By BILL STEWART and GARY HAWKINS

Staff Writers

 

The Cony football team just missed the chance to play for the state title in 2012, losing to Lawrence in a close Pine Tree Conference Class A championship game.

The Rams earned their redemption, and made history, in 2013.

Led by senior quarterback Ben Lucas, Cony stormed through the playoffs and finished its history-making season with a memorable 30-23 victory over Kennebunk in the Class B state championship game.

Cony’s first-ever victory in a state championship game is the Kennebec Journal’s top sports story of 2013.

“It’s been a bit overwhelming to be honest,” Cony coach Robby Vachon said. “We worked extremely hard to get to the state title. This senior class set the bar high. The summer workouts and weight training, they all paid off for them. I couldn’t be happier.

The Rams finished the regular season 7-2 and then embarked on an improbable journey through the playoffs.

After defeating Messalonskee 41-15 in the PTC B semifinals, Cony beat top-seeded Brunswick 48-38 in the conference final to earn a trip to the University of Maine and the state championship game.

“We had a great run,” Vachon said. “We had to battle to win some of these games.”

What happened then is nothing short of incredible.

Kennebunk enjoyed a 16-0 lead with just less than five minutes left in the third quarter before Lucas and Cony mounted a comeback for the ages.

The 6-foot-4 quarterback threw for 307 yards and three touchdown passes in the second half. His last TD pass came on a terrific 25-yard toss to Jonathan Saban with a minute left in the game.

Kennebunk drove to midfield in the closing seconds before Reid Shostak ended the game with an interception.

“It’s been 81 years since we last won the state championship,” Vachon said. “We had a couple teams that came close. We’re glad to get it done and validate all the hard work the kids and staff put into it.

 

2. Ben Lucas a Fitzpatrick Trophy finalist

Cony senior quarterback Ben Lucas enjoyed one of the finest seasons in Maine football history.

The 6-foot-4, 227-pound Lucas threw for 3,500 yards and a state-record 41 touchdowns this season.

His eye-popping numbers caught the attention of coaches and media members, who voted him a finalist for the James J. Fitzpatrick Trophy, given annually to the top senior football player in the state. The winner will be announced Jan. 19.

Lucas finished his career with 7,700 passing yards — good for second all time in state history behind Lee St. Hilaire. Lucas also threw 89 career touchdown passes, also a state record.

“I’m sure someday I’ll look back and really savor this,” Lucas said. “It’s pretty surreal.”

Lucas saved his best performance for his last, when he threw for three touchdown passes and 347 yards in a 30-23 victory over Kennebunk in the Class B state title game.

 

3. Maranacook boys win state soccer title

The Black Bears have been one of the top teams in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference for years but never were able to crack a postseason jinx that included roadblocks from southern Maine like Falmouth and Yarmouth. This season, Maranacook dropped to Class C while ironically, Falmouth, the team that eliminated the Bears from the playoffs last season, was bumped to Class A.

Maranacook had a typically strong regular season, going unbeaten for the second year in a row, and this time the Black Bears were ready for the playoffs. They defeated two unbeaten teams in the playoffs, a tough North Yarmouth Academy squad, and defending Western Maine champion Hall-Dale, before dispatching Madawaska 2-0 in the state championship game.

“We talked about (the state championship) to begin with, then we took it game by game,” Maranacook coach Don Beckwith said. “Our attack came from all over. We’ve got five guys that score 15 goals. That is by design.”

 

4. Gardiner’s Moe McNally retires

Gardiner Area High School field hockey coach Maureen “Moe” McNally retired after guiding a successful program for 35 seasons. During her tenure McNally won two state championships and recorded over 400 wins. Many of her players went on to successful field hockey careers in college. The annual senior all-star game held each summer at Colby College was named in her honor while McNally was still coaching.

“I don’t know if there’s any one thing,” she said. “It’s a decision that I didn’t come to lightly. I left when I felt good about it. I still have a passion for it. But I just thought it was time. Everything pointed to it.

“I didn’t want to leave when things were down. Our middle school program is in great hands, and it went undefeated this year. Our fifth and sixth grade program is in great hands, and they also went undefeated this year.”

 

5. High school football expands to four classes.

After years of discussion and planning, Maine high school football expanded to four classes in 2013, for the first time since 1986.

Although some were wary of the changes, the three Portland schools playing in Eastern Class A, for example, the move was a success. Three of the four state championships were decided by a touchdown or less, and all four were close going into the fourth quarter, the closest round of state title games in years.

To accommodate the fourth class, the University of Maine in Orono was added as a championship site, and hosted the Class B game on Friday night. Classes A, C, and D were played at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.

Gold balls went to Bonny Eagle (Class A), Cony (Class B), Leavitt (Class C) and Oak Hill (Class D).

 

6. Oak Hill wins Class D football title

The Oak Hill football team finished the regular season 6-2 and earned the No. 2 seed in the Western D Campbell Conference playoffs. The Raiders then pulled out tough victories over Lisbon and Dirigo to earn their first trip to a state title game since 1984.

Led by bruising running back Kyle Flaherty, the Raiders beat Bucksport 42-35 to win the Class D crown. Flaherty rushed for 217 yards and three touchdowns on 42 carries.

The teams were tied 28-28 going into the fourth quarter before Oak Hill pulled ahead for good. Alex Mace caught a 25-yard touchdown pass and Flaherty rumbled into the end zone from 3 yards out to give the Raiders a 42-28 lead.

Oak Hill then hung on in the end to win its first state title since 1982.

“We knew it would be an offensive game and it was,” said Oak Hill senior captain Luke Washburn. “It’s such an amazing feeling. I can’t even describe it.”

 

7. Winthrop and Monmouth form football co-op

Winthrop and Monmouth have long enjoyed a fierce rivalry in many sports. This fall, the neighboring schools formed a football co-operative team that brought the two communities together.

The Winthrop/Monmouth Ramblers had an impressive turnout, with more than 60 players coming out for the team. In the first weeks of the season, coach Joel Stoneton acknowledged the challenges he and his staff faced.

“Coming into it, we didn’t know what to expect,” he said prior to the season opener. “It’s a different situation because I’m looking at a ton of players I don’t know anything about. But it’s impressive. We have a lot of competition battles and we’ll be able to have depth and fresh legs this year.”

Winthrop/Monmouth enjoyed a strong season, winning the Western D Campbell Conference regular-season title.

However, No. 4 Dirigo upset the top-seeded Ramblers in the regional semifinals.

A week after the game, Stoneton said, “We’re very disappointed but when we look at it, we realized a ton of good came out of this season. We were able to mesh two communities and we still won the Campbell Conference.”

 

8. Peter Del Gallo wins New England wrestling title

Gardiner Area High School freshman Peter DelGallo put together one of the most dominant wrestling seasons in recent memory.

Del Gallo went a remarkable 50-0 in the 106-pound division. He capped his season with a strong showing at the 49th annual New England high school wrestling championships in Providence, R.I. Del Gallo won five straight matches, the last in the 106-pound class final, a 3-2 decision over Joseph Rossetti, of Glastonbury, Conn.

Prior to the New Englands, Del Gallo won the Class B state title in the same weight class.

He pinned Kyle Bonti of Morse to run his record to 50-0.

 

9. Luke Ruffing wins Class B golf title

Maranacook senior Luke Ruffing renewed his efforts to win the Class B state individual golf championship this season after finishing runner-up his sophomore and junior years. Ruffing got off to a shaky start with a three-putt bogey on his first hole. To compound matters, he wasn’t feeling well that day, either. But he was determined to let nothing get in his way and he opened the back nine with four straight birdies en route to a 1-under par 71 and a three-stroke victory.

“He’s been on a mission for a few years now,” Maranacook coach Ryan Meserve said. “The third time’s a charm. He’s been pushing pretty hard for it. Every year he just works really hard to improve some part of his game.”

 

10. Richmond wins Class D softball championship

A group of exceptional senior athletes had one final gift to give themselves last spring, a few days after actually graduating. They had won three straight state soccer championships and three Western Maine basketball titles in a row.

They had a number of accomplishments in softball, as well. They won a title as freshmen, but after losing to Penobscot Valley as juniors, they were underdogs facing the same team again as seniors. No problem. Noell Acord and Payton Johnson opened the game with bunts in accordance with coach Rick Coughlin’s small ball philosophy, and both scored. Pitcher Jamie Plummer took care of the rest, escaping jams in each of the final four innings while finishing with 13 strikeouts en route to a 3-0 victory.

 

Also in 2013: Cony High School’s Sonja Morse named the Gatorade Maine Softball Player of the Year. … Winthrop wins Mountain Valley Conference golf title … Anne McKee wins NE prep school cross country title … Indoor tennis returns to Augusta … Winthrop field hockey coach Sharon Coulton retires … Cony High School graduate Amy Vachon inducted into New England Basketball Hall of Fame … Local runners impacted by Boston Marathon bombing … TJ Maines and Ted Rioux hired to coach Cony boys and girls basketball teams, respectively … Richmond girls basketball and girls soccer teams win Western D titles. … Messalonskee boys hockey team wins Eastern B title … Messalonskee graduate Kristy Bernatchez plays key role on University of North Carolina field hockey team … Cony vs. Gardiner football rivalry returns to regular season.