It’s not playoff time yet, but it might as well be for the Gardiner football team.

The Tigers are headed to Mt. Blue this week. And at 1-4, they know they can’t afford to come away with another loss.

“At this point, it is a must-win,” coach Joe White said. “There’s no getting around it.”

With games against Messalonskee and Cony remaining after this weekend, the Tigers, who sit in ninth in the region with the top eight making the playoffs, are running out of chances to make up the Crabtree points they’ll need to to leapfrog Brewer and/or Skowhegan to get back on track for a berth.

“The playoff implications are pretty big, and I think it’s going to help to kind of shake out the bottom tier of teams trying to make those 7 and 8 spots for the playoffs,” White said. “We’re kind of in a funk right now, and we need to really play well on Friday. This one’s a big deal.”

It’s not quite the same all-or-nothing situation for Mt. Blue (3-2), but the Cougars have plenty on the line. They sit sixth and in pursuit of a home playoff game, and coach Scott Franzose said his team is hungry for this one.

“This is that time where playoffs are going to start coming into shape,” he said. “Pole positioning. We need to stay focused on that opponent every single week, and forget about records. We’ve got to get it done Friday night.”

Franzose said he’s made it clear to his team that its next opponent will be a desperate one.

“We just talked about it at the end of practice (Wednesday),” he said. “We’ve got a team that might be playing for their playoff lives to stay in this thing, so we’ve got to stay focused on them.”

Here’s a closer look at the Gardiner-Mt. Blue matchup:

When: 7 tonight

Where: Caldwell Field, Farmington

Gardiner coach Joe White on Mt. Blue: “What makes them really tough is they do quite a lot offensively. With the spread offense that they’re running up there, they do it really well. They’ve got a good supporting cast offensively, some big linemen that can move, their quarterback is very athletic, the running back (Kevon Johnson) is a tough runner.”

Mt. Blue coach Scott Franzose on Gardiner: “You tend to think that they’re a little bit more power in what they do, but they’re a little more unpredictable. … They’re not afraid to come out (throwing) on first down, I’ve seen that on film the last two weeks. They’ll throw on any down, they have athletes that play in space, so they will spread you with 2-by-2 stuff.”

Three keys for Gardiner:

• Healthy secondary. The Tigers have been hurt by injuries this season, but their defensive backfield is getting a lift. Playmaking safety Blaise Tripp is back this week, and so is cover corner Chris Spencer. Limiting what the Cougars can do through the air will be a big part of making them one-dimensional.

• Be smart. As frustration has built this season, the Tigers have seen the flags pile up, both from penalties during the action (holding, block in the back, etc.) to after the play (late hits, personal fouls). Mt. Blue is a hard enough opponent as is. If the Tigers start giving the Cougars first downs — and eventually, points — due to penalties, they won’t have a chance.

“Yes, players are getting frustrated, but at the same time, they need to keep their composure,” White said. “You have to simply play as hard as you can between the whistles, and the extra stuff afterward is totally unnecessary and uncalled for.”

• Start fast. Gardiner’s lost its last two games by a combined score of 87-14. The Tigers can’t get into a hole early, and don’t have the firepower to come back if they really fall behind.

“I think the biggest thing is going to be to come out early and try to get on top,” White said. “We do not play well trying to come from behind. The games that have been close for us this year, we’ve come out and scored first.”

Three keys for Mt. Blue:

• Be prepared for two quarterbacks. The Tigers started the year with Sean Michaud at quarterback, but have started to put him more at running back with Noah Reed playing behind center. Reed is more of a pocket passer, while Michaud is a dual threat who likes to get the yards on the ground. The Cougars need a plan for both.

• Don’t give them extra chances. For Gardiner to pull the upset, they’ll need to pull off a few clutch conversions and extend seemingly dying drives. Getting off the field gives Mt. Blue a chance to get the upper hand quickly.

“It’s been a little bit of a touchy situation with us recently, about great team defense,” Franzose said. “Third-and-9, fourth-and-9, things (like that). We need to make sure we’re not giving up those big plays.”

• Find different ways to use Kevon Johnson. The senior is a dangerous runner, but he’s no less effective when he lines up wide and catches the ball. By using one of their best athletes and playmakers in a variety of roles, the Cougars can find the matchup that suits them best.

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