Gardiner running back Cameron Michaud leaps over a host of Cony defendersduring the annual rivalry game last week at Alumni Field in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Garrett Maheux didn’t even hesitate.

His Gardiner football team had just been soundly defeated by its archrival, and had fallen below .500 for the first time all season. But when asked if his confidence was still high, the Tigers’ linebacker had an answer before the question had finished.

“Oh yeah,” he said. “We’ve just got to keep playing. Work hard in practice, and keep it going into the game.”

There’s no question that Gardiner is struggling after three straight losses, the latest a 21-0 blanking by Cony, and injuries that have had the offense operating at less than full strength since the second week of the season. But there’s also no doubt that this is an area where the Tigers have been before. And a spot from which they’ve turned things around and been not only better, but at their best.

“That’s what I told them at the end of the game tonight. We didn’t need to hang our heads,” coach Joe White said Friday. “We’ve got a good team that we’re playing next week (in 5-1 Leavitt), and we get clicking by playoffs, good things can happen. We just need to keep our heads up.”

There is evidence to White’s point. Gardiner was only 2-5 at this point last season, but gained steam for the playoff push with a 13-7 win over Cony, then turned that momentum into a 13-8 quarterfinal win over Morse and a 7-6 semifinal win over Leavitt. There were signs Friday night that the defense is starting to find its 2017 rhythm; after allowing 30 or more points three times in a four-game stretch, the Tigers first forced three turnovers and allowed 17 points against Cape Elizabeth, then permitted only 14 points on defense against Cony despite the Rams starting five drives in Gardiner territory.

“We’ve just got to come out in the first half instead of waiting for the second half to punch,” Maheux said. “We’ve got to punch first and then play hard.”

• • •

There was a lot of red and a lot of orange in the stands for the 141st Cony-Gardiner game.

And a whole lot of yellow on the field.

The Rams and Tigers were called for a combined 22 penalties Friday night, with 14 going against the Tigers and eight going against the Rams. Flags were thrown on 19 of the plays from scrimmage, and Cony coach B.L. Lippert said rain leading up to the game made for a muddy field that had a hand in the sloppy game.

“I think there were some linemen slipping and falling in these conditions,” he said. “So a guy gets a head past you and you feel like you’ve maybe got to get a hold on him, you slip and it’s a pretty obvious hold. I know we had a few on us that were obvious, I saw a few on them that were obvious. … Some of that stuff I think is a function of the excitement of the game, where kids are playing a little bit too hard, but we’ve got to clean that up.”

Penalties have been a recent trend for the Tigers. Gardiner was flagged 10 times in its loss to Cape Elizabeth the previous week.

“We’ve not done anything differently as a staff, teaching our kids how to block properly,” White said. “It’s consistent, since the beginning of the season. We’re out of sync.”

Staff photo by Joe Phelan Cony quarterback Riley Geyer passes the ball Friday night during the annual rivalry game with Gardiner at Alumni Field last week in Augusta.

• • •

With Friday’s shutout, Cony’s defense is now the best scoring defense in all of Class B. The Rams have allowed 53 points, or 8.8 points per game. Cony already had the top spot in B North but passed B South’s Kennebunk (54), which beat Falmouth 25-7, for both regions.

Only Thornton Academy (48) has allowed fewer points than the Rams. Keeping those impressive numbers won’t be easy against Brunswick (5-2), but Lippert has aced one test after another.

“We relied on our defense to make plays,” he said Friday. “They’ve done it all year, and they were spectacular again tonight. That’s kind of been the formula. If our offense sputters a little bit, we’ve been able to rely on the defense to do a pretty good job.”

• • •

With a few plays turning out differently, Oak Hill could be looking at a D South season to remember — or one to forget.

Nail-biters have been the norm for the Raiders, who have played four games decided by three points or fewer, going 2-2 in those contests. Oak Hill lost to Spruce Mountain 27-25 on Friday, and also has a 14-12 loss to Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale on the ledger. On the other hand, the Raiders also beat Yarmouth 19-17 and took a 17-14 decision over Mountain Valley.

As it is, Oak Hill is 3-4 and will finish its regular season at home against Lisbon Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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