Winslow’s Ryan Fredette (33) gets tackled at the line by Gardiner’s Dylan Spencer (34), A.J. Chadwick (80) and Blaise Tripp (21) during a game last season in Winslow. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

The Gardiner football team reached the Class C South final last year. It looked terrific in an opening victory over Morse.

But there are still boxes that remain unchecked for the Tigers. Tonight against Winslow could take care of some of them.

“You have to play the best and beat the best to propel your program to the next level,” coach Joe White said. “We talk about championship level in our locker room, they’ve heard that before. … The kids know full well that a win against Winslow is a big-time confidence boost, and helps us make our mark in Class C.”

While last year’s clash between the Tigers and Black Raiders was a turnover-marred, one-sided 41-7 affair, this year’s game promises to be a tight battle between one of the class’s more perennially strong programs and another that has started to find its winning ways again after struggling in Class B. Gardiner shredded Morse 34-7 in the first week, while Winslow held on for a 28-20 win over an emerging Nokomis team.

“Something’s got to give. It should be a great game,” Winslow coach Mike Siviski said. “It’s two good teams with a lot of weapons. That’s what it boils down to.”

Here’s a closer look at the game:

Where: Hoch Field, Gardiner

When: 7 tonight

Winslow coach Siviski on Gardiner: “I really like the way their ballplayers run to the football. And offensively, they seem to have quite a few weapons. (Nate) Malinowski is a nice fullback and (Garrett) Maheux is really good both ways. Their line seems to get off the ball good, their guards run good. And defensively, they run to the ball really well, too. We’re going to be really tested.”

Gardiner coach White on Winslow: “They’re a well-coached team, they play hard, they’re tough kids. … Winslow is hard-nosed football. Has been for many years.”

Three keys for Winslow:

• Be ready for the moment. There are only three returning starters for the Black Raiders on offense, and only, in Siviski’s words, “four and a half” on defense. The Hoch Field crowd should be ready to go for this one, and while most of the Winslow players have seen a big-game environment, they haven’t necessarily played a starring role in one yet.

“I’m sure the atmosphere will be fantastic. Probably like an early-season playoff atmosphere,” Siviski said. “I’m anxious to see the situation and our team, how we’re going to react.”

• Force Gardiner to move away from the run. The Tigers love to run the ball, and have a trio of players that can handle most of the load in Cam Michaud, Malinowski and Maheux. By neutralizing the run game, either by jumping out to an early lead or stuffing the Tigers on the first few series, the Black Raiders would take a big step toward putting the clamps on the Gardiner offense.

• Be tough inside. Size is on Winslow’s side in this one. With both teams relying on success in the trenches and Winslow having the bigger players — the most prominent example being superb tackle Cam Winslow — the Black Raiders are likely to have the advantage as long as they don’t get caught off guard by Gardiner’s physicality.

Three keys for Gardiner:

• Linemen, find a way. Gardiner’s defensive line, led by Roy Appleby, Dylan Spencer, A.J. Chadwick and Brad Sandelin, is very good, but undersized. Spencer is only 5-9, Sandelin is only 5-10 and Appleby is only 195 pounds. Against the bigger Winslow line, the defensive front will have to either hold its own or utilize its edge in quickness.

“Our little guys can’t get lost inside,” White said. “We can’t lose the size matchup. … (We need to) stay low and keep a low profile on the big guys. … We can’t get caught up in that.”

• Wrap up and tackle. With running backs Alex Demers and Ben Dorval, Winslow has a pair of bruising backs, and arm tackles won’t be enough to keep the Black Raiders from running wild.

“(Demers) is a load, he’s big,” Siviski said. “And Dorval filled in admirably last year at the end of the year. He’s a threat.”

White acknowledged as much.

“We’ve got to wrap those guys up and take them down,” White said. “Prepare to be hit, and be prepared to dish it out.”

• Hang onto the ball. Could Gardiner have beaten Winslow last season? It’s impossible to tell, the Tigers turned the ball over four times and kicked away any chances they had at a victory. For the game to have a different ending this time, the Tigers will need to make sure they’re not giving Winslow any extra possessions.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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