Leavitt’s Bryce Hudson tries to evade a tackle from Gardiner’s Cam Michaud during Saturday night’s football game in Turner. Gardiner’s Nate Malinowski comes into the play from the right.
TURNER — Leavitt’s offense monopolized the spotlight by lighting up the scoreboard for 128 points through the first two games of the season. Saturday night’s homecoming game against Gardiner was the defense’s turn to shine.
Caleb Bowen picked off two passes and had two long runs to set up touchdowns to lead the Hornets to a 19-7 win over the Tigers at Libby Field.
“It’s all just about watching my other guys go and reading my own keys,” Bowen said. “I just happened to be there when the ball was thrown.”
Senior QB Tim Albert had two touchdown runs and Dasean Calder one for Leavitt (3-0). Colin Foye rushed for Gardiner’s (1-2) lone score.
Coming off a 73-0 win over Belfast during which they scored on their first six plays from scrimmage, the Hornets faced a much tougher task against the Tigers’ defense, gaining 263 hard-earned yards led by Bowen’s 130 yards on 10 carries.
“He’s a playmaker out there, both sides of the ball,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said of Bowen. “I’m glad he wears green.”
“We knew we weren’t going to get into a shootout with these guys and we really needed to buckle down on defense,” Gardiner coach Joe White said.
Leavitt’s defense was stout from the start, particularly against the run (40 yards on 25 attempts). Gardiner’s Garrett Maheaux got a piece of a punt ending the Hornets first possession to set up the Tigers at the Hornets’ 35 for their first series. Leavitt forced three straight incompletions by Gardiner lefty QB Cole Heaberlin, the last on fourth-and-8.
Gardiner collected its three first downs of the first half on a promising drive early in the second quarter, reaching the Leavitt 11. But the Hornets forced the Tigers to settle for a 29-yard field goal attempt by Austin Weymouth that was no good.
Leavitt couldn’t do anything with two drives into Gardiner territory (the second to the 49), but did take advantage after its longest play from scrimmage in the half, a 27-yard run by Bowen, got it to the 4.
On first down, Calder took a jet sweep left, turned the corner and dove over a defender at the goal line for the game’s first score with 48 seconds left in the half.
“I was so pumped,” Calder said. “We wanted to beat them bad, so I was willing to do anything.”
The Hornets looked like they had another good drive going to start the second half, only to fumble at Gardiner’s 34. But Bowen got the ball back with an interception and return to the Tiger 46. A personal foul penalty on Gardiner moved the ball to the 31. Four plays later, Albert scored from the 1 to make it 13-0 with 6:27 left in the third.
Gardiner relied heavily on senior running back Collin Foye to answer with its scoring drive, including pass completions on fourth-and-4 and fourth-and-17 to keep the 18-play drive alive. Foye found the end zone on a 3-yard run two plays into the fourth quarter to make it 13-7.
A shanked punt ended Leavitt’s next possession and set the Tigers up with golden field position, the Leavitt 33. But Camden Jordan and Cole Morin converged to sack Heaberlin and forced him to make a risky throw on fourth-and-14, which Bowen intercepted and returned to his own 40.
Gardiner’s Nate Malinowski returned the favor by intercepting an Albert pass and returning it to Leavitt’s 45 with 6:32 left. But the Tigers were later flagged for a 15-yard dead ball personal foul penalty that pushed them back and forced them to punt the ball back with 5:05 left.
“We’ve been in these games the last two (including a 21-13 loss to Cape Elizabeth last week) and we’ve just got to learn how to win, learning to win in terms of when you’ve got a team on the ropes and you’ve got a chance to capitalize on some things,” White said. “We made too many costly errors tonight as far as penalties. Getting backed up 30-plus yards on a good drive, that’s not going to cut it.”
On third-and-5, Bowen took a sweep right 67 yards to the Gardiner 8. Two plays later, Albert ran it in from the 6 to essentially put the game away with 2:25 left.
“Gardiner is a really good team. We knew from the beginning that this was going to be a war,” Bowen said. “This is what we’ve been working for all week. Coach said the more conditioning, the more focus in practice is money in the bank, and it just shows off in the game.”
“We did a nice job against their run game, which was probably our primary concern with the running backs they have,” Hathaway said. “They got a few things on us in the pass game, but I thought overall, at least at the end, we played it pretty well.”
Leavitt’s Damion Calder and Caleb Bowen pile on Gardiner’s Tanner Hebert to bring him down during Saturday night’s football game in Turner.Leavitt’s Caleb Bowen leaps over Gardiner’s Collin Foye during Saturday night’s football game in Turner.