Gardiner Area High School football players drill during a practice earlier this season. The Tigers take on rival Cony on Friday. Staff file photo Andy Molloy

Health issues for a football team are always a big story. Let alone when its biggest rival is next on the schedule.

Gardiner and Cony are set to meet for the 141st time Friday, and the Tigers (3-3) will head in with injury news at a few key positions while also trying to shake off back-to-back losses to Fryeburg Academy and Cape Elizabeth.

Not all the news is good for Gardiner. Receiver and cornerback Matt Boynton, who had to be carried off the field after being tackled following an interception late in the third quarter last weekend, suffered what coach Joe White confirmed to be a broken ankle and will most likely have to miss the rest of the season.

“His ankle’s going to keep him out four to six weeks. … We were hoping it was just a high sprain,” White said. “He’s pretty much off the radar for now. Hopefully he can get better for basketball season, but it’s a tough break. ‘Next guy in’ is just how it’s going to go.”

With Boynton out, Gardiner loses its best downfield threat, its best best to convert second- and third-and-long, and its best cover corner, as well as its placekicker. Jaydan Burditt, a junior who has started on defense for the Tigers this season, slides in as the next option to handle some of those offensive and defensive responsibilities.

“Burditt is really athletic, may not have the same speed as Matt, but is as athletic and can make big plays,” White said. “He caught a touchdown down at York on a fade ball, so he’s able to get out there and go up and get the ball. He’ll fight for it.”

Elsewhere, the prognoses are better. Safety Sean Michaud, out since Week 2 with a broken wrist, is nearing a return to action, and would help offset Boynton’s loss for the secondary.

“It would be something for, like, playoffs,” White said. “With Sean, he had a cast put on and they’ll reassess in a couple of weeks. That puts us out of the regular season. … We’ll give him the option to come back, probably just on the defensive side of the ball.”

The Tigers will get back quarterback Noah Reed, who started for three weeks before a concussion against Fryeburg caused him to miss the Cape Elizabeth game.

“Noah throws the ball really well,” White said. “We do like to run, but if the pass can complement our run game and we put a total package together, we’re tough to beat.”

Gardiner will need as many players back soon as possible with 5-1 teams in Cony and Leavitt on deck.

“We’re hoping to get some of these guys back for a final push,” White said. “The season’s winding down, so we’ve got to try to get healthy, because we’re going to be there and we want to be able to compete.”

• • •

All indications are that Reed will be back Friday night, but White had praise for the player who took his spot.

The Tigers turned to Ryan Banister under center early in the second quarter against the Capers, and the freshman helped keep Gardiner in the game. He completed three of 10 passes for 39 yards, but didn’t commit a turnover until the Tigers were in desperation mode, led Gardiner to its only touchdown and hung in despite several big hits, including one in which he was leveled but drew a roughing the passer penalty to extend a third-quarter drive.

“He’s like 14 years old, maybe. … We just gave (him) a wristband and said ‘Be ready,’ ” White said. “He’s a good kid and he loves football, and you know what? I think it says something tonight about his mental preparation, being able to step in as a young kid. I don’t even know how many JV reps he was getting. … That’s a lot to ask of a kid who not long ago was in eighth grade, to come out here against a good Cape team.”

• • •

Cony knew it had a good cache of weapons on offense coming into this season with seniors Reed Hopkins, Matt Wozniak, Mike Wozniak and Dustin Dyer, but the Rams have also benefitted from a more unforeseen development.

Sophomore Jamal Cariglia has made a role for himself within the Cony offense as a shifty runner with a knack for making defenders miss in space. Cariglia has rushed for three touchdowns for the Rams, while also adding a fourth on a 92-yard kickoff return in the opener against Messalonskee.

“Jamal’s been outstanding,” coach B.L. Lippert said. “He’s a good athlete, he’s as tough as they make them. He’s only 150, 155 pounds, but he runs down there on kickoffs and hits people, he runs between the tackles. He and (lead running back Ashton Cunningham) have a lot of similarities, but there’s a little bit of difference there too, so sometimes we go to him in certain situations.”

One of those situations has been one of the highlights for the season so far. The Rams were losing to Biddeford 13-7 when Cariglia took a carry 10 yards for the go-ahead — and, eventually, winning — touchdown.

“He’s one of the better pass blockers we’ve had as a running back,” Lippert said. “He’s had some big carries. … He’s got a real natural ability with the ball in his hands. He finishes every run. He finishes falling forward.”

• • •

After winning one game in its previous two seasons, Kents Hill has been a much tougher team to beat this season.

The Huskies are 1-2, but have a 42-6 win over Hyde on the ledger, and losses by scores of 30-20 to Kingswood Oxford and 13-0 to Portsmouth Abbey have told Steve Shukie that his team is going to be competitive this fall.

“It’s a good combination, there are some good skill guys and some big linemen,” he said. “The starting group’s pretty good this year. … There’s more confidence, there’s more talent, there’s more experience.”

Behind quarterback Nick Sebastian, the Huskies have improved in the passing game, but they’re still led by a dynamic running game featuring 1,000-yard rusher Gordon Beckwith and new recruit O’Shae Ho-Sang, who ran for 238 yards and three scores in the win over Hyde.

“O’Shae’s a pretty talented running back,” Shukie said. “We haven’t really seen anything like him here in a while. Our goal is to keep him healthy all year, keep him upright. He has the potential to break away every time he touches the ball.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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