AUGUSTA — The Cony football team rarely struggled to score this year with a spread offense featuring quarterback Ben Lucas and a number of big-play receivers.
Lucas has thrown 38 touchdowns this season and a state- record 86 in his career. Three wideouts – Jonathan Saban, Tayler Carrier and John Bennett – each have at least 900 receiving yards.
Cony (8-2) will bring its potent passing to Orono on Friday night to play Kennebunk (11-0) for the Class B state championship.
It will also bring a revamped defensive unit that finally stabilized after a rough start.
“We didn’t play well in the beginning and I don’t know why,” said linebacker Reid Shostak, who was third in the region with 93 tackles. “But we turned it around. We’re stepping up now.”
The Rams were allowing 28 points a game at the halfway point of the regular season. They’ve held opponents to 19 a game since.
“We just started playing tougher and got better with each game,” defensive end/linebacker Nic Benner said. “The more we played, the more confident we became.”
Added Carrier, a defensive back/linebacker as well as receiver: “We all just got a little more comfortable. We started playing more physical.”
Coach Robby Vachon, who this year shared the defensive coordinator duties with B.L. Lippert, recognized late in the season that changes needed to be made if his team was to make a deep playoff run.
“We really started changing the defense each week,” Vachon said. “We came up with different groupings until we found the right mix.”
Bennett moved from starting cornerback to the defensive line because the coaches loved his quickness and toughness. Carrier, another defensive back, slid down to outside linebacker.
“I like to be involved with stopping the run more so the move worked out well,” Carrier said. “I like to be in the middle of things. I like to hit people.”
Benner, who began the season as a mainstay at middle linebacker, found a new home at defensive end in the playoffs.
“We had to do something to stop the run better,” Vachon said. “The emergence of Jonathan (Saban) and Kevin (Kingsbury) in the secondary helped us make some other moves.”
Benner made his debut at end against Messalonskee in a regional semifinal. The Rams won 41-15 and held Corey McKenzie to 36 rushing yards.
“When the coaches saw the film again against Messalonskee, they said I wasn’t going anywhere,” said Benner. “It looks like I’m staying at end.”
Cony won a shootout against Brunswick 48-38 in the regional final last weekend. Although the Dragons piled up rushing yards, Cony came up with a few key fourth-down stops.
“We knew we could have played a lot better from early in the season,” Benner said. “We just had to go out and do it.”
Kennebunk Coach Joe Rafferty said the Cony defense stood out during film sessions this week.
“They have some athletes out there, no doubt about it,” he said. “They can get after it. It looks like they do a good job at contain.”