Brian Curit heard it again and again – as a player, then as an assistant coach – from the late Mike Landry at Biddeford High.

“Coach Landry used to tell us: Offense puts people in the stands, defense wins games, but special teams win championships,” Curit said.

Curit experienced that firsthand after succeeding Landry as head coach at Biddeford in 1994. In the Class A state championship game that season, Biddeford beat Waterville 35-28 in overtime after tying the game in the final minute of regulation.

“Steve Tardif returned a punt 70 yards for the tying touchdown,” said Curit.

The Tigers always have prided themselves on special-teams play. It started with Landry and continues with Curit, who is in his second stint as Biddeford head coach.

Trailing Mt. Ararat 6-0 early last Friday night, Biddeford took the lead on a 75-yard kickoff return by Jeremy Lugiano. The Tigers went on to win, 41-14.

“We were doubting ourselves when it was 6-0 but the kickoff return changed the game,” Lugiano said.

When thinking of special teams in high school football, what often comes to mind is returning a kick for a touchdown. While those can be game-breakers, it’s the subtle things that often mean the difference between winning and losing.

“Something as simple as catching the football on punts,” said Westbrook Coach Jeff Guerette. “If you do it effectively, you can save 15 to 20 yards (in field position). That saves the offense one or two first downs. A lot of punts aren’t that easy to judge.”

Few things irritate a coach more than watching a punt that his player could have caught roll inside the 10 and the other team down it.

Guerette said his staff emphasizes special teams at every practice.

“When you’re not solid (on special teams), you make mistakes that can come back to haunt you,” Guerette said.

In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In football it’s all about field position. And the best way to get good field position, aside from creating turnovers, is through strong special- teams play. The role is magnified in big games.

Every time a high school kicker can put the ball in the end zone on a kickoff, it automatically becomes a touchback. That puts a lot of pressure on the offense to drive from their own 20.

John Williams, a senior at Portland High, reached the end zone only occasionally last year. But this year he has forced a touchback on 30 to 40 percent of his kickoffs, his coaches estimate. When Williams doesn’t get it to the end zone, his kickoffs are usually at least to the 5-yard line. Working with kicking coach Rocco Navarro, Williams said his leg has gotten stronger.

“My kicks are higher and deeper this year,” said Williams. “It really helps the team out when you pin the other team deep in its own territory. It’s not easy to drive 80 yards or more against our defense.”

Special teams were a key factor in at least two wins this season for Portland, at 6-0 the top-ranked team in Class A North.

In the season opener, Scarborough cut Portland’s lead to seven points at the start of the fourth quarter after trailing 20-0 early. Dylan Bolduc of Portland returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown to seal the victory.

“It sets the tone,” said Portland Coach Jim Hartman of special teams play. “We preach it in practice and work hard on it.”

Williams booted a 39-yard field goal in the first quarter against Cheverus two weeks ago to give the Bulldogs an early lead. The final score: Portland 16, Cheverus 14. He also kicked a 41-yarder in a 10-3 win over Windham.

“I wouldn’t hesitate to bring John in for a field goal from 30 yards and in. He’s been kicking 50-yarders in practice,” said Hartman.

There are so many nuances to special teams. A point-after attempt, field-goal attempt and a punt don’t have a chance of succeeding if the long snap isn’t on the mark. Westbrook has a good long snapper in Sean Kozal.

“Sean takes pride in it,” said Guerette. “He’s had a good year.”

Still, few things get a team – or the crowd – as excited as a kick returner breaking into the open.

Nick Scavuzzo has been a key blocker on punt returns for Biddeford. He loves knocking down would-be tacklers.

“My job is to peel off the line of scrimmage and set up our blocking,” he said. “My job is to block the first player who comes to me. I love hearing the roar of the crowd when we break a long one.”