AUBURN — On the backs of first-year starters at running back and quarterback, Edward Little High School cruised to a 35-6 win over Bangor High School on Friday in the first game of the season for both teams.
Leighton Girardin took over the reigns at quarterback after Grant Hartley graduated this past spring, but the Eddies offense didn’t skip a beat. Girardin’s teammate since fifth grade, Josh Kaiser, was in the backfield with Girardin and the two put on a show for the crowd at Walton School.
Girardin started the first drive by running off a play-action to the left side for a first down. Two plays later, Girardin completed his first pass of the game to Caleb Yarnevich for another first, then followed it up with a 35-yard heave over the top of the Rams’ defense to Josh Hamel for a touchdown.
“It felt good getting the first one out of the way,” Girardin said. “I could barely sleep last night, but it’s good to get the first one down and I can move forward after this.”
After recovering a fumble by Rams quarterback Eli Bradford on Bangor’s opening drive, Edward Little’s defense came up with a three-and-out on the Rams’ second drive. Girardin began the second series as he did the first, with a first-down run on the first play. Three consecutive completions by Girardin set up Kaiser for a 12-yard touchdown run up the left side to make it 14-0.
Before this season, Kaiser played primarily in the slot for Edward Little. With workhorse running back Caden Begos graduated, a hole was opened up and Kaiser accepted the challenge.
“He’s a captain, he’s a great kid, he’s a devoted young man to his religion and you can’t ask for a better leader,” Edward Little head coach Dave Sterling said. “He has done a great job in the offseason to get to that point — same with Leighton, and same with all of our guys.”
Girardin made his lone mistake of the night on Edward Little’s third drive when he threw an ill-advised pass over the middle that was picked off by Bangor’s Tristan Stewart.
Luckily, Edward Little’s defense, led by its defensive line, held Bangor to just 43 first-half rushing yards before the backups came in with a lead in the second, 13 yards in the air overall and four fumbles, of which the Red Eddies recovered one.
Kaiser and Girardin ran for a combined 53 yards at the start of the second quarter to put the Red Eddies up 21-0. Kaiser ended the game with 112 yards on the ground and three scores, while Girardin finished with 225 total yards (9 of 12, 145 yards through the air) and two passing touchdowns.
“Me and Leighton are best buddies,” Kaiser said. “He’s a great quarterback. He reminds me of Johnny Manziel, running around in the pocket. It makes me a little nervous, but he’s a good quarterback and I look forward to playing the rest of the season with him.”
While Edward Little was getting everything it wanted on the ground and through the air, Bangor kept getting stifled at the line in the first half.
“I am very happy with how our defensive line played,” Sterling said. “Our guys know that it’s right from the get-go. They know that ‘Friday Night Lights’ comment that there isn’t going to be a growth spurt, we aren’t going to get bigger and we are always going to be smaller, so we have to play faster.”
Girardin was at his best on the final drive of the first half. With less than a minute remaining in the second quarter, Edward Little fair-caught a punt at its own 32-yard line. Girardin scampered 33 yards on the first play of the drive, then got 12 yards more on the ground from Kaiser. With 4.9 seconds remaining, Edward Little lined up in a max-protect formation, indicating a run to end the half. Instead, Girardin threw over the top to a wide-open Hamel for his second touchdown of the game, this one for 25 yards, and the Eddies entered halftime up 35-0.
“We were ready for war,” Girardin said. “We are a very prepared team and a very smart team. I think it showed today that we are a very fast team, as well.”
Bangor scored its lone touchdown in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run up the middle from Gabe Higgins.