Leavitt’s Camden Jordan, left, lunges but can’t catch Gardiner running back Collin Foye during their Class C South semifinal game in Turner on Friday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)
TURNER — With three minutes remaining in the Class C South semifinal between the top seeded Leavitt Hornets and the Gardiner Tigers, Leavitt quarterback Tim Albert finally found the end zone on a 12-yard run to the left side.
But after an illegal motion penalty on Leavitt during the extra-point try, Gardiner, behind backup quarterback Sean Michaud, roared down the field and countered quickly. Collin Foye scampered 30 yards for a score and the Tigers’ extra point try was good, and the visiting Tigers stunned the Hornets, 7-6, in a Class C South semifinal.
“I saw green grass,” Foye said. “It was just like at Cony, it opened it up and I am so grateful. It was so great, I was having a hard time all game.”
Foye didn’t see much open field throughout the game. After his opening run of 38 yards, the senior didn’t earn a run longer than six yards until his touchdown run. Fitting, as the game was about the defense on both teams. In a back-and-forth contest, Gardiner prevailed last on Friday.
“Our defense is the best in the league, maybe the state,” Gardiner head coach Joe White said. “Well, I have to be careful of that because we are in Class C. We are just an outstanding and gritty defense and, boy, they have held tough all year.”
Gardiner’s first drive ended up being its most promising for most of the game, although Gardiner quarterback Cole Heaberlin went down with a shoulder injury a couple of plays into the drive and did not return.
Foye opened the game with a 38-yard run and got the Tigers into field goal range with the help of a Leavitt penalty. Gardiner’s chip-shot kick was short, and the defensive struggle began.
The next two drives of the game ended with punts, followed by a Leavitt drive that took eleven plays. Albert was the catalyst of the drive, running for 25 yards and throwing for four, but the drive ended when the Tigers’ defense held tough again.
“They dialed in and they made plays when they needed to,” White said. “It was an all-around effort tonight.The defense did a great job.”
Neither team was able to move the ball effectively in the second and third quarters. Leavitt tried two fourth-down conversions, but had one pass swatted down and one intercepted by Matthew Boynton.
As the game moved into the fourth, Caleb Bowen picked off Michaud at the Hornets’ 48-yard line. Leavitt then turned to junior workhorse Bradley Moreau, who had just one first-half carry.
Moreau contributed 27 yards on the drive as the Hornets released their vaunted no-huddle offense. Albert’s run for a score capped the drive.
On the point-after attempt, Leavitt did not have eleven men on the field, and as the last player was sprinting to the line, Leavitt coaches were pleading with their team to wait on the snap. The ball was snapped anyway, and the kick was no good. Gardiner declined the penalty and the score remained 6-0.
Penalties, especially in the fourth quarter, were the Hornets’ Achilles heel Friday. Leavitt racked up five for 75 yards in the final frame.
“Very, very poorly coached on my part,” Leavitt head coach Mike Hathaway said. “Very poorly coached. Poor coaching, not enough guys on the field, just a badly coached team out there tonight.”
On the ensuing kick return, Leavitt was flagged for an illegal hit to the head that cost the Hornets 15 yards. On second down, Michaud tossed the ball to Foye in the backfield, and Foye then launched a 30-yard pass that was batted down, but drew a defensive pass interference penalty.
The two penalties moved the Tigers to the 30-yard line. On the next play, Foye received the handoff to the left side, got a block on the edge and sprinted in virtually untouched for a touchdown with two minutes remaining. The kick was good and the Tigers took the 7-6 lead.
“These guys have been down so many times this season, especially the seniors,” White said. “These guys have gone through some amazing adversity. Being down six to nothing after a slugfest with the best team in the conference really shows a lot of grit out there from our leaders and I’m just really proud of the way they played tonight.”
Leavitt’s last drive was riddled with penalties. A block in the back on the kickoff and a holding call on a big play put the Hornets out of reach and helped Gardiner move on the Class C South final against No. 2 Cape Elizabeth.
Leavitt defenders Stephen Gray, left, and Desean Calder, middle, bring down Gardiner running back Collin Foye during their Class C South semifinal in Turner on Friday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)Leavitt defensive back Caleb Brown, left, tackles Gardiner running back Collin Foye during their Class C South semifinal game in Turner on Friday. (Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal)