Edition No. 142 of the Cony-Gardiner football rivalry is on tap Friday, and according to Cony coach B.L. Lippert, there’s still something special about gearing up to play that team down the Kennebec.

“It’s a fun way to end the year every year, regardless of the records,” he said. “There’s so much history and tradition in this game that our kids look forward to it, and the communities are so close that we see people all year long, or I see people at the supermarket that are from Gardiner, I see people all around that either played in the game or have a vested interest in the game.

“This week then becomes more heightened, and it’s a fun week to be a part of.”

Cony High School’s Jake Harris (22) gets tackled by Skowhegan High School’s Tyler Longley (54) in Skowhegan during a game earlier this season. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Oftentime, Cony and Gardiner have met when both teams have had a similar story to their seasons. That’s not the case this time. The Rams are 7-0, have trailed at only one time in a game all season, and are in pursuit of a top-two seed, and potentially No. 1, in the Pine Tree Conference Class B. The Tigers, hit by injuries in the middle of the year, are 2-5 and in need of a win Friday to put their playoff hopes in their own hands.

Still, upsets aren’t unheard of in this rivalry. Two years ago, a 2-5 Gardiner team beat a 5-2 Cony team in overtime. Tigers coach Joe White said his team is excited about the challenge of pulling off another one.

“A lot of those kids that are seniors now were sophomores (for) that 2017 win. A.J. Chadwick and Blaise Tripp, guys like that were out there for that game,” he said. “And they know. You’re 2-5, the hopes of playoffs looming in the balance, and you come out and you just play your best game that you’ve played all year and you reap the benefits.”

Lippert has seen enough weird stuff happen when these teams have met to know he can’t take the win for granted.

“They’ve played us tough in years where we were better than them, and we’ve played them tough in years where they were better than us,” he said. “That’s always something to factor in. They’re very motivated. Cony-Gardiner alone should motivate you, but a playoff spot on the line will heighten that as well.”

White said getting his team inspired won’t be a problem.

“It doesn’t take a whole lot on the part of the coaching staff to motivate the kids for the Cony-Gardiner game,” he said. “Their parents and family members have played in the game. They’re aware of it. It’s a lifelong memory to have played in it and to tell stories about it.”

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Cony intercepted three passes in its win last week over Falmouth/Greely, and each one showcased the ball-hawking skills of the Rams secondary.

Riley Geyer got the first one, running up and making a sliding pick on Nick Mancini’s rollout pass early in the second quarter. Later in the period, the Yachtsmen were driving into Cony territory and had reached the 39-yard line when Adrian Larrabee had the pick, reading the quarterback from nearly 10 yards behind the receiver and running up to step in front, intercept the pass and return it 23 yards to the Falmouth/Greely 47 with 46.9 seconds left in the half.

“He’s got tremendous instincts in the pass game,” Lippert said. “At times we’ll watch him and he kind of baits quarterbacks into throws. He was hoping he was going to throw that out cut, and he drove on it, picked it off and gave us a chance to score before the half.”

The third came with under nine minutes to go in the game and all but sealed the victory. Yachtsmen quarterback Cooper Bush tried to beat Colten Manning deep down the right sideline, but safety Dakota Andow was playing centerfield and raced over to make a leaping grab of the ball.

“Dakota has really good range,” Lippert said. “He just does a nice job of reading the quarterback’s eyes, and of course, (he and Geyer) both play quarterback, so they have an idea of route concepts and they have an idea of where the ball might be going.”

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Headed for home-field advantage for the first round of the PTC B playoffs, Lawrence may have gotten an early postseason preview. The Bulldogs prevailed in a tough battle with Windham, winning 25-18 at Keyes Field Friday.

“That’s exactly what we were talking about as coaches after,” coach John Hersom said. “(It’s) kind of fortunate that we had that type of a game, where we were challenged throughout. We had to be certainly playing our best to beat them.”

Indeed, the Eagles didn’t make it easy. Lawrence scored the go-ahead touchdown late in the third quarter on a 53-yard pass from Dylan Coombs to Zach Nickerson, but had to buckle down for a defensive stop deep in its own territory in the closing minutes as Windham looked to even the score. The Bulldogs forced an incompletion from the 8-yard line on fourth down with 1:46 to play.

“Definitely, for our defense, where we’ve been kind of a work in progress … we showed some improvement,” Hersom said. “We’re getting better, forcing teams to earn everything. We just want to continue to play that type of defense.”

• • •

Kents Hill is 3-1. The Huskies, however, aren’t thrilled with that mark.

“I think we should be 4-0,” coach Steve Shukie said. “My kids feel like we should be 4-0, but we gave one away.”

However you slice it, it’s been a fast start for the Huskies in the NEPSAC eight-man league. Shukie had a feeling this could be the case; Kents Hill had a lot of players to replace, but plenty of talent with which to do it.

The issue, as it often is, was depth. Kents Hill has only 15 players on the roster.

“I felt pretty good, if we stayed healthy, we’d be the team to beat. And I still feel that way,” Shukie said. “Our margins are razor-thin, but the kids we have out on the field are incredibly tough, incredibly well-conditioned, and they’re good players too.”

The Huskies have had success on both sides of the ball, but they’ve been strongest on the defensive line. Hans Dres, Hunter Beriault and LJ Jefferson have been disruptive up front, and linebacker Alec Saklad has been one of the team’s best pass-rushers.

“Our three defensive linemen are something no one else has,” Shukie said. “We have really good size and athleticism up front, and when they’re all playing healthy, it’s very, very hard to run on us, and it’s also very hard to get a pass off.”

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