AUGUSTA — Nearly a month into the regular season and Cony football coach Robby Vachon said he realized his team had more than just improved in one year.
“I knew after the Bangor game (a 34-15 victory on Sept. 28) there’d be a good shot to contend if we could stay healthy,” Vachon said. “To play Bangor like we did, to show up like we did, we opened a few eyes.”
No. 2 Cony (8-2) will look to extend its best season in two decades when it travels to Fairfield to face top-seeded Lawrence (10-0) for the Pine Tree Conference Class A championship game at 1 p.m. today.
The Bulldogs, who have outscored their opponents 393-85, are playing in their third consecutive conference championship game and fourth in the last seven years.
The Rams is in a conference title game for the first time since 1992 — when they lost a 19-18 heartbreaker to Lawrence also at Keyes Field.
“It’s been a special season so far,” Vachon said. “We showed up this year.”
But to reach the Class A state title game, Cony will have to do what only one team has accomplished since 2006: Beat Lawrence in a playoff rematch of a regular-season game. The Bulldogs, who are chasing their first state title since 2006, are 11-1 in those games, losing to Skowhegan in 2008.
“We try to celebrate our wins but at the same time be thankful for everything we do,” Hersom said. “We try to instill in our guys there can be something bigger to accomplish.”
The Bulldogs feature a balanced offense, led by quarterback Spencer Carey. He completed 6 of 8 passes for 228 yards with two touchdowns and an interception in a semifinal victory over Messalonskee. Carey is also surrounded by several key players at the skill position.
“It’s exciting to see Cony again,” he said. “We’re ready to go.”
Halfbacks Anthony Sementelli, Josh Doolan and Jake Doolan give the Bulldogs plenty of options in a much-improved ground game. Carey is also a threat to run.
“Carey, he is scary by himself,” Vachon said. “They don’t have to use him a lot, but when he does get his touches we’ll have to be cognizant of where he is. He’s an excellent football player. They have a lot of kids who can run it. I didn’t think we were as physical against them the last time as we’ve been during the season. We didn’t play as physical as we normally do. We’re going to have to with Lawrence (today).”
Added Cony defensive back/wide receiver Chandler Shostak: “We know it’s going to be tough, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Cony also presents opposing defenses a few challenges. The high-powered Rams run a spread offense led by junior quarterback Ben Lucas, who has thrown 31 touchdowns this season.
Lucas has an abundance of playmakers to throw it to, including Shostak, Jonathan Saban, Tayler Carrier, Brandon St. Michel, Zach Lachance and Dayshawn Roberts.
“We know they like to throw it a lot,” Lawrence linebacker Luke Lawrence said. “We had to change our defense against them the last time.”
Added Carey, who will be tested at his safety position: “We’re going to have to shut down that passing game. We use that as motivation.”
Carey and the Lawrence defense stifled Lucas in the regular season. Lucas threw five interceptions and was sacked three times.
Lawrence, unlike several teams, opted not to blitz the big quarterback. Instead, the Bulldogs focused on disrupting receivers’ routes and forcing Lucas into making bad throws. The gameplan worked.
“We feel it’s an awful tough job putting pressure on him unless you send extra guys,” Hersom said. “We couldn’t afford to do that. Our front people, they have to play to stop the run but we wanted them to be aware of all the underneath stuff. It worked out well for us last time.”
Lucas said he will have to be more proficient today.
“It’s a physical matchup,” he said. “They like to jam the receivers. Our wide receivers will have to get open and I’m going to have to get it to them. We’ll need to step up. Hopefully, it’s going to be a really good game. I know we are all looking forward to it.”
Bill Stewart — 621-5640