AUGUSTA — The Cony and Gardiner football teams met on the field for the 103rd straight fall Friday evening.

That’s about where the similarities stopped.

The 2020 version of the longest-running rivalry in Maine high school football was a 7-on-7 scrimmage, won 26-20 by Cony, with nowhere near the pomp and circumstance that comes with the annual matchups between the teams. There were no big crowds packing the stands. No trophy to play for. No helmets, pads, or tackling on the field.

In short, it was different. A lot different.

“I don’t think it’s much of a consolation, to be honest,” Cony coach B.L. Lippert said. “It’s nice to be able to play football, but it doesn’t even come close to matching the intensity of the Cony-Gardiner rivalry. You could even tell with the kids, they’re kind of joking around a little bit every once in a while. That doesn’t happen when it’s Cony-Gardiner for the boot.

“It was great to have this opportunity, we hope we can play some more. … But we’re not going home saying ‘We won the Cony-Gardiner game’ and feeling like we do in other years.”

It wasn’t the same. But as Lippert acknowledged, it was something. And for players and coaches starving for chances to compete, that was important.

And the fact that it came against their biggest rival? That mattered as well.

“It was definitely competitive tonight,” said Cony junior receiver Aidan Coulombe, who caught three touchdown passes from Riley Geyer. “It’s certainly not the same feeling as doing it in pads, but anytime we face Gardiner in any sport, even if it’s a chess match, we still want to kick their butts.”

Gardiner coach Pat Munzing said the intensity between the Tigers and Rams trickled down even into an event that more closely resembled a summer clinic than an October football game, one that was so low-key that score and time were kept in participants’ heads rather than on the scoreboard.

“The tradition’s always there,” said Munzing, who got three touchdown passes from Wyatt Chadwick. “There’s the competitive balance that you’ve got to kind of strike versus some of the development stuff that we’re trying to get out of 7-on-7, but you’re never going to take the tradition of Cony-Gardiner away from any competition. And that was clear in a few plays tonight.”

The personal nature and familiarity between the teams showed itself in different ways. With no roar from the crowd during and between plays, it was easier to hear a Tiger chide a Ram for dropping a pass, or a Cony player jaw with a Gardiner player for a “lucky catch.”

“You’ve got Gardiner talking crap, you’ve got us talking crap,” Geyer said. “You heard a couple of those guys go ‘Nice catch 88,’ or whatever. ‘Nice throw, Riley.’ I’m like ‘All right, next play I’ll throw a touchdown.’ ”

As the night went on and a close game took form, a clear intensity and urgency did as well. Players cursed themselves for mistakes to end drives, and erupted with cheers for big plays. When Geyer connected with Coulombe on a pair of 40-yard touchdown passes — all drives start at the opponent’s 40 — the Rams’ bench sounded the way it would during a regular season game. And when the Tigers rallied late, Gardiner coaches and players called upon each other to finish the rally.

“The kids are keeping score in their heads, there’s no doubt,” Lippert said. “It was good to see the competitive juices flowing again.”

Even then, however, there were always reminders of how different this year is.

“Tonight, you could probably hear me a mile away when I was screaming ‘Let’s go!’ ” Geyer said. “When there’s a whole student section yelling at you, you can’t hear me yelling. But tonight, I felt like you could hear me from two miles away. You could hear me on the other side of the Kennebec.”

No, it wasn’t the same. But it was something. And players tried to make the most of it.

“It felt great coming out here tonight and getting a win,” Coulombe said. “It was a fun Cony-Gardiner game, like always.”

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.