Cony High School junior quarterback Ben Lucas remembers taking the snap and immediately surging toward the goal line. He remembers taking the hit and stretching the ball as far as he could without having it get knocked away by a swarming Gardiner defense.

He also remembers coming up inches short on the final play of the showdown last season between the rivals, which Gardiner won 36-34 in overtime.

“I came up six inches short,” said Lucas, the second year starting quarterback for the Rams. “It stunk the way it ended. I play it over and over again in my mind. I’m ready for the next one.”

That will come tonight, when the Tigers and Rams will meet at 7 p.m. at Hoch Field in Gardiner. The game, part of the Drive Out Cancer Challenge, is the 135th meeting between the two rivals. Cony leads the series 67-57-10.

“We’ve been looking forward to this game for a long time,” said Cony coach Robby Vachon. “Four of the last five games have either gone to overtime or been decided in the fourth quarter. We’re looking forward to going there and seeing if all our hard work paid off.”

Added Gardiner coach Matt Burgess, who is settling into his second season on the job: “In Gardiner, it’s always in our minds. It’s always a game we have marked on the calendar. The kids are always thinking about it.”

The Tigers are gearing up for their first game in the post-Alonzo Connor era.

Connor, one of top tailbacks in the state last season, rushed for more than 1,400 yards and 27 touchdowns last season. He ran for 2,032 yards and 32 scores in the prior season.

“He will be tough to replace but we have some capable guys,” Burgess said.

Seniors Steve Sirois, Frank Chepke and Seth Wing will split carries this season.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to fill the shoes of Alonzo,” Wing said. “But I feel like we can, with all the players we have here.”

Senior quarterback Dennis Meehan returns to lead the offense for Gardiner. He threw for 1,055 yards and 11 touchdowns last season.

“We’re working on it,” Burgess said of Gardiner’s passing attack. “We have some skill guys.”

The Rams do as well.

Chandler Shostak, who was a Pine Tree Conference Class A first-team all-conference selection last season, leads a deep receiving core. Zach Lachance, newcomer Dayshawn Roberts, and Tayler Carrier give Lucas plenty of options

“We’re progressing pretty well,” Shostak said. “We should be pretty strong.”

Added Vachon: “It’s no secret that we have some pretty good skill positions. We have the quarterback back. We have the receivers and running backs back.”

But, like Gardiner, the Rams also have some holes, particularly on the defensive side of the ball. Cony allowed 42.3 points a game last season.

“We have to get better defensively, and I think we will,” Vachon said. “We treat this game like a regular season one. It will be a good test. We just can’t let this one get away.”

Cony had four turnovers that lead to 21 Gardiner points last year. Lucas also threw a pair of interceptions to go along with a fumble.

“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable,” Lucas said. “I’m ready to go.”

Bill Stewart — 621-5640

[email protected]

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