SKOWHEGAN — The Skowhegan Area High School football team lit up the scoreboard Friday night. What else is new.

This time, however, the pass-happy Indians were as comfortable on the ground as they were through the air. And a defense that has been along for the ride all season was more than capable of playing the starring role.

Skowhegan rode a potent connection between Garrett McSweeney and John Bell, an awakened ground game and a defense that confounded quarterback Taylor Heath and the Cony offense to victory Friday night, breaking open what was a one-score game in the second half and turning it into a 34-7 victory on a chilly night at Clark Field.

“(In the) first half, we were trying to do a little bit too much,” said coach Matt Friedman, whose team improved to 5-2. “We decided at halftime we were going to come out and try to do some basic things we wanted to work on.

“This was a night where we wanted to kind of establish the run and we were able to do that.”

The Indians can get comfortable at their friendly confines. With the win, Skowhegan can finish no worse than fourth in the Pine Tree Conference Class B, guaranteeing it a home playoff opener.

“That meant a lot to them, too,” Friedman said. “That’s just a great, great situation, to be able to play your first-round game at home.”

Skowhegan led 14-7 at halftime, but it was Cony (2-5) that was riding a surge of momentum after scoring in the final minute of the first half. It didn’t last. Tyler Scott took the first kickoff of the second half back 79 yards for a score, making it 21-7 and landing a blow to the gut of the Rams.

“It’s a big turning point, for sure,” Cony coach B.L. Lippert said. “That was a big momentum swing to start the second half.”

The hole deepened after Cony answered with a three-and-out. The Indians’ ground game — often overshadowed due to McSweeney’s prolific throwing arm — churned out 42 yards on six carries, and when a penalty forced Skowhegan into a fourth-and-21, McSweeney found the touch on a 33-yard touchdown pass to Bell — who had three catches for 113 yards, all touchdowns — to make it 28-7.

“Garrett McSweeney’s as advertised,” Lippert said of the quarterback, who had trouble completing passes consistently, going only 8-of-22, but who used several highlight-reel throws to reach 160 yards through the air. “He really dropped the ball in the bucket on several occasions deep, and John Bell can scoot.

“To get them into third-and-long, fourth-and-long and they hit a deep ball on you, that’s pretty demoralizing.”

Skowhegan stretched the score to the final margin with 8:53 to play when Kobe Bailey plunged in from 4 yards out. It was the exclamation point for a running attack that battered the Cony defense for 259 yards on 36 carries, with McSweeney himself doing most of the damage with 86 yards on nine attempts.

“My offensive line did a great job, that was our best rushing night probably all season,” Friedman said. “When we did throw the ball, they gave Garrett plenty of time.”

That was more than enough scoring for the Indians’ defense, which made Heath (12-of-31, 131 yards) uncomfortable all night by taking away his best receiver.

“We had a plan in place to take away Jordan Roddy,” said Friedman, whose team had allowed 192 points in six games before Friday night. “That was having John Bell basically play him man and play pass defense behind it. John did a great job, he mirrored him about as great as you could cover him.”

Heath and Roddy, who teamed for five touchdowns the week before against Hampden, connected three times for 53 yards.

“The strength of our defense is our defensive backfield,” Friedman said. “This was the first time in a while that we’ve been able to showcase those guys.”

In the first half, the Rams quieted McSweeney, but they couldn’t silence him. The senior gave the Indians the lead on Skowhegan’s second possession, finding Bell deep down the right sideline for a pretty 40-yard touchdown. It was his second straight completion after five straight misfires to start the game, but it was enough for a 7-0 advantage with 1:13 left in the first quarter.

McSweeney’s second strike came when the Rams figured they had fended him off. Also the Indians punter, McSweeney took the long snap on fourth-and-6 on the Cony 44-yard line and found a wide open Bell down the sideline. The pass dropped perfectly into the junior’s hands, doubling the lead to 14-0 with 11:05 left until the break.

“They made big plays,” Lippert said. “They made big plays in big moments, and we didn’t.”

Cony punted the ball away on its next two drives, but took over with 3:27 to go and finally salvaged some much-needed points and momentum before the break. The Rams started at their 15 but quickly picked up ground, with runs of 10 and 15 yards by Heath helping them cross midfield.

A pass to Roddy converted a third-and-10 at the Skowhegan 41, and three plays later Heath faked a screen pass left to Roddy and instead fired deep to Elijah Dutil, who hauled in the pass on the post route to make it 14-7 with only 40 seconds to go in the half.

A Roddy interception on the next drive gave Cony a crack at another last-minute score, but three Heath passes fell incomplete — one glancing off the fingertips of a diving Anthony Sousa in the end zone. It was a near miss on a play that could have changed the complexion of the game.

Instead, the hope ran out quickly in the second half.

“A lot of credit goes to their staff,” Lippert said. “They prepared well and they out-executed us, for sure.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM


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