In its long history, Cony High School has won many state championships in different sports.

But for years — 81 to be exact — a state football championship had eluded the Rams. The last time Cony had seen championship glory on the gridiron was 1932, when America was in the Great Depression, Herbert Hoover was president, Johnny Cash was born and Amelia Earhart became the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

That all changed in 2013, when the Rams went on to win one of the more entertaining state finals in recent memory for Cony’s first Gold Ball of the modern era of Maine high school football.

Confidence was high with the Rams entering the fall of 2013. Cony was already starting to turn program fortunes around in 2012, when the Rams reached the Eastern Class A finals before falling to Lawrence. A year later, Cony was making the move to Class B, and was an immediate favorite in the conference.

“That 2012 team really set the standard as far as the work ethic, weight room and offseason commitments,” said current Cony head coach B.L. Lippert, who in 2013 was the offensive coordinator under Robbie Vachon. “That was the first year we had done 7-on-7 (camp) during the summer. We kind of enjoyed that ride in 2012, and then the kids got a little taste (of winning) and as a result, they put in unbelievable amount of work and preparation for the 2013 season.”

And at a time when most teams in Maine — particularly central Maine — were using a traditional run-heavy offensive scheme, Cony bucked the trend by using a spread passing attack. It helped that the Rams offense was led by 6-4, 227-pound quarterback Ben Lucas, who in 2013 had one of the best seasons tossing a football in state history. Lucas ended up passing for 3,347 yards, with 33 touchdown passes.

“I was very fortunate,” Lucas said. “And I give a lot of credit to Coach Vachon and Coach Lippert, because they realized what our strengths were. We had stud wide receivers. My strengths were obviously throwing the ball. I think I had maybe three rushes all year. But we had great skill guys and we had a really great offensive line that was able to pass block incredibly well, which is a difficult thing to do.

“You couldn’t have asked for a better system to play in. There were some games were I think I had 58 pass attempts in one game. We were kind of the pioneers for it. You see it a little bit more (today) in the state. But we took a lot of pride in that as well. We always heard ‘You’re never going to win in Maine with this kind of offense. It’s going to get into November and it’s going to be cold, there could be rain, there could be snow.’ We used that as motivation as well, because we knew what we were capable of. We really were kind of the first team — you would see some spread teams like Bonny Eagle, and Mt. Blue did when they had Jordan Whitney as well — but they still had a strong running attack. We had 40-plus throws a game, and that’s how we operated. We really kind of paved the way, I think, in Maine high school football, being this team that was a full spread offense like you see out in California, and being able to bring it into Maine and win a state championship. I think that’s pretty cool.”

And it wasn’t just one stud receiver Lucas would throw to. He had multiple targets, including wide receivers Tayler Carrier and Jonathan Saban.

Cony wide receiver Jonathan Saban scores a touchdown during the 2013 Class B football final against Kennebunk at Alfond Stadium in Orono. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file photo

“Just having a quarterback that’s that good and having a really good core receiving base that we knew that would run the routes well and be able to catch the ball, it was a lot of fun,” Saban said. “It was probably the most fun I had playing football my whole life, knowing there’s going to be one of us that’s open and more than likely come out and make a big play any time we had the ball in our hands.”

Cony went 6-2 during the regular season. The Rams fell 54-38 to a tough Brunswick team (that the Rams would see later in the playoffs) — despite Lucas throwing for 444 yards and six touchdowns. The other loss came to Greely, one that Lippert referred to as a “character-check” game. Cony entered the Eastern Class B playoffs as the No. 2 seed, earning a bye in the quarterfinal round. It cruised to a 41-15 win in the semifinal round over Messalonskee, setting up a rematch on the road against Brunswick for the regional title.

Much like their regular season meeting, the game was nothing short of a shootout, one in which Cony came out on top 48-38. Interestingly enough though, Cony’s defense would play a huge role in the game, stopping the Dragons on two different fourth-and-1 situations, with the Rams scoring each time on the ensuing possession. In that game, Lucas threw his 86th career touchdown pass, which broke the state record previously held by the late Lee St. Hilaire of Winthrop.

The win set up an all-Rams showdown for the Class B title, as Cony had to take on Western Class B champion Kennebunk at Alfond Stadium at the University of Maine in Orono. Kennebunk entered the game with a perfect 11-0 record, having just topped perennial power Marshwood 41-14 for the regional crown.

The first half of the Class B final was a surprising defensive battle, with Kennebunk holding a 6-0 lead at halftime. Cony had possibly its worst first half offensively of the season, as Lucas was held to just 40 yards passing.

“I played probably the worst half of football I played in my entire life,” Lucas said. “I knew I played poorly, and my teammates, coaches, no one was coming down hard on me or anything like that. I just knew I needed to step up. The coaches were calling the right plays, the line was blocking, receivers were open. I just wasn’t making the throws. I kind of relayed that to the team at halftime, going ‘Hey, I’m not going to let you down this half. We worked too hard to get to this point, we’re going to do this.’ I knew the guys had trust in me and I had trust in them.”

Kennebunk lengthened its lead to 16-0 early in the third quarter, but Cony wouldn’t quit, and out of nowhere, a switch was flipped. Lucas threw for 307 yards in the second half, and with 7:16 left in the fourth quarter, Kennebunk had a 23-22 lead.

Two minutes later, Cony’s defense once again made a play when it needed it most, forcing a fumble out of Kennebunk running back Nicco DeLorenzo at Cony’s 1-yard line, giving the Rams one last opportunity to take the lead with 5:14 remaining.

Tayler Carrier hauls in a touchdown pass during the 2013 Eastern Class B final against Brunswick in Brunswick. Gabe Souza/Portland Press Herald file photo

“I don’t think we were ever scared of losing,” Saban said. “I think we always felt like we were going to pull it off. And then the ball popped loose, and then that incredible 99-yard drive happened.”

Cony would do just that, calmly marching 99 yards down the field, before Lucas hit Saban on a 25-yard scoring toss with a minute to play to take the lead.

“It was a flag route to the corner,” Saban said after the game. “Ben dropped it in there. I don’t even know what to say. Incredible. Just incredible.”

A 2-point conversion pass to Carrier gave Cony the final 30-23 victory, and an 81-year drought was finally put to bed. Cony had its first Gold Ball. It was a win that meant so much to people connected to the school and the program, particularly Lippert, who grew up in the program and was a former Cony quarterback before eventually becoming a coach.

“For me, my dad coached for 19 years when I was growing up, I grew up on the sidelines,” Lippert said. “I went to every game and every practice. I thought the Rams were the New England Patriots. To see him after 25-plus years of being around Cony football and him being a part of a state championship, that was something special. The same can be said for Robbie Vachon, his dad was a coach. So there had been so many people that had been around and given so much time to the program. To see their face, I remember people saying ‘I cannot believe Cony won a state championship in football. We win them in field hockey, we win them in girls basketball, baseball, whatever, we’re never going to win one in football.’

“It lasted a couple of years. We would lose a game the next year, (fans would go) ‘Who cares? You won states last year.'”

The accolades wouldn’t end in Orono. Lucas was named the state’s Gatorade Player of the Year, ending his career with 7,700 passing yards and 89 touchdown passes. A couple of months later, Lucas became the 43rd winner of the Fitzpatrick Trophy winner, handed out to Maine’s top senior football player.

“We have one of the (oldest) football programs in the state,” Lucas said. “It’s just so special. My family has been in Augusta for over 100 years. I had family members that played for Cony football, brothers that played Cony football. It was a part of our family. Seeing how much that meant to the community, that’s the thing that leaves me with such great pride in my four years at Cony.”

 

Dave Dyer — 621-5640

[email protected]

Twitter: @Dave_Dyer

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