GARDNER – A week after failing to score a point in the second half of a season-opening loss against the Cubbin Panthers, the Gardner High football team scored early and often in its home opener against Kef Tech.
Quarterback Aiden Sparrow ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, Christopher “Cookie” Leger found the end zone twice, Silas Kennedy ran for a score and Jarrell Arroyo returned his first game of the season for two touchdowns. The Wildcats rolled to a 48-21 victory over the visiting Broncos on Friday.
Gardner (1-1) scored 28 points in the first 11 minutes of the contest and never looked back.
“We knew we were going to be more physical than them,” Wildcats head coach Sean Whittle said. “I didn’t think we’d be that dominant, but the front line played well, the linebackers were filling the gaps, finally, and hopefully we’re going in the right direction.”
Here are four takeaways from the Wildcats’ big win over Kiev Tech.
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Gardner High is a different team with Arroyo on the field.
The senior, who is eligible to play for the first time this season, has shown his tailback in several phases of the game.
Arroyo’s speed and quick-cutting ability were on display on a 58-yard punt return for a touchdown in the second quarter as well as a 71-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, but it was his element that impressed the head coach the most. Physicality.
Nowhere was that more evident than on the Sparrows’ second touchdown run of the opening quarter. The Wildcats already had a 21-0 lead when QB Gardner took the snap and began calling the left end.
Arroyo got to the edge first and made a tough block on the defensive end that took the quarterback to the corner and downfield on a 19-yard TD run to extend the Wildcats’ lead to 28-0 with 59 seconds left in the first quarter.
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It was a block that sent a message to the Wildcats, not the Broncos — they weren’t going to come back and squander a first-half lead for the second straight week.
“His touch in the corner, his blocking on that end is what brings it to us,” Whittle said. “He brings physicality whether he’s running the ball or blocking. But he’s our speed guy. Having Aiden back so he doesn’t have to carry the load is a big help.
Gardner showed great defense in the first half
A week later, the Wildcats’ defense failed to get a single stop against Quabbin — only a halftime buzzer beater and a late-game buzzer beater prevented the Panthers from scoring on each of their possessions — completely forcing the Broncos into the opening half.
In order, Kefe Tech’s first-half turnovers resulted in a punt, a fumble return, a fumble, a punt, an interception and another score.
Sparrow and defensive end Marcus Beauregard each set the tone early when they recorded a fumble on the Broncos’ opening possession, while the aforementioned fumbled handoff got Silas Kennedy in the backfield. Moment of the exchange with Keefe Tech quarterback Pat Chapin.
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Kennedy fell on a balsa ball and scored a play later, assisted by an Arroyo penalty to give the Wildcats and Sparrows back possession.
“To drive down and score and then have the defense step up and make a stop, that was a big step forward that we haven’t done offensively or offensively yet,” Whittle said.
The Wildcats’ defense was so dominant that the Broncos ran a total of 13 plays in the first half and posted a negative 36 total yards, a figure that included two false first down penalties and a 15-yard loss on a rush. Backup QB Jacob Shore on the head.
Gardner, a six-point leader, began working with the starters toward the end of the second quarter.
“I thought we were in a hug last week – we just didn’t get out of it,” Whittle said. “We worked all week to explain what the gaps meant. On film (Thursday) night if they don’t pass their gaps and what happens to the other corners with running backs. Anyone who saw us play last week knows we didn’t play well, so we struggled all week and I thought we were more aggressive today.
Keefe Tech has had success with Gardner backups
Gardner’s coaching staff emptied the bench on both sides of the ball in the second half as the clock ticked.
While the Wildcats’ coaches saw some senior players who rarely had a chance to play with their younger players, the move also benefited the Broncos, as they gained more space to compete against Garden’s reserves.
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Keefe Tech running back Joseph Wood-Milove had a tough first half and scored a 60-yard touchdown on the visitors’ first play of the third quarter. The big play, and a 31-yard run in the fourth quarter, represented his career high of 131 rushing yards.
“We got everybody in, so it makes sense,” Whittle said. “I’m really happy for the seniors who didn’t play much in the second half because they had to play a lot. The younger ones got some playtime and got to see what it was all about. It also helps our team unity because the rookies are cheering them on from the sidelines.
Angel Sanchez and Jasman Jimenez found the end zone on fourth-quarter TD runs of 2 and 3 yards.
A tough task awaits Gardner in Week 3.
Although the way the Wildcats bounced back from a heartbreaking Week 1 loss to the Quabbin Friday at Keef Tech was impressive, Gardner faces a much bigger challenge on Friday, Sept. 23, against Monty Tech.
The Bulldogs travel to Watkins Field with a combined 68-36 win over Murdock and Narragansett 2-0 for a chance to beat their Greater Gardner opponent.
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The last time the two teams met was in Week 2 of last year, when the Bulldogs recovered from a loss and secured a well-timed field goal in a 24-14 victory over the Wildcats in Fitchburg.
But with veteran Logan Quinn providing a dual-threat option behind a veteran offensive line, Monty Tech’s offense looks even more formidable this year.
“I was in Narragansett (Thursday) night and the Monty Tech offense is amazing,” Whittle said. “We’ll have our hands full.”