ORONO — One last time, 14 strong, Kennebunk’s seniors walked off the football field Friday night.

Some wiped at the tears welling in their eyes. Others clung heavily to the arms of consoling parents. One limped off gamely in a gray walking boot.

All knew they were taking the final steps in an eight-year journey that had ended with an abrupt turn of fortunes and a 30-23 loss to Cony in the Class B state championship game at Alfond Stadium.

“We’ve been playing together since fourth grade, a lot of us,” injured running back Tyler Elkington said. “From day one we were talking state gold. Gold thoughts from day one. Obviously, right now, we’re not going to be excited or anything. But years down the road we’ll still look back and have a positive memory.”

It was a group that won the Southern Maine Youth Football League title in 2009. This fall, after dropping down from Class A to Class B as part of the Maine Principals’ Association’s football realignment, the Rams were undefeated going into the state final and had the school’s first state championship in 22 years firmly in their sights.

But a 16-0 late third-quarter lead slipped away as Cony quarterback Ben Lucas summoned his inner Johnny Manziel and led a comeback that included a 99-yard drive to the winning score.

Kennebunk went from rolling to reeling in 14 gut-churning minutes. As you might expect, the seniors took it the hardest.

“My seniors collectively are just an outstanding group. They’ve been together a long time. They’ve come a long way. We made it here; we just didn’t finish it,” Kennebunk Coach Joe Rafferty said.

“The big thing is just representing yourself, your family, your community well. And I think they did that.”

Perhaps nothing represented that bond better than the way the Rams rallied around Elkington.

The speedy running back went down early in the Sept. 28 victory over Marshwood with a left foot injury that cost him the rest of the season. It robbed Kennebunk of a dynamic threat – Elkington had rushed for 181 yards on just 10 carries, and scored on a 92-yard punt return, a 55-yard pass and a 65-yard run in the season’s opening weeks – but also a fiery presence in the huddle.

The Rams were determined not to let that spark fade entirely. They affixed Elkington’s No. 5 to their helmets and welcomed him on the sideline, where he paced and prodded his teammates. Wearing his game jersey, he accompanied fellow captains Nicco DeLorenzo and Ben Bath to midfield for the pregame coin toss Friday.

A few hours later, the threesome made another trek onto the field to retrieve the second-place trophy.

It certainly wasn’t the prize they were after. But Elkington found comfort in the fact they carried it together.

“It’s hard knowing you can’t get out on the field and play at state. But watching these guys was definitely the next-best thing,” he said.

“Each and every one of us just put our heart and soul into it. Just because you’re injured, you don’t want to leave your family. So anyone else would have done the same thing.”

Mark Emmert can be reached at 791-6424 or:

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Twitter: MarkEmmertPPH