CUMBERLAND—Some teams claim that they pay no attention to “experts'” predictions.
The Greely Rangers aren’t one of them.
Not only are the Rangers aware, they revel in their frequent underdog status and never was that more clear than Friday evening at Glenn Hutchins Field, when they out-high-profile-offensed the powerhouse Cony Rams.
Greely’s bend-but-don’t-break defense helped hold Cony’s standout senior quarterback Ben Lucas in check and the Rangers’ sophomore signal caller, Matt Pisini, proved that he’s not too shabby himself.
Pisini ran for 168 yards and two scores and threw for 156 yards and two more TDs and got plenty of help from bruising senior fullback James Ferrar, who gained 170 yards and scored one touchdown, while also delivering perhaps the most impressive hit of the season in the process.
Greely was down, 7-0, early and 14-6 just before halftime, but in the play that turned momentum the Rangers’ way for good, Pisini found senior Will Peck for a 27-yard score with just 7.4 seconds left and after Pisini hit sophomore Sam Peck for the ensuing two-point conversion pass, Greely was all even at the break.
The Rangers then rode that wave into the third period, where a 13-yard Pisini-to-Sam Peck TD pass gave them the lead for good and a 38-yard Pisini burst pushed the advantage to 28-14.
When Pisini scored one final time, on a 43-yard scamper with 5:22 to play, the win appeared locked up, but Lucas demonstrated just how quickly he can lead his team down the field and made things interesting with a TD pass with 2:22 showing. Cony wasn’t able to come up with the ensuing onsides kick, however, and Ferrar ran out the clock as Greely prevailed, 35-21, improving to 4-3 on the season, dropping the Rams to 5-2 in the process.
“I’m so excited I can’t even talk,” said Rangers coach David Higgins. “We’re so elated. The kids came and played. Everybody stepped up. We had some kids who haven’t played all year come and play great. It was a complete team effort. Cony’s a very good football team. We were scared to death. I’m still scared to death of them, honestly.”
Greely opened with a 41-16 home loss to defending regional champion Marshwood. The Rangers then won, 38-24, at Fryeburg, before dominating visiting Gorham, 69-3, and making a statement with a 41-8 romp at Westbrook to improve to 3-1. The past two weeks hadn’t been as kind, however, as Greely fell at undefeated Kennebunk, 42-14, and at home against York, 35-21.
Cony, in its first year in Eastern B, began the 2013 campaign with a 48-20 win at Messalonskee and a 52-12 home victory over Brewer. After losing at Brunswick, 54-38, the Rams held off visiting Lawrence (34-26), handled host Skowhegan (31-12) and blanked visiting Hampden Academy last week, 42-0.
Entering Friday, the teams had never met on the gridiron, but Greely, well aware that it was supposed to be a helpless witness to Cony’s greatness, instead, went out and stole the show on Senior Night.
The Rams got the ball first and drove 62 yards in six plays in just over two minutes to take the lead, but instead of doing it by virtue of Lucas’ arm, Cony showed it could run the ball effectively as well.
After Lucas and senior Jonathan Saban hooked up for a 3-yard screen pass on first down, senior Charlie Hallak rumbled 39 yards to the Rangers’ 20. Hallak picked up 13 more on a draw play and on second-and-goal from the 4, Hallak capped the march with a 4-yard scoring run and senior Kevin Kingsbury’s extra point made it 7-0 Rams.
Greely managed one first down on its opening series, but soon had to punt. The Rangers’ defense then rose up, forcing three straight Lucas incompletions and a punt.
The hosts took over at their 45, but Pisini was thrown for a three-yard loss on first down and after an illegal block, Pisini found Sam Peck for 13 yards, but Peck fumbled and Cony sophomore Anthony Brunelle recovered at the Greely 40.
Passes of 13 yards to Saban and 16 to junior Tayler Carrier got the Rams knocking on the door of doubling their lead, but the Rangers’ defense tightened again and on fourth-and-14 from the 15, Pisini broke up a pass in the end zone to give Greely the ball at its 15.
The Rangers would then keep the ball away from Lucas for over seven minutes, driving 85 yards in 17 plays to get on the board.
A 28-yard pass from Pisini to senior Connor Hanley got the ball to midfield. Three plays later, on third-and-2, Ferrar’s second effort gained three and a first down. Ferrar picked up another third down three plays later and on the final play of the first period (in which Cony held an 87-81 yardage advantage), Pisni ran for three yards for a first down at the Rams’ 15.
The methodical march continued in the second quarter, as Ferrar ran for three yards, then for six and on third-and-1 from the 6, Will Peck picked up a first down with a two-yard push. After Pisini was held to no gain and threw incomplete, the ball went to Ferrar and he found room on the left side of the line and bulled into the end zone from the 4. Senior Christian Kroot’s PAT sailed wide left, but Greely was only down one, 7-6, with 9:32 to play in the first half.
A 32-yard kickoff return from senior John Bennett set Cony up at midfield and runs of 21-, 11- and 16-yards by sophomore Reid Shostak gave the Rams a first-and-goal at the Rangers’ 2.
Then, Greely’s defense once again stood tall.
On first down, Shostak was thrown for a one yard loss by junior Ryan Pomeroy and sophomore Isaiah Richardson. Rangers junior Andrew Verrill sacked Lucas for a seven-yard loss on the next snap and after Lucas threw incomplete, a fourth down pass into the end zone went through the hands of a receiver and the hosts had held again.
Ferrar broke free for 31 yards on the first play of the ensuing series, but holding and false start penalties prevented Greely from doing much more and it punted the ball back to the Rams, who took over at their 30 with 4:39 to play before halftime.
Cony would march 70 yards in nine plays, eating up 3:34 to seemingly take an eight-point halftime lead.
The Rams faced a third-and-15 from their 25, but Lucas found Saban right at the marker for a first down and on the next play, Shostak broke several tackles en route to a 47-yard gain down to the Greely 14. An eight-yard run from Hallak set up first-and-goal at the 3. After Hallak gained two yards, Ferrar brought the lumber and threw Hallak for a one-yard loss with a hit that was audible throughout the athletic complex.
“I love contact, it’s my thing,” Ferrar said. “I’ve played since third grade and always loved coming up and delivering hits.”
That hit didn’t keep Cony out of the end zone, however, as on third-and-goal, out of the “Wildcat” formation, Carrier took the snap and scored on a 2-yard run. Kingsbury’s PAT made it 14-6 Rams with 1:05 to play in the half.
The Rangers took over at their 30 with 58.8 seconds remaining and rolled the dice, eschewing the conservative approach, instead marching for the tying score.
Pisini picked up 20 yards on a rush, then hit Hanley for 11 yards to the Cony 39 with 29.1 seconds to go.
A 12-yard pass to senior Jonny Burton moved the ball to the 27. After an incomplete pass, Pisini dropped back and saw Will Peck running a post pattern. Pisini threw the ball into the end zone, where Peck managed to get his defender turned around before hauling in the throw for a 27-yard score.
“It wasn’t supposed to be a deep pass, but they didn’t have a safety over the top and I knew Matty would spot me,” Peck said. “I got behind the coverage, caught it and it turned out to be a really big play for us. I did a little stop-and-go and ran right by him. Nice throw by Matt. Matt’s one of the best we’ve ever had at Greely. Running, throwing, work ethic, smart. I think he showed he’s right up there.”
“It was an awesome pass,” Higgins said. “Matt’s come a long way from the beginning of the season and he’s come a long way from Kennebunk (when he threw five interceptions). He’s a good athlete. Only a sophomore. We’re fortunate to have him two more years.”
Greely then went for two and Pisini threw a quick hitter to Sam Peck and with just 7.4 seconds showing, the game was deadlocked, 14-14.
In the first 24 minutes, Cony gained 197 yards, while the Rangers picked up 196.
Greely’s offense would be even more productive in the second half.
The Rangers got the ball first in the third period and embarked on another long drive, this one taking a dozen plays and 4:41 to traverse 68 yards.
A nice cut move by Will Peck led to a 14-yard gain to get things started. Pisini then hit Hanley for 11 yards, rushed for 11 more on a scramble, then appeared to burst into the end zone from 29-yards out, but the TD was called back due to a block in the back penalty.
Greely stuck with it and got a 12-yard pass from Pisini to Hanley to get back on track. When Pisini was sacked by Shostak and Ferrar only gained five yards on third-and-10, the Rangers were faced with a fourth-and-5 from the 13.
Pisini took a short drop, hit a slanting Sam Peck at the 5 and Peck raced into the end zone to complete the 13-yard score. Kroot’s extra point with 7:11 left in the third period gave Greely its first lead, 21-14.
Cony looked to answer as Lucas hit Bennett for 20 yards and Shostak for 14 on a screen, but on second-and-4 from the Rangers’ 11, Lucas’ pass into the end zone was intercepted by Ferrar, who brought it back to the 20, as Greely dodged a major scare.
The Rangers didn’t let the tired Rams’ defense off the hook, driving 80 yards (in eight plays and 3:58) for another score and some breathing room.
Ferrar broke two tackles en route to an 18-yard gain on the first play. Three plays later, on third-and-2 from the 46, Ferrar used another superb second effort to gain three and a first down. After Pisini scrambled for eight yards, Ferrar gained three for a first down and Will Peck picked up two to the Cony 38, Pisini then burst up the gut, found an extra gear and didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line. Kroot’s PAT made it 28-14 Greely with 1:16 left in the quarter.
The Rangers appeared to be in even better shape when Bennett fumbled on the first play of the ensuing Rams’ series and Pisini recovered, but after taking over at the Cony 49, as the third period gave way to the fourth, Greely couldn’t punch it in, as Ferrar was stuffed on fourth-and-inches from the Rams’ 5.
Cony, with just under 10 minutes left, began to drive again, as Lucas, after a scramble, hit Carrier for 20 yards and Shostak broke free for another long run, gaining 36 yards to the Rangers’ 38. After a three-yard run, however, Lucas threw incomplete three straight times, the last on fourth down, as senior Chance Carr made a stellar play, breaking up a sure touchdown pass to Carrier, and Greely got the ball back at its 35 with 8:36 to go.
“We’ve had some tough games and guys going down with injuries, but we’re getting healthier and new guys stepped up,” Peck said. “Chance had an unbelievable game.“
This time, the Rangers capitalized on the turnover and marched 65 yards on a half dozen plays in 3:14 to essentially salt this one away.
Runs of nine and three yards by Ferrar moved the chains. Then, on third-and-4 from the Cony 47, Pisini hit Hanley right at the sticks to set up first down at the 43. On the next snap, Pisini kept the ball, ran left and danced his way down the sideline all the way to the end zone for a touchdown. Kroot booted the extra point and Greely had a 35-14 advantage with just 5:22 left.
Lucas marched the Rams from their 15 to the Rangers’ 16, but with 3:43 to play, he was intercepted by Hanley to seemingly end it.
Ferrar uncharacteristically fumbled the ball back, however, and with 2:47 left, Cony began at its 35. Lucas hit senior Mitchell Bonenfant for 35 yards and after throwing incomplete, went back to Bonenfant for a 30-yard touchdown, Kingsbury’s PAT made it 35-21 with 2:22 to play and the Rams still had a sliver of life.
It was dashed when, on the ensuing onsides kick, the ball rolled out of bounds, giving Greely possession at its 45.
After Pisini moved the chains with one final tremendous individual effort, tap dancing his way down the sideline for nine yards (and staying inbounds to boot) to pick up a first down at the Cony 44, Ferrar ran for 12 yards, picked up a dozen more, then ran for two more as the clock struck zero and the Rangers had themselves a very impressive 35-21 victory.
“A lot of people thought we had the game in the bag, but I knew we had to keep driving and get that last first down,” said Ferrar. “It wasn’t over until the clock ran out. A lot of teams lose a couple and break apart, but this was just the best. We worked hard and teamed up. We were tired of losing. We showed people who the Greely Rangers are.”
Greely wound up gaining 508 yards to 446 for Cony.
The Rangers rushed for 387, as Ferrar ran like a Ferrari, gaining 170 yards and scoring one TD on 27 attempts.
“I want to give (James) the ball all the time,” said Higgins. “He did a great job. He came back after fumbling and maintained his composure, which you’d expect a senior to do. He played awesome.”
Pisini gained 168 with two scores on 17 rushes. Sam Peck ran for 30 yards on five carries, while Will Peck had 19 on four.
Greely’s pass game was pretty impressive as well, as Pisini completed 12-of-24 passes for 156 yards and two TDs. Hanley (5 catches, 66 yards) was his favorite target, but Sam Peck (4-41 with a TD), Will Peck (2-37-1) and Burton (1-12) also had at least one grab. The Rangers turned the ball over twice and were flagged four times for 32 yards, but it was hard to find much fault.
For Cony, Lucas completed just 13-of-34 passes, often just overthrowing his receivers, but he still managed to convert those baker’s dozen’s worth of completions into 226 yards and a touchdown. Lucas was picked twice. Bennett caught four balls for 76 yards, Carrier had three receptions for 40, Saban three for 31, Bonenfant two for 65 and a TD and Shostak one for 14. On the ground, Shostak gained 148 yards on 10 carries, while Hallak had 70 (and a score) on eight rushes. The Rams were hindered by three turnovers. They were flagged twice for 10 yards.
While the stats might have suggested otherwise, Greely’s defense sparkled when it had to.
“I heard a lot about (Lucas),” said Pisini. “We focused primarily on defense this week. That’s where we played hard and we made a lot of big plays. That momentum brings us into offense and it makes things much easier. We knew he had a gun. We switched things up and put some new guys out there. (Cony’s) a great team. Running the ball too. We stepped it up on defense.”
“We watched (Lucas) on film and its like watching a college guy throw the ball,” Higgins said. “(Assistant) Coach (Jay) Demick and the rest of the staff came up with a defensive plan. We were fortunate. The kids implemented what we talked about. We made some huge stops and we got some huge picks. Just amazing.”
Cony (second to Brunswick in the Eastern B Crabtree Points standings) closes at home against Gardiner Friday night.
Greely (still fifth in Western B) goes to rival Falmouth for its finale Friday. Don’t expect the Rangers to rest on their laurels with a rivalry game looming. The Yachtsmen (5-2) won’t make things easy next week and Greely is bound and determined to get a win and hope the final standings give it a home playoff game.
“We’re ready for Falmouth,” Ferrar said. “We’ll work hard in practice and we’ll give them a game.”
“Our goal has been to play hard and to beat Falmouth,” Pisini said.
“We have to work hard and use this game as momentum,” Peck said. “We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We have to keep getting better going into the playoffs.”
“This is a huge confidence builder for us,” Higgins added. “The kids are aware of who’s next. It would be awesome to get a home playoff game.”
Of course wherever the Rangers wind up, they’ll face their doubters.
And love every minute of proving them wrong.
“We use that as fuel,” Pisini said. “We like to see that. It makes it that much sweeter when we come out on top.”
Greely sophomore Matt Pisini makes a cut to avoid a Cony tackler. Pisini had a huge game throwing and running the ball and wasn’t too shabby on defense either.
Greely’s Isaiah Richardson (76) and Ryan Pomeroy make a Cony sandwich.
Bruising Greely senior running back James Ferrar bowls over a Cony tackler.
Greely senior Connor Hanley leaps to make a catch.
Greely senior Will Peck breaks up a Cony pass in the end zone.
Greely senior Will Peck celebrates after scoring a pivotal touchdown just before halftime of Friday night’s home game against highly touted Cony. Peck’s TD helped the Rangers draw even and they went on to a 35-21 upset win to improve to 4-3 on the season.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
C- 7 7 0 7- 21
G- 0 14 14 7- 35
C- Hallak 4 run (Kingsbury kick)
G- Ferrar 4 run (kick failed)
C- Carrier 2 run (Kingsbury kick)
G- W. Peck 27 pass from Pisini (S. Peck pass from Pisini)
G- S. Peck 13 pass from Pisini (Kroot kick)
G- Pisini 38 run (Kroot kick)
G- Pisini 43 run (Kroot kick)
C- Bonenfant 30 pass from Lucas (Kingsbury kick)
C- Shostak 10-148, Hallak 8-70-1, Bennett 2-16, Lucas 1-5, Carrier 1-2-1
G- Ferrar 27-170-1, Pisini 17-168-2, S. Peck 5-30, W. Peck 4-19
C- Lucas 13-34-226-1-2
G- Pisini 12-24-156-2-0
C- Bennett 4-76, Carrier 3-40, Saban 3-31, Bonenfant 2-65-1, Shostak 1-14
G- Hanley 5-66, S. Peck 4-41-1, W. Peck 2-37-1, Burton 1-12