort from the Gardiner offense to get going, allowing No. 2 Cape Elizabeth to defeat the fourth-seeded Tigers, 35-13, at Hannaford Field in the C South regional final.

Gardiner, winners of four straight games entering Friday’s frigid showdown, finished at 5-6. Cape Elizabeth improved to 9-2 and will head to Orono for the Class C final.

“Cape was certainly ready to play. They certainly know what it’s like to play in a C South championship,” Tigers coach Joe White said. “That’s experience and execution all at the right time, and they did it right.”

Their disappointment palpable, the Gardiner players nonetheless took stock in a season that went from lost to memorable, one that included a win over nemesis Cony and a stunning playoff upset of top-seeded Leavitt.

“It’s a great accomplishment, because we went the past couple of seasons only getting two to three wins,” senior defensive back Kolton Brochu said. “And starting off this season at 1-5, it’s a great way to turn it around, playing for a C South final.”

An injury to Jack Glanville, suffered in the semifinal victory over Fryeburg, robbed the Capers of one of their best players and seemed poised to slow their vaunted running game.

Instead, it just meant more of Weare, which was hardly a break for the Tigers. The senior, braving the bitter cold and wind with sleeves hiked up just below his shoulders, ran 39 times for 183 yards and three scores as Cape Elizabeth jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and never looked back.

“We definitely did what we wanted to do. We just got the job done,” Weare said. “(Glanville’s) definitely a big part of the team, but I’ve been kind of the go-to guy the past few weeks. I just planned on continuing that.”

Cape Elizabeth coach Aaron Filieo said he never worried about overloading his bruising back.

“Not much hurts him. He’s a pretty tough kid,” he said. “We knew that they would be aggressive on defense, so we talked about matching their aggressiveness up front. I thought we did a good job of that.”

The Capers’ defense, meanwhile, overwhelmed Gardiner’s own dangerous running attack. The Capers jumped on every pitch, sweep and toss the Tigers used to try to free up elusive back Collin Foye, holding the senior to 36 yards on 15 carries — 35 coming on one rush – and limiting Gardiner to 66 yards on 24 carries, with most of the yardage coming with the win all but secure.

“We knew he’s a good football player,” Filieo said. “We watched him on film, and he runs that toss very, very well. We’ve been coaching our guys up on that. We knew that kind of got them here.”

Despite the early hole, Gardiner had life and hopes for a comeback in the second half. Blaise Tripp opened the Tigers’ first series after the break with a 66-yard kickoff return to the Cape 9-yard line, and Foye eventually scored on a 3-yard run to cut the gap to 21-7 and restore faith on the Tigers’ sideline in another postseason rally.

“That was a big turnaround,” White said. “It gave us momentum for a couple of minutes, however short-lived.”

Cape Elizabeth then had to punt after an Austin Weymouth sack on its next drive, but fumbles ended Gardiner’s next three drives and opened the floodgates for Cape to build on its lead with a 2-yard touchdown run from Weare, his third, and then an 11-yard pass from Andrew Hartel to Matt Conley with 6:41 to go, making it 35-7.

Brochu rounded out the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run with 3:40 to play.

“We had a stop on defense, got the ball back and proceeded to turn it over on three straight possessions,” White said. “You’re not going to come back with that kind of execution. The kids played hard, but you can’t fix those mistakes with effort. It’s got to be execution, it’s got to be flawless.”

The Capers started pummeling the Gardiner front from the opening drive. Cape Elizabeth leaned entirely on Weare on an eight-play, 58-yard drive, capped off when Weare took a pitch 7 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 lead with 8:28 to go in the first.

Weare was at it again on the next series, bringing the Capers from the Gardiner 45-yard line to the 23 before a chop block penalty threatened to kill the drive. The Tigers got Cape Elizabeth into a third-and-10 from the 31 but the Capers took to the air to convert, with Hartel stepping up and throwing a perfect pass on the move to Matt Laughlin, who snagged the ball out of the icy air with a reaching grab in the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead with 4:39 left in the quarter.

Cape Elizabeth’s avalanche continued on their next series as the Tigers were again unable to stand up to the Capers’ push. Cape Elizabeth was methodical this time, moving 64 yards in 12 plays and finishing the drive with a 2-yard Weare run and a 2-point conversion pass from Hartel to Sean O’Sullivan on a fake field goal for a 21-0 lead with 8:16 to go in the half.

“It was nothing special, I just think we have a pretty underrated offensive line,” Filieo said. “They stepped up today, and they really showed what they can do and what they’re capable of.”

“They just had size, they were able to pound it right down our throat,” Brochu said. “It was kind of a letdown when it was 21-0 real quick. It didn’t feel good, but we tried to stay in it and keep pushing.”

Given how the second half of the season had gone, there was reason to think anything was possible.

“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but in retrospect, the season was a positive change and a move in the right direction,” White said. “I told the seniors that, especially at the end, I was proud of them for putting the team on their shoulders.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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