OAKLAND — Moments after his team’s one-sided loss in its rivalry game with Cony, Gardiner football coach Pat Munzing expressed confidence in his team’s ability to bounce back for the regular season.

In their first game since, the Tigers backed up their coach’s faith.

Gardiner turned the page after the preseason rout, opening its regular season with an emphatic 35-6 victory over Old Town at Messalonskee High School.

It’s the first victory as Tigers head coach for Munzing, who was denied his first year at the helm when the 2020 season was canceled.

“Everybody was looking for their first win,” he said. “You’ve got to start the season with a win, wherever that falls, and we challenged them this week after last week to come back, and we challenged them each day this week.

“One of the challenges we laid out was we wanted to get our first win. We wanted to come out aggressive. The fact that this was my first (win), I didn’t realize they even knew.”

They certainly knew the importance of a fast start. The Tigers scored on each of their first three possessions, and were up 21-0 before the second quarter was halfway through.

“Right from after that Cony game, we were just looking forward to the regular season,” said quarterback Wyatt Chadwick, who finished with 10 carries for 117 yards. “We were a little bit angry with our loss, that’s what kind of drove us a little bit. We were practicing really hard, the whole team has been working really hard, and we came out here ready to look for that 1-0 start. And we executed, the whole team executed.”

Chadwick ended the first series, an 83-yard drive, with a 4-yard pass to Cole Brann for a 7-0 lead with 7:38 left in the first. After a Hunter Burgess interception, Colton Dube (14 carries, 100 yards) finished the next series with a 2-yard run. Gardiner got another turnover when Zach Kristian picked off a Caleb Sprague pass in the red zone, and Chadwick made it 21-0 five plays later when he ran behind guard Gage Poore, found space and was gone for a 58-yard score.

“We had pulling guards, so I follow them and that’s really what opened up that hole for me,” Chadwick said. “On a lot of our run plays I had that pulling guard, and that really helped me out.”‘

Gardiner High School’s Gage Poore (77) pursues Old Town High School’s Caleb Sprague (12) during a football game Saturday night at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Old Town closed within two scores when Jordan Craft found Isaac Hayes for a 5-yard pass just before the half, but Gardiner didn’t let the Coyotes get closer. In the fourth quarter, the Tigers got a 27-yard touchdown run by Evan Michaud (three carries, 39 yards) and a 30-yard run from Dillon Baker on back-to-back series to effectively end it.

The Tigers’ ground success was in stark contrast to the previous week, when Gardiner’s run game couldn’t get in gear against the Cony defense.

“I think the energy was there,” Dube said. “We had a chip on our shoulder playing. We just wanted to get this win bad, the line started connecting and we were just a machine down the field.”

It was a banner day for the Gardiner defense as well, which forced got turnovers — Ashton Sawyer and Burgess recovered third-quarter fumbles — and kept the Coyotes off the board in the second half.

Old Town High School’s Davon Alston (6) and Kyle Paradis (21) forces a frumble from Gardiner High School’s Cole Brann (20) during a game Saturday night in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“They’re so dynamic. They’ve got some really good skill guys, and we were kind of concerned,” Munzing said. “We challenged the secondary, ‘Hey, you guys are really going to have to play at top level, and you’re really going to have to get after some stuff this week.’ And they rose to it.”

Old Town coach Lance Cowan said the turnovers were too much to overcome, but said he felt going into the second half that his team still had a good shot, even after the three-score deficit early.

“I liked the way our guys responded. I thought we hung in there in the second half,” he said. “They got a couple of late scores that put the game out of reach, but we were right there the whole game. … We’re not too upset. There were a lot of good things that happened for us, and we’ll build on that.”

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