FAIRFIELD, Maine — As running back Josh Doolan turned the corner on a sweep around left end early in the fourth quarter, the Lawrence High School senior had only one feeling.
“Relief,” he said.
There was nothing but green grass between him and the end zone.
“I knew right then,” said Doolan, that the Bulldogs were going to win Saturday’s Eastern Maine Class A football championship matchup with Cony of Augusta at Keyes Field.
The 47-yard TD and the Chad Martin point-after kick that followed accounted for the game’s final points as Lawrence defended its EM title with a 20-10 victory over the Rams.
The 11-0 Bulldogs will play Thornton Academy of Saco for the Class A state title Saturday at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland. Second-seeded Thornton Academy (10-1) upset top-ranked and two-time defending state champion Cheverus of Portland 20-13 for the West crown Saturday.
The Bulldogs had to rally for Saturday’s win over the Rams. Cony jumped out to a 10-0 lead in the second quarter and still led 10-6 when Doolan put Lawrence in the lead for the first time.
Bulldog senior defensive back Spencer Carey set up the go-ahead TD when he cut off a Benjamin Lucas pass and ran it back to the Cony 2-yard line.
“He’s a great quarterback,” said Carey of the Cony junior. “Our coaches made game plans [to counter Lucas] and we caught him in the right situation.”
Two plays later Carey, who is also the Lawrence QB, handed off to Doolan for a 4-yard touchdown run up the middle.
“I followed my blockers and drove through,” said Doolan. “I took what I could get.”
He got enough to put Lawrence ahead, but the lead was tenuous until Doolan added his 47-yard TD.
“Once we felt like we had the momentum, we kept it and pulled [the game] out,” said Carey.
The Rams took advantage of the passing of Lucas, several turnovers by the Bulldogs and a roughing-the-kicker call against Lawrence.
“The turnovers were uncharacteristic,” said Carey. “It was something we had to overcome, and we came through.”
The roughing-the-kicker penalty wiped out a potential Lawrence touchdown and led directly to Cony’s only TD. It appeared at that point the game was going the Rams’ way.
Five plays later Lucas hit senior wide receiver Chandler Shostak in stride for a 42-yard TD with 6:40 remaining in the first half. After LaChance’s PAT, the Rams held their biggest lead.
“They stepped up and put us behind,” said Doolan of Cony’s start, “but it made us dig deep [inside].”
The Lawrence defense held Cony scoreless the rest of the way.
Lawrence chipped away with Martin field goals in the second and third quarters that set up Doolan’s crushing runs.
Carey intercepted a Lucas pass at the Lawrence 25 with 2:53 left in the third quarter to set up the final one.
The offense then handed the ball over to its running backs, primarily Doolan and senior Tony Sementelli.
After Doolan’s second TD, Cony got the ball twice (once on a Cony fumble) and turned it over on downs both times. The closest the Rams came to the end zone was the Lawrence 29.
The Bulldogs held the ball for the last 4:28 of the game, picking up three first downs to keep the clock moving.
“We missed a few opportunities in the first half,” said Cony coach Robby Vachon. “When you let them hang around, you get the result we got today.”
Vachon had nothing but good things to say about the Rams.
“This is the farthest we’ve gone in the [football] history of the school,” he said. “I couldn’t be prouder of these guys.”
Senior Brandon St. Michel did the bulk of the running for the Rams, while junior wide receiver Jonathan Saban was Lucas’ primary target and the offensive line gave Lucas plenty of time to throw. On defense, freshman linebacker Reid Shostak accounted for more than 10 tackles, senior LBs Kyle Elvin and Eric Cook were key stoppers.
For the Bulldogs, junior RBs Xavier Lewis and Beau Grenier backed Doolan and Sementelli on the ground. Lewis, Sementelli, Carey and senior Aaron LaFrance got workouts at defensive back, with Doolan and senior Luke Lawrence keys at LB and senior Jake Doolan a stalwart at defensive end.
Now, Lawrence will make a second straight try at winning the state title it last won in 2006. Cheverus routed the Bulldogs 49-27 last year.
“We will represent the East well,” Josh Doolan said firmly.