It was fourth down, the game was still in doubt, and the Cony football team needed somewhere between 12 inches and 2 feet.
Convert the first down and the Rams were likely headed to their seventh straight victory and a trip to the 1992 Class A state title game. Come up short and Lawrence would have momentum, good field position and nearly five minutes to complete an improbable comeback.
The ball was spotted at the Lawrence 49-yard line.
“A foot and a half, I think,” said Cony coach Ralph Peterson. “It’s all we needed. All year we had gone for fourth and short, and we never not made it.”
But that all changed on Nov. 14, 1992 at Keyes Field, which hosted one of the greatest PTC championship games played in the last 20 years.
Cony, desperate to put the game away, led 18-0 midway through the third but was clinging to an 18-13 lead when Peterson decided to go for it on fourth and short with 4 minutes, 53 seconds left in the game.
Quarterback Darin Dumas handed the ball off to running back Mike Jowdry, who then tried to run off tackle behind the 6-foot-8, 304-pound John Russell.
“But we missed a block,” Peterson said. “(Jowdry) got hit behind the line of scrimmage. He still nearly picked it up. I think we ended up an inch short.”
Added Cony defensive coordinator Bob Lippert: “It was a huge play in the game. We came up short. That was tough.”
Lawrence promptly drove 51 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown when Jared Libby rushed for a 6-yard touchdown with 1:53 remaining.
The score gave Lawrence a 19-18 lead it would never relinquish. It also capped an incredible game for Libby, who rushed for three touchdowns and 220 yards — 101 in the fourth quarter alone.
“The biggest thing was Libby,” Peterson said. “He was a fabulous cutback runner who saw daylight. We just couldn’t stop him. Our defense had stopped everybody all year. It was first time someone really effectively ran on us.”
Added Lawrence tackle Al Fortin: “The whole game was kind of surreal. So many things came together. I remember being down but we had faith and believed in each other. We felt strongly that we could win and that we could do it. We had a lot of no-quit attitudes.”
Cony had one last chance when it started a series at its own 37-yard line with 1:47 left.
However, Fortin and Scott Ogeka sacked Dumas for a big loss on first down. Fortin than stuffed Dumas for a loss on second down.
“We knew at that point we were going to stop them,” Fortin said.
The Rams failed to convert a first down and the final seconds ticked away that set off a wild celebration.
“It wasn’t meant to be,” Lippert said.
Scott Harriman helped Cony race out to an 18-0 lead.
He rushed for a 6-yard touchdown late in the first quarter to break a scoreless game and then returned the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a score.
Harriman seemingly put the game out of reach when he rushed for an 18-yard touchdown with 6:32 left in the third quarter that gave Cony an 18-0 lead.
“It was amazing how we came back,” said Ogeka, 37, of Bozeman, Mont. “The defense stood up and figured things out. The offense we had a lot of big runs. That was the biggest game of the whole year. Everything was clicking for us. To come back like that it was impressive.”
Lawrence and Cony enjoyed dramatic turnaround seasons in 1992.
They finished a combined 5-13 in 1991 — Cony went 4-5 while Lawrence was 1-8.
However, the Bulldogs and Rams relied on tough defenses and strong ground games to finish first and second in the PTC, respectively.
“Our defense was hard-hitting,” Lippert said. “And so was theirs.”
Harriman and Jowdry provided a nice one-two punch for the Rams in the backfield. Harriman led the way, rushing for 926 yards and nine touchdowns on 110 carries in the regular season. Jowdry finished with 827 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns.
Libby, meanwhile, powered the Lawrence attack. He led the PTC in rushing with 1,714 yards and 20 touchdowns on 235 carries in the regular season. He finished with more than 2,000 yards after three playoff games.
The Bulldogs averaged 270 rushing yards a game that season, which ended with a 6-0 loss to South Portland in the Class A state title game.
Lawrence quarterback Kelly Dyer also threw for 506 yards and scored 11 touchdowns.
“It was phenomenal,” Fortin said. “We were a band of brothers. I don’t recall one individual having a bigger part. We all came together with a lot of dedication. We just never quit. It was a great season, and that was a great game against Cony.”
Added Peterson: “It was an exciting game, but more exciting for Lawrence.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640