TURNER — Parking will be at a premium for Saturday’s Eastern Class B football final, and not just because some of the best players in the state will be squaring off for third-seeded Gardiner and top-seeded Leavitt.

Leavitt Area High School’s annual craft fair is being held simultaneously with the Pine Tree Conference title game. Leavitt coaches and administrators hoped to play the game Friday night to avoid the headaches of a couple of thousand football fans and craft enthusiasts converging in one spot. But PTC bylaws require the game kick off at 1:30 on Saturday.

“It’s really not a big deal,” Leavitt coach Mike Hathaway said. “It’s the Eastern Maine final. We don’t care when we play it.”

Hathaway and the unbeaten Hornets (10-0) have other things to worry about. The Tigers (8-2) will be a very different team than the one they dominated, 36-0, in both teams’ regular season finale on Oct. 23. Senior quarterback Forrest Chadwick sat out that game to rest his battered body.

Morse got an idea just how much of a difference a healthy Chadwick can make last week, as he scored all three Gardiner touchdowns, one on an interception return, in a 20-13 victory.

The last time the Hornets played against Chadwick, in 2008, he was a tailback. The switch to quarterback has been a successful one for the Tigers. Chadwick has continued to be one of the top rushers in the PTC, but has also brought a dangerous dimension to their passing game.  

“We can’t let them get big plays in the passing game,” Hathaway said. “If he gets out in the open, or if we don’t read our keys and we let receivers get behind us, we’re going to get exposed.” 

The Tigers would like to limit the amount of exposure the Hornets’ explosive offense gets by controlling the ball and the clock. To do that, running backs Tyler Hall, Dalton Eldridge and Alonzo Connor will have to help take some off the load off of Chadwick. 

“We’ve got to stop Gardiner from running the football,” Hathaway said. “Part of that is going to be with Chadwick, but it’s not all going to be him.”

Leavitt forged the state’s highest-scoring offense (49 points per game) by distributing the wealth evenly. Yet since the playoffs started, senior tailback Josh Strickland has emerged as the bellwether, following a three-touchdown effort in the quarterfinals against Belfast with 265 yards and a touchdown against Hampden Academy in the semifinals.

Quarterback Eric Theiss and running back Jordan Hersom (two rushing touchdowns each) were the primary beneficiaries of Strickland’s dominance. They stand to prosper again, along with Theiss’ favorite receivers Jon Letourneau, Ryan Labbe and Isaiah Wright.  

Whoever gets the ball Saturday, Hathaway hopes for better production in certain situations.

“We want to be better on first and second down than we were last game,” he said. “They got us in some third-and-longs early in that game and put us in situations where we were throwing the ball and they know we’re throwing it, we’re running the ball and they know we’re running it. We need to mix our plays a little better and we just need to execute better on third down.” 

If they do, the Hornets could pick up their first Eastern Maine trophy (they were in Western B when they won state titles in 1995 and 1998). If the Tigers can get them in third-and-long situations, they could take home their second PTC crown in three years.

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