OAKLAND — The timing of the game was unusual. So was the field on which it was played.

The celebration at the end of the game, however? For the Cony football team, that looked just the way it always has.

Cony got the best of rival Gardiner again, getting two touchdowns from Aidan Coulombe and Ashton Dennett in a 40-6 victory at Messalonskee High School in the 143rd edition of the state’s longest rivalry — and, just as importantly, both teams’ return to full tackle football after the lost 2019 season.

The Rams won their fourth straight game over their rivals, although last season’s victory came in a 7-on-7 game because of coronavirus safety concerns. Cony has won nine of the last 10 meetings against Gardiner as well.

It was a preseason game, played in the heat of August rather than the usual chill of October, but after the final seconds ticked off, Cony players began the full-volume cheers that normally accompany victory in the rivalry, and once the handshakes were final, the coaches joined into the jubilant scene.

“I don’t care whether it’s a regular season game or not,” said senior defensive end Casey Mills, whose team improved to 76-58-10 in the series. “That boot, that means just as much as it ever has. If not more, because we had to put in the work to come back here and return with a bang.”


Asked whether the preseason status watered down the excitement of winning, Dennett, who had a touchdown reception and returned an interception for another score, had a quick response.

“I forgot it was a preseason game,” he said. “It felt like a mid-September, even a playoff game.”

The game was just as meaningful for the Tigers, which is why coach Pat Munzing said dropping it stung, even though it’s a game that will have no effect on Gardiner’s prospects in Class C.

“It is an exhibition game. It’s tough when it’s your rival, but they’ve got a pretty good team,” he said. “It still stings. It’s Cony. But how we take it is we’re now on our way. Our regular season starts now. This is when we start t build towards our regular season.”

The Cony defense tackles Gardiner’s Owen Pushard (6) on Friday night at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The Rams were good in all phases. On offense, Coulombe ran 12 times for 144 yards and two touchdowns, the first of which came on a 94-yard run in the second quarter that put Cony up 14-0, and new quarterback James Presti threw for a touchdown and also ran 15 times for 51 yards and a touchdown.

On defense, Cony, led in the front seven by Mills and Jack Morrill, may have been even better, keeping Gardiner off the board — the Tigers’ only points came on a 30-yard Colton Dube interception return that made it 14-6 — and holding their rival to 41 yards on 25 carries.


Wyatt Chadwick led the Tigers with 22 yards on eight carries.

“Last week against Leavitt, we really didn’t set the edge very well, they ran jet sweep up and down the field against us,” coach B.L. Lippert said. “We changed the personnel a bit, but really worked on reading our keys and being a little bit more physical with our front eight.”

Cony struck first when it recovered a fumble at the Gardiner 5-yard line and Presti barreled in on the next play for a 7-0 lead with 8:12 left in the first quarter. The Rams doubled their lead on the first play of the second quarter when Coulombe took his first carry of the game, bounced right, found daylight and was gone down the right sideline.

“When I see open field, I go. I went up that right sideline and (it was) off to the races,” Coulombe said. “I didn’t think about preseason or exhibition. It felt like a real game out there.”

Cony’s Ashton Dennet (2) scores a touchdown as Gardiner’s Cody Dingwell (21) tries to defend Friday night at Messalonskee High School in Oakland. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Gardiner narrowed the gap when Dube caught a deflected pass and returned the interception for a score with 7:27 left in the second quarter, but Cony began pouring it on. Dennett caught a 10-yard touchdown pass from Presti with 2:04 left in the half, and Coulombe scored on a 2-yard run with 9:35 left in the game to make it 28-6.

Dennett returned an interception 46 yards for a touchdown with 8:25 left and Conner Heidle rounded out the scoring with a 35-yard punt return for a touchdown with 1:38 to go, removing any doubt about where the boot was going.

“Football doesn’t really matter about what field you play on,” Mills said. “We could go a couple thousand miles away. As long as it’s the Cony-Gardiner game and you’ve got those people and you’ve got those fans in the crowd, it’s all there.”

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