It’s been five straight wins for the Cony High School football team over Gardiner in the state’s longest-running rivalry. But Rams coach B.L. Lippert knows better than to pencil in a sixth.

“Their defense really runs (to) the football, they play an aggressive brand of defense,” he said. “In the second level in particular, they’re really athletic. Those guys can run and tackle, and that’s kind of what we try to take advantage of. … We have our work cut out for us to do that.”

Indeed, both teams have had success on defense this season. Cony has been Class B North’s top-scoring defense, giving up only 17.3 points per game, while the Tigers impressed against high-scoring outfits in Leavitt, Cape Elizabeth and York, and then against Freeport in last week’s victories after slumping in losses to Fryeburg Academy and Winslow.

On offense, however, the philosophies are different. Cony has maintained its modern spread offense this season, shaking off some early struggles to average 32.8 points over its five straight wins.

“They may not be as powerful as they’ve been in the past, but that doesn’t mean they’re not moving the football,” Gardiner coach Joe White said. “(Cony quarterback Anthony) Sousa can run that football as well as anyone, and he’s just a tough player. You’ve got to key him, at the same time, you’ve got to watch the spread and you’ve got to watch the edge with (Jordan) Roddy and the perimeter.”

The Tigers defense plays fast and frantic, but Gardiner will have to make sure it keeps the aggression in check. With a slew of players in Roddy, Eli Dutil, Reed Hopkins and Matthew Wozniak who are dangerous with the ball in their hands, Cony thrives in the open field, and generates big plays as much through shaking off tacklers and yards after contact as with big vertical plays over the secondary.

“We try to get the ball in space and make those guys miss. That’s kind of what our offense is predicated on,” Lippert said. “Those guys are athletic, and they don’t miss a lot of tackles.”

White said he’s been instructing his defense, led by linebacker Garrett Maheux, defensive back Kolton Brochu and defensive linemen Dylan Spencer and Roy Appleby, to keep it that way.

“It’s going to have to be an execution of basic fundamentals,” White said. “We’ve got to wrap up on defense. You don’t want to let this offense get rolling.”

When Gardiner has the ball, however, the matchup will be that of a defense trying to limit a balanced ground game. With Cole Heaberlin at quarterback, the Tigers can throw, but they’re most dangerous when they’re leaning on a group of running backs in Collin Foye, Cam Michaud, Nate Malinowski and Maheux, one that has players capable of both breaking long runs and grinding out short yardage.

The Rams’ defense, led by defensive backs Sousa and Hopkins, linebacker Logan Leadbetter and defensive linemen Nic Mills and Mitchell McFarland, has improved from last year. On Friday, the Tigers will try to find out by just how much.

“That’s been one of the talking points this week,” White said. “We want to attack that defense. They’ve got some players that are real tough, the Sousa kid and the Mills kid, those guys are a couple that jump right out, McFarland, on that defense that take no prisoners, which is nice to see if they’re on your team. But at the same time, we’re prepping for a tough offensive set against their defense, which is very good.”

The Tigers saw what Foye was capable of in this game last season, as the senior ran 22 times for 157 yards and brought Gardiner to the brink of a victory before the Rams closed out a 27-18 win.

“(Collin) Foye is a really dynamic football player,” Lippert said. “We saw that first-hand last year, we really struggled to tackle him at times in the slippery conditions. … We’ve seen him on film against Winslow and then this week against Freeport doing similar things. … And he’s a weapon in the passing game.”

At stake for whichever team executes its attack better is a victory in a rivalry that has remained special for those involved in it.

“It’s a great rivalry,” Lippert said. “We have memories as players, as coaches, and growing up just around it. Every year adds to that.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

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Twitter: @dbonifantMTM