Gardiner’s Alonzo Connor makes a lunge for Leavitt’s Eric Theiss as he breaks a 60-yard run for the first touchdown of the evening in Turner during their game in 2009.
The atmosphere of a homecoming football game is always special. Leavitt’s traditional Saturday night homecoming is often especially so.
From the oversized crowd at the always buzzing Libby Field to the parade of floats, Leavitt’s homecoming typically has a big-game feel, regardless of the opponent.
This Saturday night’s atmosphere could be even more electric. The Hornets will renew acquaintances with Gardiner, a not-so-long-ago rival in the old Class B East.
The rivalry peaked with back-to-back regional title games at Libby Field in 2009 and 2010. It has been dormant since 2013, when Leavitt dropped to Class C. The Hornets returned to Class B briefly in 2015, but in the South, while the Tigers “remained” in the North. The latest realignment has reunited the teams in Class C South.
The two schools battled through a number of high-stakes games starting 2005, when Gardiner moved down from Class A to Class B. Through a scheduling glitch, they met at Gardiner’s Hoch Field the first two years. Leavitt won the first, Gardiner the second. They first met at Libby Field in 2007, with the Hornets winning, 14-7.
That was the start of a seven-game winning streak over the Tigers that the Hornets will carry into Saturday night’s renewal. The highlights of that run were the two Class B East title games.
In 2009, Josh Strickland rushed for 242 yards and the game’s only touchdowns on 34 carries in a 13-0 victory. Strickland went on to lead the Hornets to a 35-21 state championship win over Cape Elizabeth the following week.
The 2010 regional final was less dramatic. The Hornets picked up their 23rd consecutive win, 27-7, behind Jordan Hersom’s 224 yards and two touchdowns rushing. Mountain Valley ended their hopes of repeating as state champions the following week.
Hersom is now carrying on his family’s proud coaching tradition — as an assistant coach for the Gardiner Tigers. And the high-powered Hornets will look very familiar to him.
Head coach Mike Hathaway remains (joined on his staff this year by Bill County, who led Leavitt to Class B state titles in 1995 and 1998), as do several of his assistant coaches. After a rebuilding year in Class B, they seem to have the Hornets clicking once again.
Through two games, they have scored an astounding 128 points, the most in the state by 25 points. After scoring 41 unanswered in the second half of a 55-34 shootout with York, they scored touchdowns on their first six plays from scrimmage in a 73-0 rout of Belfast. Senior QB Tim Albert attempted five passes and threw for 242 yards and five touchdowns to four different receivers in the first half. Bradley Moreau and Camden Jordan led a rushing attack that amassed 299 yards with a touchdown apiece.
Things won’t come as easy against Gardiner, which beat Morse, 26-6, in its season-opener, then battled a tough Cape Elizabeth team to the end of a 21-13 loss at Hoch Field.
Quarterback Cole Heaberlin powers the Tigers on offense. He has three touchdowns on the season, two to 6-foot-7 tight end Patrick Pelletier. The running game has been by committee thus far, with Collin Foye, Nate Molinowski and Cam Michaud sharing the load.
Saturday night could be another compelling chapter in the renewed rivalry. Any Leavitt or Gardiner fan experiencing flashbacks won’t be alone.