As if a top-notch defense and dual threat quarterback weren’t enough to deal with, Cony’s opponents now have to handle a Rams running game that has started to take hold.

While the Rams have been on a roll, working their winning streak to five games with a 30-6 win over Brunswick on Friday, they’ve taken on a new identity in the backfield. Sophomore Jamal Cariglia, a change of pace back earlier in the season, has started to get the majority of carries, while senior Ashton Cunningham has been utilized in more of a versatile role, with calls to run the ball as well as be involved in the passing game, both as a receiver and a blocker.

The setup has been working for the 7-1 Rams. Cariglia has run 24 times for 136 yards in the past two weeks, an average of 5.67 yards per carry, while Cunningham has run 14 times for 65 yards, but has caught passes for touchdowns in two of the past four games.

The two also had their own chances to shine three weeks ago against Hampden, combining for 128 yards on the ground.

“We kind of play the hot hand there,” coach B.L. Lippert said. “For the most part they alternate, whether it’s series by series or every two series, they kind of alternate. If somebody is maybe running the ball a little harder that night, we might go in that direction. … They both operate really well in our offense. They can pass protect, they can catch the ball out of the backfield.”

Sometimes, circumstances outside of the players’ performance determines who gets the nod. Against Gardiner, Cariglia was running better in the muddy conditions, so Lippert made him the primary back. He carried 15 times for 69 yards, helping an otherwise sluggish offense move the ball.

“We saw Jamal, the turf was slippery and he was hitting it downhill a little bit more quickly, and as a result he was able to kind of get a little more footing and more yardage, so we went with him a lot in the second half,” Lippert said. “But we have all the faith in the world in Ashton, he’s played really well for a large stretch of his career. We’ve got two, it’s a nice luxury to have.”

• • •

Brunswick’s regular season ended on a sour note with the loss to Cony, but the third-seeded Dragons need only to beat No. 6 Brewer to punch their ticket to Augusta for a rematch with the Rams.

And if they get there, they could have a key player back.

The Dragons have played nearly an entire season without Owen Richardson, who led the Pine Tree Conference in rushing with over 1,200 yards as a sophomore last season, but broke his collarbone in a season-opening win over Falmouth. Coach Dan Cooper, however, sounded optimistic about his standout’s return.

“We’re pretty hopeful we’re going to get him back in the playoffs,” he said, “which would be a huge lift, because that kid’s a pretty good player.”

Cooper praised the work of running backs Cam Hathaway and Donald Bromiley and quarterback Nate Girardin to pick up the slack, but against a team like Cony, which held Hathaway to 38 yards on 11 carries and Bromiley to 13 on eight, it’s clear how vital Richardson would be in a rematch.

“We’ve been blessed to be pretty deep in the running back position,” Cooper said. “These other kids stepped right in, and we didn’t miss a beat.”

• • •

After plenty of close calls, Winthrop/Monmouth/Hall-Dale followed through on a big win. And at a perfect time, too.

The Ramblers finished the regular season with a 20-8 victory over Mountain Valley, which came after back-to-back losses to Lisbon and Madison — losses that came by a combined eight points, and which coach Dave St. Hilaire said were made harder to swallow by poorly-timed mistakes.

“The previous two games, we thought we were the better team and we just didn’t play like we should,” he said. “Those two were very winnable games. So to come out and make far fewer mistakes and be more mentally focused was a positive. We needed that.”

Indeed, there was something on both sides of the ball for the Ramblers to build on. Winthrop/Monmouth/H-D made a pair of fourth-down stops with the lead only 12-8 and the game in the balance, and Jevin Smith ran for three touchdowns to bring life to what had been a shaky run game.

“The team responded very well when challenged,” St. Hilaire said.

Smith also said the win was an important one for the Ramblers, who as the fifth seed will face No. 4 Spruce Mountain in the D South playoffs.

“We needed that game against Mountain Valley,” he said. “I think we’re ready to take on Spruce (Mountain). The energy’s back up.”

• • •

Coaches Joe White of Gardiner and Walter Polky of Maranacook likely won’t be expecting too many surprises when they watch film of their first-round opponents.

Gardiner, the third seed in Class C South, will open against No. 6 Morse, which it played in the first round last year and which it has already seen three times in the past two years — winning all three matchups. Maranacook, the third seed in Class E, will host No. 6 Boothbay, which it just played last week, winning 26-7. The Black Bears also faced the Seahawks twice last season, losing both matchups, the second of which came in the Class E championship game.

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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