GARDINER — The play didn’t work the first time. But Will Ledbetter and Kaleb Cidre got it right the second time.

Ledbetter found Cidre for a 17-yard touchdown pass with 46.1 seconds left, providing the winning points for the Windham football team in a 21-20 victory over Gardiner in Class B action at Hoch Field.

A Gardiner last-ditch rally fell short in the closing seconds, and the Eagles stormed the field for a long-awaited celebration — Windham didn’t win a game last year while playing in Class A.

“We’ve been through a lot in the last year,” Cidre said. “Coming back and winning the game tonight, I really, really loved it.”

Gardiner, which led 20-15 after a 4-yard touchdown run by quarterback Sean Michaud with 9:22 to play, fought hard, coach Joe White said, but cost itself with mistakes and undisciplined play. The Tigers were called for 12 penalties in the game.

“We certainly didn’t question their grit,” White said. “Mistakes set us back, we left some points on the board. We got unsportsmanlike penalties when we’re close to the goal line. We’ve got to be able to score. That makes it a different ballgame if we can go up by a couple of scores.”

The Tigers were up late, and seemed to come through with the hold of the game when Windham reached the Gardiner 15-yard line but turned the ball over on downs with 5:42 left.

Gardiner couldn’t move the ball, however, and punted it away, giving the Eagles another golden chance with the ball at the Tigers 36 and 2:14 to play.

“It’s an interesting group. We have a bunch of kind of lead-by-example guys, so we don’t have a bunch of rah-rah. So it’s hard to read them sometimes,” Windham coach Matt Perkins said. “But guys are willing to make plays. You know you have some really quality guys when that happens, they’re not afraid to make a mistake.”

On the first play, Ledbetter went for the lead in one shot, and found Cidre down the right sideline but just out of bounds. Windham eventually faced a 4th-and-2 from the 28, and Ledbetter hit tight end Jason Scott for 11 yards to move the chains.

On the next play, the Eagles revisited the concept that nearly worked at the start of the drive. Cidre ran right and was left wide open, and Ledbetter found him with a quick pass. Cidre shook a tackle and raced the rest of the way toward the right pylon for the touchdown.

“They came back and ran almost the same play,” Cidre said. “When I broke that tackle and got in, it was the best feeling I’ve had in a while.”

Gardiner wasn’t finished, as Michaud took the Tigers from their own 25 to the Windham 18 with 1.8 seconds remaining, but the drive ended there.

“We’ve got some youngsters that are learning on the job here,” Perkins said. “There were so many situations in that game where we would make a mental mistake or an error. We could have hung our head or let it happen, but we went onto the next play.”

Down 14-8 at halftime, Windham went ahead after an interception set it up at the Gardiner 21. The Eagles needed seven plays to convert, with Ledbetter finding Nick Garrison with a 4-yard touchdown pass on 4th-and-goal with 1:20 left in the third.

The Tigers responded on the next series. Hunter Land had a 28-yard rush to bring the ball to the Windham 40, and four plays later Michaud raced around the right side of the defense for a 4-yard touchdown run on 4th-and-3.

“There was no hesitation,” White said. “We’re just going to go out and execute the offense. We worked on a hurry-up offense all week.”

Gardiner took the first lead when Michaud found Gage Chase cutting from the left to the middle of the end zone for a 22-yard pass and a 6-0 lead with 10:02 left in the first half. The lead lasted 16 seconds, as Windham’s Ben Elliott gathered the ensuing kickoff at the 15, ran left to right through the middle of the field, then turned up the right sideline for an 85-yard return and an 8-6 Eagles advantage with 9:46 to go.

It appeared that lead would hold for the rest of the half — until the Tigers found some well-timed dramatics. Gardiner forced a turnover on downs with 5.8 seconds left, which was just enough time for Michaud to heave the ball down the right sideline from the Windham 45.

Receiver Logan Carleton, meanwhile, got behind the Windham secondary, and hauled in the pass and fell into the end zone for a last-second score and the 14-8 lead.

“The job was to answer the kick return,” White said. “With (5) seconds left, after a great defensive stand, we go up top to Logan, and he makes a big play. That’s what we want out of our seniors. It was great patience by Sean, a great throw, and Logan going up and being an athlete to bring it down.”

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