AUGUSTA — The Cony football team rarely struggled to score points this season. Its dangerous spread offense, led by three-year starting quarterback Ben Lucas and a number of big-play receivers, lit up plenty of scoreboards in central Maine.

Lucas has thrown 38 touchdowns this season and a state record 86 in his career. Three wideouts — Jonathan Saban, Tayler Carrier and John Bennett — each have at least 900 receiving yards.

Cony (8-2) will bring its potent passing attack to Orono on Friday night, when it plays Kennebunk (11-0) for the Class B state championship.

It will also bring a made-over defensive unit that finally stabilized itself after a rough start.

“We didn’t play well in the beginning and I don’t know why,” said fiery sophomore linebacker Reid Shostak, who was third in the Pine Tree Conference with 93 tackles. “But we turned it around. We’re stepping up now.”

The Rams were allowing 28 points a game at the halfway point of the regular season. They’ve held opponents to just 19 points a game since.

There are several reasons for the turnaround.

“We just started playing tougher and got better with each game,” senior defensive end/linebacker Nic Benner said. “The more we played, the more confident we became.”

Added junior defensive back/linebacker Carrier: “We all just got a little more comfortable. We started playing more physical and that just helped.”

There were also personnel changes.

Head coach Robby Vachon, who this year shared the defensive coordinator duties with B.L. Lippert, recognized late in the season that changes needed to be made if his team were to make a deep playoff run.

“We really started changing the defense each week,” Vachon said. “We came up with different groupings until we found the right mix.”

Bennett moved from starting cornerback to the defensive line because the coaches loved his quickness and toughness. Carrier, another defensive back, slid down to outside linebacker.

“I like to be involved with stopping the run more so the move worked out well,” Carrier said. “I like to be in the middle of the things. I like to hit people.”

Benner, who began the season as a mainstay at middle linebacker, found a new home at defensive end in the playoffs. He still calls a lot of the plays on defense.

“We had to do something to stop the run better,” Vachon said. “The emergence of Jonathan (Saban) and Kevin (Kingsbury) in the secondary helped us make some other moves.”

Benner made his debut at end against Messalonskee in a PTC B semifinal. The Rams won 41-15 and held dangerous running back Corey McKenzie to just 36 rushing yards.

“When the coaches saw the film again against Messalonskee they said I wasn’t going anywhere,” said Benner with a laugh. “It looks like I’m staying at end.”

Cony won a shootout against Brunswick, 48-38, in the PTC B final last weekend. Although the Dragons piled up the rushing yards — like they had in most games this season — the Cony defense came up with a few key fourth down stops that helped sway momentum.

“We knew we could’ve played a lot better from early in the season,” Benner said. “We just had to go out and do it. I think the second Messalonskee game, in the playoffs, we started to show something.”

Kennebunk coach Joe Rafferty praised the Cony offense this week, saying it will present his team a formidable challenge to contain. However, he also said the Cony defense stood out during film sessions this week.

“They have some athletes out there, no doubt about it,” he said. “They can get after it. It looks like they do a good job at contain. We’ll need to be on top of our game offensively.”

Benner led the PTC B with three forced fumbles and finished the regular season seventh in tackles with 66. Carrier (62 tackles) and Bennett (60) followed.

The Cony defense will face a Kennebunk team that predominately lines up in the pistol formation. Quarterback Nick Emmons is a threat to run and throw. He threw for 1,091 yards and rushed for 832. He’s scored 21 touchdowns. Running back Nicco DeLorenzo rushed for a team-high 1,304 yards and 21 touchdowns.

“They have some athletes over there but I’m just as confident in our defense,” Lucas said. “They’ve just got better all around. We knew they were going to be very good and they have been, and we needed them to be. Hopefully, we can get it done one more time.”

Added Carrier: “We take a lot of pride in our defense. We’ve come a long way. We know not everybody gives our defense a lot of credit, but that’s OK. We know what we are capable of, and now we just have to go out and do it.”

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

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