GARDINER — The loss last week was ugly, and players on the Gardiner football team acknowledged the sting hadn’t completely faded by the time they took the field again Friday night.

“We were kind of low on confidence,” senior running back Nate Malinowski said, “because we didn’t play to the level we should.”

It didn’t take long for that confidence to be restored. Malinowski led a balanced rushing attack, Garrett Maheux made key contributions on offense and defense and the Tigers found their rhythm in a big way, cruising to a 44-14 victory over Lake Region at Hoch Field.

“They came out and executed very well after not so much last week,” said coach Joe White, whose team was on the wrong end of a 35-14 drubbing last week vs. York, its first defeat of the season. “It was nice to see the offense get clicking again, and we ripped off some long runs on account of some great blocking up front, and you had your usual performance out of guys like Malinowski, Maheux and (Cam) Michaud.”

Gardiner’s balanced backfield was in top form Friday. Malinowski ran for 126 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries, Maheux churned out 93 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries and Michaud ran for 60 and a score on six attempts.

“It’s nice. You don’t have to carry the load all the time,” Malinowski said of the deep backfield. “You can spread out the carries, knowing they can get the job done.”

“We’ve been knowing this since we’ve been sophomores,” Maheux said. “But this is all thanks to that line, that line that’s working hard at practice and it’s showing in games.”

Gardiner (3-1) got rolling before it even had a chance to possess the ball. On the game’s first series, Maheux intercepted a slant at the Lake Region 12-yard line and ran untouched the rest of the way for a quick 6-0 Tigers lead.

“It’s all defense and Coach (Patrick) Munzing, every single practice we practice that swing,” Maheux said. “I looked at the quarterback’s eyes and I read that easy.”

Gardiner had a touchdown negated by a penalty on its first series, but made up for it on the second and needed only one play to do it. Quarterback Noah Reed dropped back, allowed receiver Matt Boynton to outrun his defender downfield, then delivered the ball before the pass rush got to him and hit a wide-open Boynton for a 40-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.

It was the first of two touchdown passes for the sophomore, who completed 4 of 5 passes for 71 passes in his second start since junior Sean Michaud went down with a wrist injury.

“He did the same thing last week. The line did a much better job with pass protection tonight,” White said. “But he was stepping in and making throws last week. The play we scored on last Friday was a similar play, it was a 92-yard touchdown. He stepped right in and heaved it. It’s nice to have weapons like that that can complement the run game.”

A Boynton interception set up the Tigers’ third drive, and Gardiner again made it count. Cam Michaud broke through some traffic at the line on a third down run and slipped through some arm tackles before finding open field, pulling away from the rest of the Lakers for a 55-yard touchdown run.

Two possessions later, Malinowski scored on a 14-yard run to bump the advantage to 26-0. Lake Region answered on the next series with a 29-yard run by Ethan McMurray (12 carries, 60 yards), cutting the deficit to 26-7, but Gardiner put together a 45-yard drive in the final two minutes of the half, capping it off with Reed’s 1-yard run with 15 seconds to go.

The second half brought more of the same. Malinowski broke a 30-yard run on the first series after the break, and Maheux finished the drive with an 18-yard run around the left side.

“(The line) did really well,” Malinowski said. “They were setting up holes for me to run through.”

Lake Region found the end zone on a 4-yard run by Brandon Sargent (seven carries, 44 yards) on the next series, cutting the deficit to 38-14, but Gardiner had an answer again with a 15-play drive that covered over 12 minutes and was finished by a 9-yard pass from Reed to A.J. Chadwick, making it 44-14 with 7:30 left.

“The momentum we have from this game is going to carry us on throughout the season,” Maheux said. “We’ve just got to keep pushing in practice and working hard.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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