FAIRFIELD — As former Lawrence High School football coach Pete Cooper was introduced to the crowd before Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class A championship, the sizable contingent of Cony fans across the field must have thought “we’ll have a little bit of what they’re having.”
State and regional championships are the goals each season for Lawrence football which is so embedded into the consciousness of the community it’s tough to separate the two. Cooper compiled 216 wins and three state titles into 28 years of coaching and current coach John Hersom has continued the tradition with a state title and several championship appearances.
Following Saturday’s 20-10 victory against Cony, the Bulldogs will make their second straight championship appearance Saturday in Portland when they face Western Maine champ Thornton Academy.
Cony fans turned out in numbers this season, the best for the Rams in 20 years. More than 2,000 cheered their team on Saturday and that number certainly would have grown had the Rams reached their first-ever state title game.
“It’s so nice to see this kind of a crowd,” Mike Hopkins said. “A lot of them are first timers, but it’s still nice to see them following us.”
Hopkins is a former player, assistant coach and now a football parent to his senior son Sam, a defensive end for the team. He’s played and coached in front of crowds often less than a quarter of the size for Saturday’s game. Winning, of course, is a cure-all.
“That’s the way it’s always been,” Hopkins said.
Cony’s season will stand on its own as one of the most exciting and entertaining in the mercurial history of high school football in Augusta. The Rams put points on the board — junior quarterback Ben Lucas finished with 32 touchdown passes — and before it was over they were pretty proficient at keeping them off. The question is can the team sustain it?
“I didn’t know where we were going to go,” senior defensive end Wes Benner said of the team’s hopes after last season. “I knew we going to lift and that was about it.”
Benner is one of 17 seniors on the roster and can only hope their work this season laid the foundation for future success.
“I would definitely say this is the start of something good,” Benner said.
With Lucas returning along with some key receivers and defenders, the Rams should be strong next year, but the year-away mentality didn’t play into Saturday’s game.
“We weren’t happy to just be here,” Cony coach Robby Vachon said. “We wanted to win the football game and we thought we had a pretty legit shot.”
The eight wins are the most for a Cony football team since 1992 when it lost to Lawrence in the Eastern Maine title game. Those types of seasons have been rare, though. Bob Vachon, Robby’s dad, who played for Cony from 1959-62, thinks this year’s success could lure 70 or 80 kids out for the team next season. And the passing attack is guaranteed to bring the dormant fan-base back, much as it did this season.
“It’s a great style of play.” said Mark O’Brien, a star running back for the Rams in the mid-’70s. “I like the spread-open passing game.”
In all, the Rams put up 372 points in 11 games. They allowed 179, a differential of nearly 200, which is the reverse of many recent seasons. Community support blossomed and made a difference.
“It’s huge,” senior Chandler Shostak said. “We had businesses all around Augusta put up signs for us. We got a taste, hopefully we can continue on with that.”
Gary Hawkins — 621-5638