Skowhegan and Lawrence high schools are separated by just 17 miles, but the Pine Tree Conference Class B championship game Friday night is the first playoff meeting between the longtime rivals in eight years. The long playoff drought comes after a period in which the teams met frequently in the postseason.

Between 2005 and 2009, Skowhegan and Lawrence faced each other four times in five seasons in the playoffs. Each team won twice. Skowhegan took semifinal wins in 2005 (24-9) and 2008 (30-22), while Lawrence earned shutout wins in 2007 (50-0) and 2009 (28-0). Friday’s game will be Skowhegan’s first home playoff game against Lawrence since 2005.

Skowhegan and Lawrence played the highest scoring game in the state in the regular season, a 58-56 Skowhegan win on Oct. 13. Both are coming off strong defensive performances in the regional semifinals after a bye through the quarterfinals. For Skowhegan, the 18-13 win over Brewer was a return to defensive basics after the Indians allowed an average of 37 points per game in the regular season.

“We had two weeks to rep and get ready,” Skowhegan coach Ryan Libby said. “It was more of a direct hitting, physical game, and we were able to line up and get after it. We had some big stops there.”

The biggest of those stops came in the third quarter, when Jon Bell tackled Brewer’s Bryant Kiley at the Skowhegan 3 to end a 60-yard run. Two plays later, Bell’s interception in the end zone killed the Witches’ drive.

Brewer led 10-0 at the half, and it was the first time since a season-opening loss to Marshwood that Skowhegan had been shut out in the first half. At halftime, the talk revolved around maintaining composure.

“We talked about staying calm and getting the offense going with some of our basics,” Libby said.

While Skowhegan played a much stronger second half in its semifinal win, 17 miles down Route 201 at Lawrence, the Bulldogs felt they needed a fast start against defending state champion Brunswick. Lawrence scored on its first possession, and never trailed.

“That was a good sign, to come out ready to play after the time off we had,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said.

Lawrence led 17-0 late in the game, before the Dragons scored a pair of touchdowns to make it close, a 17-12 final. Holding on to the lead was another example of one of the Bulldogs’ strengths, Hersom said.

“All year, we’ve been consistent. We weather adversity and hang together as a team,” Hersom said.

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While Madison’s explosive offense has been strong all season, special teams and defense played big roles in a 28-14 win over Winthrop/Monmouth in a D South semifinal Friday.

Knowing the Ramblers had a strong passing game, Madison changed up its defensive look. The Bulldogs used a cover 2 zone to drop more defenders into coverage and clog Winthrop/Monmouth’s passing lanes. The move worked. The Bulldogs broke up six passes, and linebacker Lucas Murray’s interception late in the third quarter ended a Rambler drive. The Bulldogs also sacked Winthrop/Monmouth quarterback Keegan Choate four times.

“This is the first time this year we’ve run cover 2,” Madison coach Scott Franzose said. “We thought it was the best way to counter Winthrop’s passing game.”

Madison’s only touchdown of the second half came on defense, when Sean Whalen scooped up a fumble and ran in for the score. Whalen also was a factor on special teams, with two long punt returns setting up the Bulldogs first two scores.

Whalen’s first punt return went for 50 yards, and the ensuing Madison drive started on the Ramblers 14-yard line. The Bulldogs scored in two plays. With just over a minute left in the first quarter, Whalen returned a punt 25 yards to the Ramblers 25. This time, the Bulldogs scored in four plays, and had a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter.

“People overlook those things with field position and special teams,” Franzose said. “Special teams and field position are of utmost importance.”

Madison will play at undefeated Wells in the conference title game Saturday at 12:30 p.m. In the regular season, Wells rallied from a 14-point halftime deficit against Madison to take a 25-21 win.

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On Saturday, Maine Central Institute will play in its fourth consecutive regional championship game, when the Huskies travel to Mt. Desert Island to take on the top-seeded Trojans in the Class C North title game. The game is set for Saturday at 7 p.m., so as not to conflict with a school play already scheduled for Friday night and Saturday afternoon.

MCI’s run of regional championship games have come against four different opponents, in two leagues. This season is the Huskies’ first in Class C, and they’ll get an MDI team looking to repeat as conference champion. Previously, MCI played in the Class D Little Ten Conference, where they beat Dexter, Mattanawcook Academy, and Bucksport in each of the last three championship games.

Should MCI win Saturday night and advance to the Class C state championship game Nov. 17 at the University of Maine, the Huskies will be one of the rare teams to reach a state final with three wins on the road. No. 6 seed in Class C North, MCI won at No. 3 Nokomis in the quarterfinals before Saturday’s win at No. 2 Winslow.

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Around the state: Two of the four state championship teams from 2016 are still alive in the playoffs, although each is in a new class. Defending Class D champion MCI will play Mt. Desert Island for the Class C North title. Defending Class C champ Wells will face Madison for the Class D South crown… Realignment was good this season to a few of the teams reclassified to Class D. Three of them — Wells, Madison, and Foxcroft Academy — are playing in regional finals this weekend… Five of the 16 remaining teams played in a state championship game last season. Of the remaining schools, Madison has the longest state game appearance drought; the Bulldogs last reached a state game in 1994. That season, Madison defeated Stearns for the Class C state title.

Travis Lazarczyk — 861-9242

[email protected]

Twitter: @TLazarczykMTM

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