GARDINER — The ball was on the ground and eventually in the arms of the Winslow defense, giving the Black Raiders possession to go with their lead over Gardiner with just over a minute to go.

For a second, Tigers receiver Matt Boynton began to panic. For a second.

“First, it’s shock,” he said. “But then we think back in our heads, we’ve got to believe. We’ve got to keep fighting, no matter what. Because it turns into a play like that.”

Or, plays, rather, equally dramatic and equally improbable. The first was a 32-yard fourth-down reception by Boynton, the second was an 8-yard run by quarterback Sean Michaud for a touchdown in the closing seconds, lifting Gardiner to a 35-30 victory over Winslow at Hoch Field on Friday night.

“It takes a while to process that,” coach Joe White said. “Our kids never gave up. … That was a big, uplifting win for the kids. Hard-fought battle by Winslow, goodness gracious. I hope to play them again.”

Even Winslow coach Mike Siviski could only smile at the thrilling conclusion.

“That was a great game for the fans, and congratulations to Gardiner on a hard-fought game,” he said. “It was a classic power vs. speed game.”

One that his team appeared to have salted away when Nate Malinowski lost the ball on a carry from the Winslow 20-yard line with the Black Raiders leading 30-28. Only 1:14 remained, but Gardiner had all three timeouts, and after forcing a Winslow punt that only went 9 yards, the Tigers took over with 44 seconds left and a chance to stun the Black Raiders.

The chance seemed to fizzle, and three incomplete passes and an intentional grounding penalty later, the Tigers faced a 4th-and-22 from their own 35 with 20 seconds to go. Michaud dropped back, and moments before getting hit, arced an all-or-nothing pass down the left side.

Meanwhile, Boynton camped under the ball, timing his jump perfectly and snagging the pass at the 10 before falling forward to the 3.

“I’m thinking ‘Come off the line hard, get by route right and catch the ball,’ ” he said. “It’s a huge moment. You don’t think about it until after the play when you’re in it. It just flies by.”

Michaud spiked the ball, but a false start before the next play moved the ball back to the 8. The Tigers stuck with the play they were going to use, and Michaud ran around the right side and rode a convoy of blockers before pushing through traffic and falling into the end zone.

“It was great blocking, great kickouts by the line,” said Michaud, who completed three of nine passes for 88 yards. “I just cut it back up and dove for the end zone. It was just great blocking and a great playcall.”

White acknowledged that the field goal was on his mind after the Boynton catch, but in the hoopla surrounding the dramatic conversion, he didn’t overcomplicate it.

“We could have kicked a field goal, but jeez, didn’t have any timeouts. I said ‘the heck with it, let’s run it,’ ” he said. “That was a phenomenal run. He’s just an incredible athlete, to be able to withstand all that and get over the goal line.”

The game appeared destined for a dramatic ending throughout the second half, which began with Gardiner ahead 14-12. Winslow drove to the Gardiner 8 on its first series before quarterback Colby Pomeroy (4-of-7, 108 yards; 11 carries, 45 yards) was intercepted by Boynton, and Malinowski (14 carries, 117 yards) made the Black Raiders pay on the next play when he broke an 80-yard run for a 21-12 lead with 8:07 to go in the third.

“My linemen blocked great,” Malinowski said. “It was all them. All I had to do was run through the hole.”

The teams were just beginning. Pomeroy finished a 66-yard drive when he dove into the end zone on fourth-and-goal from the 1, making it 21-18 with 1:49 left in the third, and after Winslow recovered a short kickoff, Alex Demers (17 carries, 70 yards, three touchdowns) ran in from a yard out to give Winslow its first advantage since the first half, 24-21 with 10:35 to play.

A Boynton kick return to the Winslow 40 helped set up Gardiner’s answer, a five-play, 40-yard series that ended with Cam Michaud’s 10-yard run for a 28-24 lead with 7:32 to play. Winslow wasn’t done, and rode its power running game to a 60-yard drive that was capped by a 16-yard Demers run and a 30-28 lead with 4:21 left.

Gardiner appeared to have the final answer, marching from its 27 to the Winslow 20 before Malinowski was stripped on a second-down carry.

He thought he’d lost the game. He was quickly shown otherwise.

“It’s great that we were able to bounce back,” he said. “I was losing it on the sidelines because I thought I’d messed it all up. I was very happy that my teammates pulled through and helped me come back from that.”

Winslow took a 12-0 lead on a Demers 1-yard run and a 45-yard pass from Pomeroy to Isaiah Goldsmith, but Gardiner came back with a 46-yard pass to Boynton and a 2-yard run by Cam Michaud that gave the Tigers the lead.

There were plenty more dramatics to come.

“We wouldn’t have wanted a game to go any other way,” White said. “Somebody was going to come out of that disappointed. It was just a slugfest, but it was a good, old-fashioned battle and no one should be disappointed with that.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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