Cape Elizabeth running back Ryan Weare, left, gets tackled by Gardiner defensive back AJ Chadwick during the Class C South title game Friday in Cape Elizabeth. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
Cape Elizabeth’s Ryan Weare gets up just after Gardiner’s Nate Malinowski, left, and Blaise Tripp tackled him just over the end zone during the Class C South title game Friday in Cape Elizabeth. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
Cape Elizabeth’s Ryan Weare runs the ball during the Class C South title game Friday in Cape Elizabeth. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
CAPE ELIZABETH — For the Gardiner Area High School football team, the run came out of nowhere. Out of a 1-5 start to the season, through one favored team after another, all the way to the verge of the Class C state championship game.
And against Ryan Weare and a swarming Cape Elizabeth defense Friday night, the run came to an end.
The Capers pushed the Tigers around in the trenches, Weare ran wild through the carved-out holes and their defense swamped any effort from the Gardiner offense to get going, allowing No. 2 Cape Elizabeth to defeat the fourth-seeded Tigers, 35-13, at Hannaford Field in the C South regional final.
Gardiner, winners of four straight games entering Friday’s frigid showdown, finished at 5-6. Cape Elizabeth improved to 9-2 and will head to Orono for the Class C final.
“I’m disappointed in our performance,” Tigers coach Joe White said. “Cape was certainly ready to play. They certainly know what it’s like to play in a C South championship.
“It didn’t turn out the way we wanted, but in retrospect, the season was a positive change and a move in the right direction.”
An injury to Jack Glanville, suffered in the semifinal victory over Fryeburg, robbed the Capers of one of their best players and seemed poised to slow their vaunted running game.
Instead, it just meant more of Weare, which was hardly a break for the Tigers. The senior, braving the bitter cold and wind with sleeves hiked up to his shoulders, ran 39 times for 183 yards and three scores as Cape Elizabeth jumped out to a 21-0 halftime lead and never looked back.
The Capers’ defense, meanwhile, overwhelmed Gardiner’s own dangerous running attack. The Capers were on every pitch, sweep and toss the Tigers tried to free up elusive back Collin Foye, holding the senior to 36 yards on 15 carries — 35 coming on one rush.
Despite the early hole, Gardiner had life and hopes for a comeback in the second half. Blaise Tripp opened the Tigers’ first series after the break with a 66-yard kickoff return to the Cape 9-yard line, and Foye eventually scored on a 3-yard run to cut the gap to 21-7.
Cape Elizabeth then had to punt after an Austin Weymouth sack on its next drive, but fumbles ended Gardiner’s next three drives, and opened the floodgates for Cape to build on its lead with a 2-yard touchdown run from Weare, his third, and then an 11-yard pass from Andrew Hartel to Matt Conley with 6:41 to go, making it 35-7.
Kolton Brochu rounded out the scoring with an 8-yard touchdown run with 3:40 to play.
The Capers started pummeling the Gardiner front from the opening drive. Cape Elizabeth leaned entirely on Weare to take it down the field and the senior obliged, running for all 58 yards of the series — and 62 in total, given a Capers fumble for a loss of 4 yards — on seven carries and finishing the march by taking a pitch 7 yards for a touchdown and 6-0 lead with 8:28 to go in the first.
Weare was at it again on the next series, bringing the Capers from the Gardiner 45-yard line to the 23 before a chop block penalty threatened to kill the drive. The Tigers got Cape Elizabeth into a third-and-10 from the 31 but the Capers took to the air to convert, with Hartel stepping up and throwing a perfect pass on the move to Matt Laughlin, who snagged the ball out of the icy air with a reaching grab in the end zone for a touchdown and a 13-0 lead with 4:39 left in the quarter.
Cape Elizabeth’s avalanche continued on their next series as the Tigers were again unable to stand up to the Capers’ push. Cape Elizabeth was methodical this time, moving 64 yards in 12 plays and finishing the drive with a 2-yard Weare run and a 2-point conversion pass from Hartel to Sean O’Sullivan on a fake field goal for a 21-0 lead with 8:16 to go in the half.
Needing an answer, Gardiner instead cost itself with mistakes after a 14-yard pass from Cole Heaberlin to Brochu to the Cape 47 opened the next series. Foye lost the handle on a second-down pitch for a loss of 6, and Heaberlin had a screen pass attempt slip out of his hand for another fumble, forcing the Tigers to punt again and killing their best offensive chance of the half.