PITTSFIELD — As Gardiner football coach Pat Munzing prepared his team to face Maine Central Institute with the Class C playoffs looming, he stressed one overarching theme.

“Our big emphasis this week was to finish,” he said. “We’ve had some games where we’ve been ahead in the first half, we don’t finish. Then we have games where we’ve played really tough in the second half, we’ve finished those ones, but without a win.

“We wanted to play in all three phases and really be able to finish the game.”

His team provided a clinic Friday night. Gardiner scored the final 27 points and found the end zone on its first four possessions of the second half, turning a three-point game into a 39-9 victory over MCI.

Gardiner (3-5), which had 100-yard rushing games from Cole Brann, Colton Dube and Wyatt Chadwick, will head into the C South playoffs as the likely sixth seed, climbing from seventh with Westbrook’s loss to Cape Elizabeth. The move up means the Tigers will likely play Fryeburg Academy instead of Cape Elizabeth, but Munzing was thinking more about his team than a potential opponent.

“The most important thing is the confidence of getting a couple of wins,” Munzing said, “and getting our guys back and playing. Now they realize when we put a hard week of practice together, they see the results on Friday.”

The Tigers like what they’re seeing.

Maine Central Institute running back Braeden Kennedy (24) rushes over Gardiner’s Evan Michaud (25) during a football game Friday in Pittsfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It’s a huge confidence booster,” said Chadwick, who ran 15 times for 114 yards and also completed eight of 12 passes for 121 yards. “It’s awesome, to win two straight heading into the playoffs. Everyone’s going to be excited and have tons of energy through the next week of practice.”

MCI, which entered the game in fifth place in C North, fell to 1-4.

“We knew that their front was real good, they had a lot of athletes out in space,” said coach Tom Bertrand, whose team has had to make do with seven linemen. “We had a couple of guys go down … we started scrambling and they found something they like. We’ve got to get on film and see what that was, and we’ve got to fix that.”

The Huskies actually withstood a first half that saw Brann (eight carries, 109 yards; four catches, 92 yards) notch a 31-yard rushing touchdown and 62-yard receiving touchdown, and closed within three points at 12-9 when Caleb Kennedy took the opening kickoff of the second half 71 yards to the end zone.

“I thought we were fine,” Munzing said. “Our defense played great. We didn’t allow much of anything.”

The Tigers were as calm as their coach. Immediately following the kick return, Gardiner drove 61 yards and finished the series off with Brann’s third touchdown, a 10-yard run for an 18-9 lead. The next drive went 71 yards and was capped by a 5-yard run by Dube (13 carries, 103 yards), making it 25-9. A 45-yard run by Dube finished the next series, and freshman Kyle Doody went three yards for a touchdown to finish the scoring with 3:47 to play.

Gardiner’s Cole Brann (20) drags Maine Central Institute’s Caleb Kennedy (2) into the end zone for a touchdown during a football game Friday in Pittsfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“We’ve just been working really hard at practice, because our past few games, we’ve kind of rolled over a little bit,” Chadwick said. “Whatever (the score) is, we’ve just got to keep playing, keep working.”

Gardiner ran for 419 yards, 311 of which came in the second half behind a line that is finally at full strength.

“We didn’t put our heads down (after the return),” Brann said. “Coach has been preaching that. If something big happens against us, don’t put your head down. Keep working.”

Brann’s two scores in the first half were both highlight-caliber. He was met at the line of scrimmage but fought through and then outran the defense on the run with 3:42 left in the first quarter, and on the touchdown reception he hauled in a deep pass from Chadwick, juked away from the MCI corner and safety, and raced the rest of the way to make it 12-0 with eight minutes left in the half.

“It felt like I was almost back in middle school, just running and having fun,” Brann said. “Coach said ‘Just have fun tonight.’ We definitely did.”

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