GARDINER — From the moment the players on the Cape Elizabeth football team got off the bus, coach Aaron Filieo had a message for them.

“When we first walked on the field and the air started getting cold, I said ‘Guys, we’re in Gardiner,’ ” he said. ” ‘It’s going to be one of those old-school (games), you guys are going to get muddy real quick, they’re going to try to run the ball.

” ‘It’s not going to be a 50-0, runaway game. It’s going to be a slobknocker.’ “

It was, and the Capers were ready. Cape Elizabeth threatened throughout the night, capitalized on a few drives and its defense did the rest, suffocating Gardiner’s rushing attack en route to a 17-8 victory.

“I thought both teams played hard, and you like that in October,” said Filieo, whose team improved to 3-3.

“I think this is just a big win for us, momentum-wise,” said receiver Ethan Convey, who caught five passes for 78 yards and a touchdown. “We’re all happy about it. We grinded it out.”

Gardiner fell to 3-3 with the loss, and did so after trying to find an answer on offense after quarterback Noah Reed, the backup to start the season, was unavailable due to a concussion suffered last week against Fryeburg. The Tigers tried both speedy running back Blaise Tripp at quarterback in some option plays and freshman Ryan Banister under center, but couldn’t find a consistent answer against a strong Cape defense that, led by lineman Bear Huffard, swarmed to the ball and its carriers.

“I thought we played really well, considering,” coach Joe White said. “Tough to get the ground game going at times, but with the guys that we had in there, I thought that we did OK.”

When the Tigers did find cracks in the Capers’ defense, penalty flags were rarely far behind. Gardiner was penalized for holds or blocks in the back five times, negating long run after long run and dashing chance after chance of pulling even on the scoreboard.

“Every time,” White said. “That really cuts your lifeline as a running team. … It’s just a killer. For a running offense to have multiple flags thrown while you’re trying to generate tempo and execute your plays with snap efficiency, it’s a kick in the pants every time you see the yellow flag on the turf.”

Cape Elizabeth threatened throughout the first half, getting inside the Gardiner 30-yard line on two of its first three drives, but it took a Tigers mistake for the Capers to turn their progress into points.

After Cape reached the Gardiner 9 but turned it over on downs, Tripp fumbled on each of the first two plays of the ensuing drive, with the Capers recovering the second at the 3. It took Garrett Mello (19 carries, 84 yards) one play to surge in for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead with 10:18 left in the half.

“I think we needed it,” Filieo said. “I thought we moved the ball early, and then we kind of shot ourselves in the foot a little bit. We’d like to finish drives, and so we’ll take a turnover deep in their territory.”

Cape Elizabeth upped its lead to 14-0 when Convey took a 3rd-and-16 screen pass from quarterback Andrew Hartel (9-of-18, 185 yards) and wove his way through the Gardiner defense for a 45-yard touchdown with 6:21 left in the third quarter. A 29-yard field goal by Alex Morin upped the advantage to 17-0 with 4:20 to play.

“I thought I was about to get tackled right away,” Convey said. “I turned upfield, slowed down to let the blockers get in front of me, and just saw 40 yards of green grass to my right.”

Nate Malinowski (17 carries, 49 yards) scored on a 3-yard run and Garrett Maheux added the 2-point conversion with 1:38 remaining to round out the scoring.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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