There was the big game against Freeport. The scamper into the end zone against Cony. And the jaunt for a touchdown in the final minutes against Leavitt.

Each was a chapter to the Gardiner football team’s memorable season. And according to coach Joe White, it wasn’t a coincidence that each was also a clip on Collin Foye’s highlight reel.

“We were probably late to establish Collin as a primary back, and we finally made the decision (against Freeport),” he said. “From then on, it was Foye that got us to the C South final.

“He’s the kind of kid that goes with the flow, and he steps up when he has to.”

With the ball in Foye’s hands and the offense running through the senior, Gardiner’s fortunes changed seemingly overnight. Foye had big games against Freeport, Cony and Leavitt, continued to shine at cornerback on a top-tier Gardiner defense and brought the Tigers to the brink of a state championship game. For his performance, Foye is the Kennebec Journal Football Player of the Year. Cony’s Anthony Sousa and Jordan Roddy, as well as Oak Hill’s Darryn Bailey, were also considered.

“Foye is an exceptional athlete,” White said. “He’s able to do it on both sides of the ball, he makes big plays.”

The individual statistics, which included 521 rushing yards — most in the second half of the season — and eight touchdowns, as well as 16 catches for 255 yards, were impressive. But Foye took most stock in helping to turn around a struggling Gardiner program in his final season at the school.

“Obviously the past three years have been rough for Gardiner, and we really feel like we changed the culture,” he said. “We feel like we turned the program around and back to being a threat in the league.”

It didn’t look like the year would pan out that way — either with Gardiner winning, or with Foye leading the way. With a crowded backfield, the Tigers tried to let running backs Cam Michaud and Nate Malinowski get their carries, and Foye was often lined up at wide receiver. The offense stalled, and the Tigers dropped five of their first six games.

“It was tough to balance it all to give us a chance,” Foye said. “We just couldn’t get it flowing.”

With Gardiner facing a chance to build some late-season momentum the next week against Freeport, White ditched the running back rotation and leaned on Foye as the bell cow. He ran for 213 yards and three touchdowns in a 33-20 win. “It kind of clicked,” he said. “It was what I had been doing my whole life, so it felt really good to be back there.”

“He’s just a great runner,” White said. “He has great instincts and he just really sees the field well.”

Foye and the Tigers were just getting started. The next step was erasing a five-year losing streak to Cony, which Gardiner pulled off with a 13-7 overtime victory. Foye ran for 77 of his 99 yards after halftime, then capped off his effort by taking his first carry of overtime 10 yards for the winning touchdown.

“It was just a dream come true,” he said. “It’s one of the oldest rivalries in the nation. The opportunity to play in it is great, but the opportunity to win it, overtime, game-winning touchdown, was unbelievable.”

Gardiner rode the mounting momentum into the playoffs and beat Morse, setting up a showdown with top-seed Leavitt in the C South semifinals. The run appeared to end there when the Hornets took a 6-0 lead late in the fourth, but the Tigers answered on the next drive, netting the game-winning score when Foye — who ran for 102 yards on 18 carries — darted through space off tackle and sprinted into the end zone.

“We ran it perfectly. Everybody hit their man, everybody blocked perfectly, and it opened right up,” he said. “After the game I was just sitting there thinking. I couldn’t believe we just did this.”

All along, while he generated highlights and headlines on the offensive side, Foye was just as effective as a key cog in Gardiner’s stifling defense. He notched 21 tackles and two interceptions as the Tigers’ top corner, showcasing an ability to both keep players from catching the ball and bring them down if they got it.

“He’s one of the best tackling defensive backs I have seen in a long, long time,” White said. “For being someone that’s somewhat undersized, he is very gifted as far as football ability is concerned.”

It’s the formula for a star player — though he’d be the last to call him one. Foye seizes the spotlight and just as quickly deflects it, preferring instead to talk about the block that springs him or the defensive linemen stuffing the run, allowing him to focus on his receiver. In the moments after the Leavitt game, even with a game-tying touchdown to his name, Foye seemed puzzled by the media attention around him.

“What about Austin Weymouth?” he said, scanning his teammates to find the lineman who had kicked the winning extra point. “He’s the guy you want to talk to.”

It’s humility, and according to White, it’s nothing new.

“He could have been the type to maybe gripe that he wasn’t getting the ball enough or that we weren’t doing enough to feature him,” he said. “He loves football, and it certainly showed in the second half when we relied on him to carry the load, and he did it on both sides of the ball.

“He’s just a great, great football player, and we’ll miss him going forward for sure.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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