OAKLAND — The Fryeburg Academy football team had been threatening all night, with nothing but some near-misses to show for it.

And then the defense made a play. And from there, the Raiders began to find the answers that had been eluding them.

Job Fox returned an interception for a game-turning touchdown, Gunnar Saunders and Hayden Fox ran for fourth-quarter scores, and Fryeburg beat Gardiner 24-6 Saturday night to improve to 3-2.

“I think our defense made the difference,” Raiders coach David Turner said. “We felt like we were going to get some things in the second half, but pinning them deep and getting that pick-six kind of got things going. And our defense just played really well the whole night.”

Gardiner’s defense was resilient for most of the night, keeping the Raiders off the board on four separate drives that reached the Tigers 25-yard line. The offense, however, couldn’t string enough drives together to take advantage, and while the team has been playing better of late, Gardiner coach Pat Munzing said it’s been frustrating to see it not translating into wins.

“We came out initially like we wanted to, and like we had planned on,” said Munzing, whose team fell to 1-4. “We’ve been trying to build, week by week, th the long-term goal of trying to make the playoffs. … The hard thing is when you get to a game like this that’s kind of in control for that first half, we’re doing the things we wanted to do, and you watch it kind of slip away. (You’re) trying to claw back, and you’re just kind of running out of claws.”


Gardiner led 6-0 at halftime after an 8-yard touchdown run by Wyatt Chadwick in the last minute of the second quarter, and had the ball again after forcing a punt on Fryeburg’s first series after the break. The Raiders forced a third-and-11 from the 13-yard line, and Gabe McKenney and Jackson Witchley forced Chadwick out of the pocket. They hit the Gardiner quarterback as he threw, and Job Fox was in perfect position to snatch the interception and return it 20 yards for a momentum-shifting touchdown.

Fryeburg defensive back Liam Quinn (11) nearly picks off a pass intended for Kayden Weston (11) during a football game Saturday in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“I read a screen, the quarterback bootlegged out, and I was leaking out to the flat after my hook curl, saw the bad pass and made a play on it,” Fox said. “It’s always good. I’m playing lineman for the first time this year, my senior year, so it’s nice to get some points on the board, that’s for sure.”

It was just the break the Raiders had been waiting for after a frustrating first half in which they had reached the Gardiner 25, 15 and 18 and came away with nothing.

“We got momentum,” Saunders said. “We had the lead, and we have a great defense. We’ve held teams to one score all year. We knew we could stop this team.”

Gardiner’s offense ran into finishing troubles of its own, going from its own 22 to the Fryeburg 31 in eight plays before eventually turning the ball over on downs. The Tigers made yet another red zone defensive stand on the next Fryeburg drive, forcing a turnover on downs at the 15, but the Raiders began to break through. Saunders (12 carries, 46 yards) kept for an 8-yard score on the next drive to make it 16-6 with 9:30 left in the fourth, and Hayden Fox (17 carries, 60 yards) followed with a 16-yard touchdown run that made it 24-6 with 5:36 to play.

After gaining 51 yards of offense in the first half, Fryeburg totaled 154 in the second.


“They were blitzing, and we weren’t used to that. They were getting pressure to me and they were really blitzing the A gap, stopping the inside run,” Saunders said. “We switched to a heavy formation, getting the extra blockers, and Hayden broke loose.”

Munzing said he was happy with the resilience he got from his defense.

“The defense played really well, and kind of always had that bend-but-don’t-break attitude,” he said. “They really did toughen up. When their backs were against the wall, they all were fighting and clawing and doing everything that they could to just keep them off the board. You’ve really got to commend those defensive guys for doing that. That’s one of the tougher things to do in football.”

The Tigers had their moments offensively, especially when Chadwick (16 carries, 87 yards) and Colton Dube (16 carries, 60 yards) got free around the edge, but sustaining drives, particularly as the score began to tilt in Fryeburg’s favor, was a challenge.

“We just couldn’t get over that barrier of stringing some plays together and getting some first downs,” Munzing said. “They’re probably sick of me telling them after a loss that they’re playing really well and we’re right there. We’re just trying to get an opportunity to win a game, and we had one.”

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