Edward Little’s Leighton Girardin runs with the football during last year’s game against Lewiston at Garcelon Field. (Sun Journal file photo)

Lewiston coach Bruce Nicholas recognized his players were ready for the biggest game of the year, if not their lives, very early this week.

“On Monday morning, Noah (Adamson) walks by me, ‘EL week!’ Hunter (Landry) walks by, ‘It’s EL week!'” Nicholas said. “They get geared up this week, regardless of what record.”

Across the river, Edward Little coach Dave Sterling asked his team for a show of hands from any of his players who have had family play in the Battle of the Bridge.

“A few put their hands up and I said, ‘You all should have your hands up. You’re a member of the Edward Little family,'” Sterling said. “That’s what they need to understand. It extends well beyond them as far as what this game means.” 

The 176th Battle of the Bridge (7 p.m. Friday, Walton Field) extends a bit beyond the typical annual game.

As the Heal points show, Edward Little (3-4) and Lewiston (2-5) are destined to meet again next week in the first round of the Class A North playoffs. Friday night’s game will determine whether they will return to Walton Field or play the first ever playoff game on the new Don Roux Field.

The double dip is a bit of a throwback to the times when the rivals have punctuated the occasional season with a playoff meeting, most recently in 2008, and even the days when they would annually play each other twice during the regular season, a practice that ended in 1986.

Lewiston leads the all-time series, 93-70-12, extending the margin last year with a 41-16 win at the Blue Devils’ temporary home, Garcelon Field.

“Every game is a big game, but there’s nothing like playing EL. That goes for every sport, but especially football,” Lewiston senior running back/defensive back Hunter Landry said. “There’s nothing like lining up against those guys on a Friday night and giving it to them.”

Last year’s lopsided finale ended the Red Eddies’ bid for a perfect regular season.

“That was probably one of my favorite victories of my life,” Lewiston senior quarterback/safety Tanner Cortes said. “Obviously, it’s not as much of David vs. Goliath-type deal this year, but it’s still Lewiston vs. EL, and we want to beat them just as bad.”

“I’m sure Coach Sterling’s talked about last year and saying, ‘Now it’s our turn to get back at them,'” Nicholas said. 

No need to remind the Red Eddies. Senior QB Leighton Girardin, who played wide receiver in last year’s game, said the Eddies are ready to prove they are a more resilient team this year.

“A lot of it is just the mental game,” Girardin said. “Last year, when we got down (on the scoreboard), we really got down mentally. We weren’t as mentally strong as we are this year.”

“We’re in the right frame of mind to win this game,” senior wide receiver Josh Hamel said. “This one is for pride.”

Edward Little’s speed has wounded the pride of a number of defenses this season. Girardin is the fastest of them all, so it’s no surprise that he’s been ranked among the rushing leaders in A North all year. But Girardin has also been the conference’s most consistent passer, completing over 50 percent while topping the 1,000-yard mark on the season in last week’s 21-20 win over South Portland.

“(Girardin) is so scary,” Nicholas said. “That’s what we’re afraid of Friday night, that Girardin escapes, scrambles, gets away and scores a touchdown. They can light it up. They score a lot of points, and he’s the cog of it.”

Girardin’s ability to exploit defenses on the edges and extend plays makes his deep, speedy receiving corps even more dangerous. Hamel and fellow senior wide receiver Jonathan Knight are ranked 1-2 in Class A North in receiving.

“They have a lot of athletes,” Cortes said. “Leighton Girardin’s a good buddy of mine. He’s real fast, a lot faster than I am. I can admit that. They have a lot of depth, a lot of guys that we need to watch out for, but I think we have just as good a group of guys to go out there and battle with them.”

Lewiston has its fair share of speed but generally relies on a more methodical approach on offense. Although Landry and Cortes are capable of gaining yardage in big chunks, the Blue Devils would just as soon line up with tight ends Deon Hunt and Dominick Colon, a converted fullback, and play power football.

“They’ve got a really good, mobile quarterback who’s been a starter for three years, in Cortes,” Sterling said. “They’ve got some excellent athletes on that side of the field that we really have to account for, offensively and defensively. It’s a really good matchup for both teams.”

“Hunter Landry and Tanner Cortes are two of the best athletes I’ve ever met,” Girardin said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to be friends with them and known them for most of my life. They have what it takes to win. I’m sure they’re in the right frame of mind, too.”

EL’s win at South Portland snapped a three-game losing streak, and the Red Eddies are hoping to carry over the momentum to Friday night and beyond.

“I think it’s definitely a statement game,” Knight said. “We need to get our foot in the door and get ourselves back further up in the standings. Playoffs are going to be rough, but if we can get our foot in the door and beat Lewiston back-to-back, I feel like we can really step it up.”

The Blue Devils’ 41-8 loss to defending champion Scarborough last week broke up the momentum of back-to-back blowout wins over Bangor and Windham. But it wasn’t difficult for them to transition into “EL week.” 

“In preseason you’re looking forward to playing them in Week 8,” Cortes said. “Now that I know we’re playing them Week 9, too, in the playoffs, this is exciting.”

“We’ve had so many games this year, win or lose, that haven’t been close. This one looks like we’re evenly matched,” Nicholas said. “This should be a nail-biter. It should be good.”

Edward Little fans cheer on the Red Eddies during last year’s Battle of the Bridge at Bates College’s Garcelon Field. (Sun Journal file photo)

Lewiston quarterback Tanner Cortes looks to pass the ball while under pressure from Edward Little defenders during last year’s game at Garcelon Field. (Sun Journal file photo)


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