ORONO, Maine — Ben Lucas faced first-and-99 for a state championship late in the fourth quarter Friday night — just where he wanted to be.
The Cony of Augusta senior quarterback drove his team the distance with a minute to spare, hitting Jonathan Saban with a 25-yard touchdown pass with 60 seconds remaining to rally the Rams to a 30-23 victory over Kennebunk in the Class B football state final before a crowd of approximately 3,000 at Alfond Stadium.
“We just needed to give ourselves some breathing room,” said Lucas. At that point everything was clicking offensively so we knew if could just get out of the shadow of our end zone and sustain a long drive, everything would be all right.”
The win came in Cony’s first state championship game and earned coach Rob Vachon’s club the school’s first state title since 1932 — when such crowns were determined just on regular-season play.
Lucas, limited to 43 passing yards in the first half, bounced back to finish the night completing 24 of 46 attempts for 347 yards and three touchdowns.
“I looked at myself in the mirror and knew I had to step up my game,” said Lucas, who finished his high school career with an unofficial state-record 89 career touchdown passes, including 41 this season.
“It was the last half of my high school career and I had to get my act together.”
Sixty-seven of Lucas’ passing yards came on Cony’s last drive after Elijah Tobey recovered a fumble at the 1-yard-line. The 99 yards to a championship was aided by completions of 13, 11 and 18 yards to Saban preceding the touchdown strike — though a near-interception by Kennebunk’s Ben Bath on a first-down throw from the Cony 26 nearly ended the march just as it was starting to build momentum.
But that play went as an incompletion and Lucas persevered, his final throw a perfect lofting of the ball over a defender to Saban — who was fighting off leg cramps late in the game — in the right rear corner of the end zone to give Cony a 28-23 lead.
“I was reading the corner,” said Lucas of the first-down play. “It was a slide flag (pattern) and the corner bit up on the slide so I knew if I could get it up over the top and give Saban a chance he’d come up with it.”
Lucas then passed to Tayler Carrier for the two-point conversion to make it a seven-point game.
A 23-yard pass from Kennebunk quarterback Nick Emmons to Liam Studley moved the ball to Cony 45 seconds later, but Cony’s Reid Shostak’s pass interception on the next play ended the Western Maine champions’ comeback hopes.
Saban finished with eight catches for 152 yards for 9-2 Cony, while Carrier added 10 receptions for 99 yards.
Emmons rushed for 147 yards and passed for 101 more yards for 11-1 Kennebunk, which was hurt by five turnovers. Nicco DeLorenzo added 140 rushing yards for the Western Maine champions.
The only scoring of the opening half came on a seven-play, 44-yard drive by Kennebunk capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass from Emmons to Austin Sandler with 9:20 left in the second quarter.
Emmons ripped off gains of 28 and 24 yards within three plays on Kennebunk’s first second-half possession to help move the ball inside the Cony 20, setting up a 31-yard field goal by Jake Lary that made it 9-0 with 9:13 left in the third quarter.
Moments later DeLorenzo seemingly broke the game open by stripping Shostak of the football and returning the forced fumble 53 yards to extend Kennebunk’s lead to 16-0 with 4:39 remaining in the period.
Bennett returned the subsequent kickoff 40 yards to the Cony 45, then Lucas finally got untracked offensively in marching the Eastern Maine champions 55 yards for their first touchdown.
After being sacked by David Jackson and throwing an incompletion on his first two plays, Lucas completed four straight passes, the fourth a 16-yard touchdown strike to Saban along the right sideline of the end zone with 2:14 left in the period.
Lucas ran for the two-point conversion to make it a one-possession game at 16-8.
Cony got the ball back almost instantly as Charlie Hallak intercepted a second-down pass by Emmons and returned it 15 yards to the Kennebunk 29.
This time it took Lucas just one play to cash in, as he lofted a spiral over the Kennebunk defense to John Bennett for a 29-yard touchdown strike that closed the gap to 16-14 with still 1:12 left in the third period. A 3-yard run by Carrier with 9:55 left in the fourth quarter and a two-point conversion pass capped Cony’s next drive.
Kennebunk answered Cony’s 22 straight points by marching 60 yards in five plays to regain the lead at 23-22 when Emmons ran a quarterback counter 41 yards to the end zone and Lary kicked the extra point with 7:16 left.
Emmons ran another counter 60 yards before being caught bt Bennett at the Cony 3 on Kennebunk’s next possession, but the quarterback fumbled the ball on the next play, with Tobey recovering at the 1 with 4:45 to go to set up the winning drive.