AUGUSTA — The Lawrence football team’s offense and special teams handled the first half. The defense took care of the second.

It was more than enough to send the Bulldogs to the B North final, yet again.

Parker Higgins ran for 276 yards and a touchdown on 25 carries, Cade Scott returned a kickoff and interception for touchdowns, and No. 3 Lawrence earned a measure of payback for a late-season loss to Cony by beating the second-seeded Rams 36-20 in the B North semifinals at Fuller Field.

It’s the fourth straight trip to the regional final for the Bulldogs, excluding the canceled 2020 season, and they’ll play No. 1 Windham, a 7-6 winner over No. 4 Skowhegan.

“It’s a great win, it’s a great feeling,” said Higgins, whose hard running helped Lawrence improve to 6-3. “They’re a really great team, they have playmakers all around the field. … We did a good job in the second half of shutting them down, and our offense just kept rolling all game.”

Even in defeat, there was a show of resilience from Cony (6-3), which fell behind 28-7 and lost top running back Aidan Coulombe before its first offensive snap. But there were also missed opportunities; Cony had first-and-goal from the Lawrence 2 in the closing seconds of the first half down 28-20 and came away empty-handed, and went three-and-out on the first three possessions of the second half down only one score.

“I’m really proud of the effort,” said Cony coach B.L. Lippert, who got 266 yards and two touchdowns through the air from James Presti. “All year long, this was probably the most adversity any team I’ve coached has faced. … I’m not sure I’ve ever coached one that’s any more mentally tough. I’ve coached more talented teams, for sure. But I’m not sure there’s been one more mentally tough than this group.”

The adversity came quickly. Lawrence scored on its first series when Maddox Santone (10 carries, 52 yards, two touchdowns) ran in from 8 yards out, and again on its second for a 14-0 lead when Higgins broke a 74-yard touchdown run.

AUGUSTA, ME – OCTOBER 5: during a football game Friday November 5, 2021 on Cony High’s Fuller Field in Augusta. (Staff photo by Joe Phelan/Staff Photographer) Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Cony answered when Presti hit Ashton Dennett (six catches, 78 yards) for a 16-yard score, but the Bulldogs delivered a blow when Scott returned the ensuing kickoff 80 yards for a touchdown, and then three plays later intercepted a deflected pass and ran 25 yards for another score to make it 28-7 with 9:31 left in the second quarter.

“Dangerous returner, that’s what I am. That’s what I do,” Scott said. “(On the interception) I just broke on it, I saw it and I was right there. I’m so grateful.”

“Not too many teams have kicked the ball deep to him,” Lawrence coach John Hersom said. “We were fortunate that we got one tonight, because he does have that breakaway speed.”

Cony kept swinging. The Rams dominated time of possession with their ability to move the ball through the air, running 55 offensive plays in the first half to Lawrence’s 13, and they began turning that yardage into points. Presti capped a 71-yard drive with a 3-yard run to make it 28-13, then after a Lawrence fumble hit Sam Flannery (three catches, 57 yards) for an 18-yard touchdown to cut the deficit to 28-20 with 4:36 to go in the second.

“I’m just really proud of our resiliency,” Lippert said. “(Down) 28-7 after a kickoff return for a touchdown, a tipped pick for a touchdown the next play, it would be really easy to say ‘Hey, we had a great season, we probably overachieved, let’s mail it in.'”

Cony receiver Ashton Dennett, center, (2) catches a pass between Lawrence defenders Parker Higgins (32) and Nathan Grard during a Class B North semifinal game Friday at Fuller Field in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

Cony got a stop and had a golden opportunity for a tie when Presti hit Derek Totten for 44 yards down to the 2-yard line with 31 seconds left, but an offensive pass interference derailed the chance for a score just before the half. It was a rare stop for Lawrence, but there were more coming; the Bulldogs held Cony without a first down on its first three possessions of the second half, sacking Presti twice and holding him to 0-for-5 passing.

“It was kind of convincing to us that we could maybe overtake them in the second half,” said Hersom, whose defense held Presti to 38 passing yards in the second half. “We kind of kept them off the board in the second half. … They made the nice throws and the catches in the first half, so we knew we just needed to keep working on what we had planned to do for tonight, and in the second half I think we played a little bit better.”

Cony kept Lawrence from delivering the knockout blow for a few series, but it finally came when Santone ran in from 2 yards out with 6:36 to play.

“It goes out to the linemen. If you watch the game, you watch film, it’s all on them,” Higgins said. “The holes were there all game. … We’ve got a big group of seniors up there, and they have no quit in them.”

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