Last season was a step forward for the Cony football team. The Rams are looking to take another leap this year.

Whether or not that happens won’t be determined in Week 1. But coach B.L. Lippert knows a win sure makes it easier.

“You want to establish momentum, but the momentum really isn’t important until end of October, early November,” he said. “(But) it would be great, to get out and be 1-0. … This is just kind of getting the foundation laid for the season, and our kids are ready.”

The Rams have an experienced group of playmakers back from last year’s team that went 5-3 and was a third seed going into the Pine Tree Conference playoffs. First up is the team with which they were jockeying for playoff positioning in Messalonskee, but the narrative is different in Oakland. The Eagles went from a roster of 40 to one of 33 and lost over a dozen seniors, and coach Brad Bishop’s group will have plenty of new faces on both sides of the ball — particularly in the backfield, which was one of the PTC’s strongest and most balanced last season.

“We had 13 seniors last year and they all played, every single one of them,” he said. “Now we have three seniors. We don’t have that big margin for error right now, because we don’t have that experience.”

Here is a closer look at the matchup between Cony and Messalonskee:

Where: Alumni Field, Augusta

When: 7 tonight

Lippert on Messalonskee: “You know what you’re going to get with them, in terms of their offensive style and their defensive attacking scheme. … Messalonskee’s well-coached, they’ve got a bunch of guys on that staff that have coached for a number of years. They do have to replace a lot of guys … but you’ve got a well-coached team and a program that’s run pretty well for Brad’s entire tenure there. We’re taking them very seriously.”

Bishop on Cony: “If you look at B.L.’s team that he has right now, most of those kids played as freshmen. … You’re not going to win many varsity football games with those young kids, but if you noticed they got better and better every year. … He’s got a good little team there right now.”

Three keys for Messalonskee:

• Bring the effort. Bishop wasn’t too pleased with how the team performed in a scrimmage with Winslow, and said he’s looking for more intensity as the switch flips from preseason to regular season.

“The key for us is to come out and play,” Bishop said. “We didn’t play against Winslow, we didn’t come out and play hard. Whether you win or lose the game, you want to play hard and do things right.”

• Mix it up. Cony’s defense is strong, so trying to stick to the same plays likely won’t work long. The Rams have the speed to contain the outside runs and a stout interior that can handle anything up the gut, so the Eagles’ best bet is to put them on their heels as often as they can.

“They’re very quick on defense,” Bishop said. “That’s the thing I was most impressed by the other day (in a scrimmage with Mt. Blue). They’re lean and they can run.”

• Beat the heat. The Eagles have a threat in quarterback Deklan Thurston, one the Rams will likely be aiming to snuff out from the first series. In order for Messalonskee to put points on Cony and dictate the game, the line will have to hold up to a Cony rush led by ends Nic and Jake Mills and linebacker Jakob Arbour and keep Thurston’s jersey clean.

Three keys for Cony:

• Ride the emotion. The Rams are opening the season on their home field, under the lights, and in new jerseys, no less. If there’s ever a situation to come out fast — and potentially catch a Messalonskee team that, its coach even acknowledged, has had effort issues off guard — this is it.

“I expect us to be full of energy and enthusiasm,” Lippert said. “You only get one season opener. … The kids are excited, for sure.”

• Who’s running the show? Cony has experienced pieces back nearly everywhere — except at perhaps the most important spot. Even in the latest days of the preseason, Lippert was undecided between junior Dakota Andow and sophomore Riley Geyer. Whoever wins the job and gets the opening week start will have to be ready, as Lippert likes his quarterbacks to throw the ball.

• Attack the quarterback. Thurston may be Messalonskee’s top offensive threat, and if the Rams are able to neutralize him, either by containing him on the ground or rushing him in the pocket, the Eagles will find it tough to move the ball throughout the night.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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