Maine Central Institute quarterback, Max Bottenfield (14) loses his footing and goes to the turf as Gardiner’s Gage Poore closes in during a football game Friday in Pittsfield. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Gardiner football head coach Pat Munzing had a surprise waiting for the team before its final test of the regular season.

With the Tigers getting ready to face Maine Central Institute, they were taken aback to find out that senior linebacker Owen Pushard, seemingly out due to close contact protocol, would be suiting up and able to play in the game.

Gardiner ended up defeating MCI 39-9, and junior Cole Brann said the captain’s availability for the game gave the team a boost.

“We didn’t know he was going to play, and he showed up right before we were about to come down,” said Brann, who had three touchdowns in the win. “I think that fired it up for us.”

Pushard was originally going to be out for the game, but his quarantine period ended at 5:30 p.m. Friday. And with the Tigers set to play the Huskies at 7, that made him a go.

“We found out mid-week,” Munzing said. “There’s a mix between the way that Gardiner does their rules and the rules that he has to follow through the vocational school. He was able to join us and jump right in.”

Given the green light, however, Munzing and Pushard both decided to play up the suspense.

“We kept it from them, more or less because we found out late,” Munzing said. “And then it was Owen’s idea. He’s like ‘Just don’t tell them, I’m going to show up and surprise them.'”

While the Tigers were dressing before the game, Pushard, who was given the senior night recognition from MCI that he missed the week before, told his teammates he was back.

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

“It was a great surprise,” Brann said. “He’s a big part of our team. It was something special when we saw him coming into the locker room.”

Munzing said he could tell Pushard’s impact by the way the Tigers reacted — particularly the defense, which didn’t allow a point to the MCI offense.

“It’s a big boost,” he said. “When a team loses its captain and doesn’t have him there, there can oftentimes be that lack of leadership, which he really provides. He gives us a huge boost. For him to be able to step in and get them fired up, that was the loudest pre-game locker room we’ve ever had.”

 

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Maranacook’s Owen Dunn was at his best late in Saturday’s playoff game at Old Orchard Beach, when the Black Bears needed him the most. While Dunn ran for a game-high 377 yards on 28 carries in the 56-28 win, 132 of those yards and three touchdowns came in the fourth quarter, when Maranacook pulled away after the Seagulls cut the deficit to four points, 34-28, on the first play of the fourth quarter.

That Dunn did it while nursing a pair of dislocated fingers impressed his coach.

“We’re excited about (Dunn). He’s an animal. He’s got that feel for it. Honestly, he was a little banged up today, so we were kind of worried about it. He literally has two digits that are completely dislocated. He’s out there being a tough son of a gun,” Maranacook coach Jordan DeMillo said.

Dunn’s first fourth quarter touchdown came with 10:06 to play, on a 32-yard run up the middle. After the Black Bears forced Old Orchard Beach’s offense off the field on down near midfield, Dunn scored on a 55-yard run on the first play of the ensuing drive.

When the Black Bears recovered a Seagulls fumble on the kickoff, Dunn struck for a second straight one play scoring drive, this time running 35 yards for the score that effectively put the game out of reach.

 

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Messalonskee turned a big corner as a program early this season, snapping a 22-game losing streak that dated back to 2017.

Since that 34-8 victory over Edward Little on Sept. 10, Messalonskee (3-5) has picked up two more wins. And with the exception of a 43-12 loss to Windham on Oct. 1, the Eagles have been competitive in each game all season.

Messalonskee quarterback Brady Doucette, right, runs the ball as teammate Jack Kinney blocks Lawrence defensive back Noah Grass during a football game Friday at Keyes Field at Lawrence High School in Fairfield. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

That included a near-upset Friday night in Fairfield, when Messalonskee fell just short in a 42-38 loss to conference rival Lawrence. With the winless tag off their backs, the Eagles are now trying to focus on the small details in games that turn potential losses into potential victories. Such matters hurt Messalonskee on Friday night, particularly penalties and missed two-point conversions.

“It comes down to the little things,” head coach Walter Polky said after the game. “Short yardage stuff. We get two two-point conversions, the game is tied up. Our kids played hard. We ran the football really, really well (Friday). We got a touchdown pass at the end of the game. When they were down 42-18, they came back. We’re getting there. It’s a process.”

What hasn’t hurt has been the play of senior quarterback Brady Doucette, who ran for 210 yards on 23 carries and accounted for four touchdowns (three rushing, one passing) against the Bulldogs. Doucette also cracked the 1,000-yard rushing mark during the game, and now has 1,179 yards on the ground this season.

“He’s the heart and soul of our team,” Polky said. “He’s the guy. And he’s the guy, where if we need something, that’s who we go to. And the other team knows it, too. He’s a phenomenal football player.”

Staff writers Travis Lazarczyk of the Portland Press Herald and Dave Dyer of Central Maine Newspapers contributed to this report.

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