With both teams coming in with matching 4-2 records and shimmering playoff hopes, tonight’s Cony-Messalonskee matchup has the feel of a playoff-caliber showdown come early.

Cony coach B.L. Lippert certainly thinks so.

“It’s one that I think probably both teams circled on the calendar,” he said. “We know this: Messalonskee’s worth a lot (of Heal points), we’re worth a lot at this point. Whoever wins is going to have a huge leg up on, first of all, having a home game in their playoff game, and perhaps having a bye.”

Indeed, there could be some shuffling after Friday night. Messalonskee comes in sitting second in B North, fewer than two Heal points behind Lawrence for the top spot. Cony, meanwhile, comes in fifth, but in the mix for high seeding along with the Eagles and Bulldogs, as well as Brewer and Skowhegan.

So if Cony wins, the Rams could leapfrog some company into the higher spots. An Eagles win, meanwhile, and their fans can all but book some playoff football in Oakland.

“This is what Maine high school football is all about,” Lippert said. “Two teams that are playing pretty well, with … playoff positioning still on the line. It’s going to make for a fun Friday night.”

Here is a look at the Cony-Messalonskee matchup:

Where: Veterans Field, Oakland

When: 7 p.m., tonight

Messalonskee’s Brad Bishop on Cony: “They’re not as prolific a scoring team as they have been in past, but it’s still tough. They spread you out thin out there, it’s tough to defend it. … They’re aggressive and they’ve got some size, and they fly around. They’ve got a good team. They’ve won four in a row and they’ve improved a lot. They improve every year as the season goes on, it seems.”

Cony’s Lippert on Messalonskee: “We’re going to be tested, maybe like we haven’t been all year. … Austin Pelletier gets the lions’ share of the attention, but for my money Tyler Lewis is the most underrated player in this league, he’s really dynamic with the ball in his hands. Alden Balboni, it’s not often that a converted guard averages 12 yards a carry. … It’s a really dynamic offense.”

Three keys for Messalonskee:

• Lewis and Pelletier shine both ways.

Tyler Lewis and Austin Pelletier make headlines for their ball-carrying exploits, but they’ll be vital pieces in the Messalonskee secondary against the pass-happy Rams. Lippert praised Lewis’ cover skills, and while Pelletier has played as a safety this season, he’s had success matching up against standout Cony receiver Jordan Roddy in the past. If they can buckle down the back end of the Messalonskee defense, it’ll be hard for quarterback Anthony Sousa to work the ball efficiently downfield.

• All eyes on Anthony Sousa.

Bishop has a lot of respect for Sousa, who was one of Cony’s most versatile offensive and defensive players before taking over at quarterback this season.

“I think Sousa is a great competitor,” Bishop said. “He doesn’t look pretty back there, but he’s tough as nails. He runs the offense fine.”

Sousa may not have former quarterback Taylor Heath’s arm, but he’s a far more willing and dangerous runner, and if Messalonskee focuses too much on the pass, Sousa becomes a concern on keepers and designed runs. The Eagles will need to be sharp.

• Tidy it up.

The Eagles escaped last week against Brewer, 36-33, and Bishop said sloppy play nearly cost his team the game. A repeat against Cony could be too much to overcome.

“Too many penalties, we had a lot of dumb mistakes, I would call them,” he said. “Blocking from the back, blocking below the waist. We had three or four things like that that we typically don’t do, and that kept Brewer alive and sent us backward.”

Three keys for Cony:

• Execute your assignments.

Lippert said there are ways for a defense to ensure it has an answer for a running game like Messalonskee’s — but they’re rarely beneficial.

“I think when you’re desperate … you make some dramatic changes. Rolling the safety up, putting the corners in the flat, covering with one or two guys in the back end,” he said. “But you don’t want to do that, because obviously you expose yourself to different things.”

Cony had to do that last year, and the result was a 46-14 Eagles rout. The Rams need to make sure they’re able to win battles up front and contain the edges, or risk being an easy foe for the Eagles’ passing game.

• No letdowns on special teams.

When teams come in as evenly matched on paper as these two, the difference can be in the details. That would be special teams, where giving up a long kickoff return or allowing a blocked punt can sink a team’s chances.

“You’ve got to make sure you don’t give them a cheap one, or put yourself in a bad position by not executing on special teams,” Lippert said. “For us, if we’ve got to cut something out of practice, it’s always special teams. I hate to admit that, but it’s just been our way since I’ve been there, really.”

• Balance it out.

Cony can throw it with the best of them, but even with some high-end targets in Roddy, Eli Dutil, Logan Leadbetter and Matthew Wozniak, the Eagles will have an answer if the Rams get too one-dimensional. They’ll need to establish a running game, be it runs with Sousa or getting backs Leadbetter or Ashton Cunningham going on the ground.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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