OAKLAND — The Tigers won the turnover battle, and in turn won a key game to help keep them in the playoff hunt in Class B North.

Gardiner forced five fumbles and picked off a pass Friday night, turning those into critical points in a 28-0 blanking of Messalonskee at Veterans Field. Twice, Eagle turnovers in the second quarter resulted in Gardiner touchdowns to help break open what had been a stalemate through nearly 15 minutes at the outset.

Sean Michaud rushed for 112 yards and a touchdown, as the Tigers improved to 2-5. Messalonskee dropped to 0-7.

“It’s not so much about beating them, but just coming in and getting a win because next week we have a huge game against Cony,” Michaud said. “I think just getting a win and playing a pretty good ballgame was very important for next week.”

“We needed the win, and the kids played a great game tonight — a complete game,” Gardiner coach Joe White said.

The first two Messalonskee fumbles of the night turned directly into Gardiner points, with Michaud busting off a 45-yard touchdown run with just over nine minutes remaining in the first half and fullback Dylan Spencer rambling home from 7 yards out to make it 14-0 later in the second quarter.

It was just the start needed for a Gardiner team which had lost its three previous games while scoring just 14 points total during that stretch.

“It was huge,” Michaud said. “When we go down, we haven’t been playing the best the last couple of weeks. Getting the lead early and keeping it was definitely huge.”

But the most promising effort of the night from the Tigers came before they’d even enjoyed a single offensive play from scrimmage in the third quarter.

Down to second-string quarterback Ezra Michaud following a knee injury to starter Brady Doucette in the final minute of the first half, the Messalonskee offense sputtered. On second down near midfield, Michaud fumbled into a pile of Tigers — where Blaise Tripp scooped the ball up off the turf and raced 55 yards for a score and a 21-0 lead.

“It was just a big old blur,” Tripp said. “I just remember picking up the ball, standing up and I didn’t hear a whistle so I just kept running. It was really big. It set the tone for the half and got us rolling.”

“The really disappointing part of it is that we had a really great week of practice, and to perform the way we did was a real disappointment,” Messalonskee coach Walter Polky said of his team’s turnovers. “Gardiner came in and did what they had to do. We just gave them too many chances.”

Gardiner tacked on another touchdown in the fourth quarter, with quarterback Noah Reed throwing a 30 yard touchdown pass.

It ended an uneven night for the Tiger offense, one which at times looked dynamic while at others looking pedestrian.

A scoreless first quarter was proof of that, including a couple of failed fourth-down attempts deep in Eagle territory.

Still, a win was a win for the Tigers, who have rival — and conference co-leader in undefeated Cony — looming next week.

“We just played a game,” White said. “Some of the goals we’d set for the week was to have a good week of practice, and we did. We wanted to score first, because usually when we do that we have a good showing, and we did. The last piece was to try and get a score on defense. We did all of those things tonight, and I’m really proud of the way they played.”

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