GARDINER — It often comes down to one play whenever Pine Tree Conference powers Leavitt and Gardiner clash. But with Hoch Field turning more and more into a bottomless quagmire with every passing shower Friday night, it became increasingly clear that if the 2012 regular season finale came down to one play, it was going to have to be a big one.
Leavitt got that big play from its newest big-play weapon, junior tailback Connor O'Malley, who ran up the middle 70 yards for the game's only score with three minutes remaining and gave the Hornets a 6-0 victory.
The win clinched at least the No. 2 seed in the PTC playoffs for the Hornets (7-1) pending the outcome of Saturday's Mt. Blue/Waterville game, meaning they are guaranteed to host a quarterfinal next week and then a semifinal if they advance. The best Gardiner (5-3) can hope for is the No. 4 seed.
O'Malley, who burst onto the scene with 142 yards and two touchdowns on just three carries in last week's win over Oceanside, rushed for a game-high 120 yards on 10 carries Friday night.
The 10th carry was the biggest, coming after a Leavitt timeout facing 3rd and 9.
"The blocking was there. That's what it was," O'Malley said. "We've been running that trap play. It's just a generic run that we do. We couldn't run option because it was too wet, so we just decided to run it right up the middle."
Leavitt originally had a pass play called before the timeout.
"We changed our mind because we thought with the personnel group that we had in there, they would think it was pass and if we could just get a seam for O'Malley, he's downhill and fast," Hathaway said. "Devin McMahan had a great trap block on that play. Will Parkin played the second half at left guard, and he and Levi (Morin) had a great push on the nose and Parkin took care of the back-side linebacker and O'Malley just split them"
Both teams got at least one whiff of the end zone prior to that but couldn't finish drives off. Brandon Collins forced and Nate Coombs recovered a fumble for the Hornets at midfield on the second play of the game. Leavitt then drove to the 10, but Brian Bedard (21 carries, 61 yards) was stopped inches short of a first down on a fourth down reception at the Tiger 3.
Despite the poor starting field position, Gardiner was able to invade Leavitt territory, and spent most of the first half there thanks to the hard running of Steve Sirois (19 carries, 97 yards) and early accuracy of QB Dennis Meehan. But it never got closer than the Hornet 19, which is where time ran out on a promising drive to end the first half.
"Defensively, we played very well," Gardiner coach Matt Burgess said. "Offensively, it was tough to move the ball, obviously, for a host of reasons. You had two defenses slugging it out on a night like this."
The Hornets held Sirois and Meehan in check in the second half, allowing the Tigers to cross midfield just once and limiting them to two first downs, with one of those coming on a pass interference penalty.
"Meehan's a great player. He's fast. He can throw on the run," Morin said. "Our job was to contain him. I guess these conditions slowed everybody down."
Gardiner responded to O'Malley's TD with two incompletions, a short run and a false start penalty, and elected to punt with 1:50 remaining. Leavitt was able to run out the clock after a 13-yard run by Bedard. A nearby lightning strike briefly delayed the game before officials called the players back onto the field so the Hornets could take a knee to end it.
"It was going to be 7-0, us or them. We knew that," Morin said. "We just had to get our stops. It was just a game of field position. One play was the difference in the game."