The Cony football team earned a first-round bye in the Pine Tree Conference Class B playoffs. It was a nice break for a team trying to duplicate the success it enjoyed last season.

That was the good news for the Rams, who reached the PTC A championship game last year.

The bad news?

The team they will host in the semifinals tonight — Messalonskee — is the hottest in the conference.

“They are a lot more seasoned, no doubt,” Cony coach Robby Vachon said. “We’re going to have our hands full.”

The No. 3 Eagles (6-3) and No. 2 Rams (6-2) will face off at 7 tonight at Alumni Field in Augusta. Also tonight, top-seeded Winthrop/Monmouth (9-0) will host No. 4 Dirigo (6-3) in a Western D Campbell Conference semifinal at Maxwell Field.

No. 2 Oak Hill (7-2) will host No. 3 Lisbon (7-2) in the other semifinal at 12:30 p.m. Saturday.

Messalonskee comes to Augusta with a truckload of momentum. The Eagles are 6-1 since opening the season with a pair of losses.

Led by quarterback/free safety Jake Dexter, the Eagles are as dangerous as anyone in the conference.

“Everything has caught on,” Messalonskee first-year coach Brad Bishop said. “It took awhile, but we got there.”

The Eagles primarily run the Wing T on offense, but can and will throw the ball should the defense stack the box. Split end Devin Warren, along with halfback Corey McKenzie, will see ample touches.

“They won’t try and trick you,” Vachon said. “They’ll try to run right at us. We expect a healthy dose of McKenzie and Dexter. When they do throw the ball, Warren is dangerous.”

Added Cony senior John Bennett, who starts at wide receiver and defensive back: “We’ll have to stop their run. Dexter, we’ll have to contain him. If he gets to the outside, not good.”

The Rams beat the Eagles 48-20 in the season opener in Oakland, but Bishop and Vachon said their teams have improved dramatically since September.

“It’s just a confidence thing,” Bishop said. “We’ve steadily progressed throughout the season. We don’t try to spread the field out. We’re old school like that.”

Cony comes in with one of the top offenses in the state. The Rams averages 45 points a game and features a quarterback in Ben Lucas who’s thrown 30 touchdown passes. Bennett, Jonathan Saban and Tayler Carrier are his primary targets.

“Hopefully, we can control the ball at the line of scrimmage,” Bishop said. “What worries me about Cony, though, is that they can run it if you worry too much about the pass all night. But we have some tough kids, some good athletes. We’ll just have to be sound in coverage.”

Warren, along with Dexter, will have the challenge of containing the Cony passing attack.

“We’ll have to shut that down,” Warren said. “They throw a lot of passes. Our first game against them, we just weren’t ready. Now I feel like we can defend anyone in the league.”

In Western D Campbell Conference action, Winthrop/Monmouth will host Dirigo in a rematch of a Sept. 20 regular season game. The Ramblers beat the Cougars 24-14 in Winthrop.

“Sometimes losing in regular season gives you more motivation coming back,” Winthrop/Monmouth coach Joel Stoneton said. “We know they are going to be really physical. They’re going to want it. It’s a huge challenge for us.”

Zach Glazier leads a strong Winthrop/Monmouth ground game. He averages 125 rushing yards a game. Senior quarterback Jared Hanson also had a strong regular season.

“We’re anxious to get out there and play,” Stoneton said. “We’ve been eager to get back in this playoff position. We’re ready to play the big games again.”

Oak Hill sank Lisbon 33-14 in the regular season finale, but the rematch could feature a tighter contest should Lisbon senior Quincy Thompson play.

Thompson,one of the top playmakers in the conference, missed the last two games with an elbow injury but could return Saturday.

Bill Stewart — 621-5640[email protected]Twitter: @billstewartkj