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YARMOUTH—How do you top this one?
Friday evening, Yarmouth hosted Cape Elizabeth in a contest billed as a playoff rematch and one pivotal for seeding for the upcoming postseason, but any pregame hype and expectations were thrown to the wayside by a wild and improbable fourth quarter.
The Capers, as they did in last year’s playoff tilt, took a healthy lead over the Clippers, but this time, Yarmouth roared back and almost stole one before Cape Elizabeth found a way to skip town with a scintillating triumph.
First quarter touchdown runs from seniors Devon Stanford and Jack Drinan gave the Capers the jump and when Drinan scored a second touchdown in the second period, Cape Elizabeth had a seemingly safe 21-0 lead.
The Clippers got a sliver of life when junior Cody Cook first made his presence felt with an 81-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to 21-6 at halftime.
After a speedy, uneventful and scoreless third quarter, the fourth period made jaws drop.
Over and over and over again.
When senior Nate Weare rumbled 38 yards for a score on the first play of the final stanza, the Capers were firmly in control, up, 28-6, but Cook sparked the comeback with another long kickoff run and a 1-yard dive from junior Lucas Uhl pulled Yarmouth within 28-12.
After a defensive stop, the Clippers got the ball back and Cook scored on a 20-yard run, then added a two-point conversion rush to pull his team within just one score, 28-20, with 7:05 still to play.
Another defensive stand allowed Yarmouth’s offense to return to the field and a dramatic catch and run by Cook set up the tying score, a 1-yard Uhl run, followed by a Cook conversion rush and just like that, with 3:16 still to play, the game began anew, tied at 28-28.
When Clippers sophomore Remi Leblanc intercepted a pass by Cape Elizabeth sophomore Jeb Boechenstein on the ensuing series and Yarmouth drove to the Capers’ 31, it was on the verge of capping a historic comeback, but the drive stalled.
Cape Elizabeth got the ball back with 32 seconds to play, but it sat at the Capers’ 14 and overtime appeared a certainty.
After Weare ran for 11 yards, Boechenstein hit sophomore Ben Ekedahl for 29-yards, then again for 27 and with 1.4 seconds to go, Ekedahl took the field to attempt a winning field goal.
The 36-yard bid was on target, but didn’t appear to have the distance. Instead, it continued on and fluttered over the crossbar as the final horn sounded and Cape Elizabeth had survived in an epic, 31-28.
The Capers improved to 4-2 and dropped the valiant Clippers to 3-3 in the process.
“We did escape,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Aaron Filieo, who was more fiery than normal Friday night. “We won and we’ll embrace it.”
Both teams have enjoyed moments of glory this fall and both have suffered tough losses.
Cape Elizabeth appeared bound for greatness when it enjoyed a scintillating 35-34 overtime victory at Leavitt in the opener. The next week, however, en route to a last-second 32-29 home win over Poland, the Capers lost standout quarterback Noah Wolfinger to a season-ending knee injury and the whole trajectory of their season changed. Cape Elizabeth lost at Wells, 49-7, and fell at home to Spruce Mountain, 34-6. The Capers got back on track last Saturday, handling visiting Freeport, 48-0.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, under its new coach, longtime program assistant Jason Veilleux, romped in week one, 41-0, at Gray-New Gloucester, then played host Leavitt tough before falling, 20-12. Wins over visiting Lake Region (47-17) and Mountain Valley (42-3) followed, but last Thursday, the Clippers fell just short at Wells, 21-14.
Prior to last season, the schools, who are fierce rivals in many sports, had never met in football. Yarmouth won the regular season meeting, 27-7, at Cape Elizabeth, but in the rematch, in the Western C quarterfinals in Yarmouth, the Capers prevailed, 27-14.
Friday, a sure thing turned into a fabulous finish and those on hand were the ultimate winners.
Cape Elizabeth won the opening toss and marched 60 yards in eight plays and 3 minutes, 33 seconds for the game’s first score.
After Weare ran for 10- and five-yards, Boechenstein hit Ekedahl for 11 yards and a first down, even though Leblanc almost stripped the ball in the process. Two plays later, Drinan’s first carry resulted in a 24-yard scamper, setting up a first-and-goal at the Clippers’ 9. After Drinan picked up three-yards, then five, senior Devon Stanford took a handoff and pushed the pile into the end zone for the touchdown. Ekedahl’s extra point made it 7-0 Capers with 8:21 to play in the opening quarter.
Yarmouth’s first possession saw Uhl gain nine yards on consecutive carries, forcing Filieo to call an early timeout.
He then proceeded (in impassioned fashion) to get the attention of his charges, who stepped up.
Senior Christian Lavallee threw junior Jack Snyder for a one-yard loss, then Clippers sophomore quarterback John Thoma threw incomplete, forcing a punt.
“Sometimes, we tend to get complacent and I wanted to keep the pedal to the metal and continue to execute,” Filieo said, of his timeout message. “I wanted to get the guys to play with more passion and outphysical them, which we did at times.”
On the third play of the ensuing series, the hosts got a break when Snyder intercepted a Boechenstein pass at the Capers’ 42.
The Clippers weren’t able to capitalize, however, as, after a false start, Thoma was intercepted by Cape Elizabeth freshman Ryan Weare.
The Capers started their next drive at their 43 and three plays later doubled their lead.
On third-and-6 from the 47, Drinan got the call, broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, bounced left, broke another tackle, then outran the pursuit down the left sideline for a 53-yard score. Ekedahl’s PAT made it 14-0 Cape Elizabeth with 2:15 to go in the first period.
Yarmouth quickly went three-and-out again and the Capers took advantage as junior Henry Shroder blocked the ensuing punt and Stanford fell on the ball at the Clippers’ 36.
As the first period (which saw Cape Elizabeth gain 127 yards to just 29 for Yarmouth) gave way to the second, the visitors stalled, but on fourth-and-6 from the 21, Drinan caught a pass at the left sideline and was shoved out of bounds at the 15. After a measurement determined that the Capers barely made it, they faced another tough spot on fourth-and-inches from the 5, but Nate Weare broke a tackle in the backfield and on second effort, got one yard to set up first-and-goal at the 4. Drinan ran for two yards on first down, but was knocked back two yards on second. On third down, however, Drinan scored on a 4-yard burst and Ekedahl’s extra point pushed the lead to 21-0 with 7:04 left in the half.
The 36-yard drive needed 14 plays and ate up 5:33.
“Our offensive line dominated throughout the whole game,” Boechenstein said. “We had a good running game.”
Just when it appeared the Clippers were finished, Cook came up with an answer.
Taking the ensuing kickoff at the Yarmouth 19, Cook found a seam, burst free and nobody was going to catch him. Cook didn’t stop until he crossed the goal line 81 yards away. Andrew Beatty’s extra point was wide left, but the Clippers were on the board and trailed, 21-6, with 6:50 left before halftime.
After Yarmouth forced a three-and-out, it had a chance to draw even closer before the break and when Thoma hit Snyder for 25 yards on a circus catch which saw the ball deflected twice, Thoma threw incomplete, the Clippers had a false start penalty, then Thoma was intercepted by Ekedahl to end the threat.
Cape Elizabeth managed to pick up a first down on a nine-yard Drinan run, but a delay of game penalty short-circuited the drive and the Capers had to punt.
With 48.7 seconds left before halftime, Yarmouth began at its 36 and it looked like the half would end quietly, but in a harbinger of what would come at game’s end, there was plenty of drama left to come.
Thoma hit Snyder for 15 yards into Cape Elizabeth territory, but Lavallee sacked the quarterback on the next play. After an incomplete pass, Thoma was sacked by junior Ryan Harvey and fumbled with Weare recovering.
Suddenly, the Capers had a chance, though only 20 seconds remained.
On first down, Boechenstein hit Ekedahl for 24 yards on a fade to the right sideline to the 18, but only 13 seconds remained. After Boechenstein and Ekedahl hooked up for 15 yards to the 3 with two seconds left, Cape Elizabeth, which was out of timeouts, hoped to have time for one more play, but time expired before the next snap and the Capers had to settle for a 21-6 advantage at the half.
“There were two seconds left on the set for play,” Filieo said. “The ball got put down and time ran out. That was a huge missed opportunity.”
Cape Elizabeth outgained Yarmouth, 203-56, in the first half and Drinan gained 119 yards with two touchdowns on 17 carries, but the Clippers, despite three turnovers, still had a pulse.
Considering what was to come, the third period was an opportunity for those on hand to relax and gear up.
Yarmouth got the ball first in the second half, but after Cook ran for 11 yards and a first down, the drive stalled and the Clippers had to punt.
The Capers also picked up one first down before Yarmouth held on fourth-and-1, as Cook threw Weare for a three-yard loss.
The Clippers took over at their 36 and Thoma quickly hit Snyder for 13 yards, but three plays later, on third-and-6 from the Cape Elizabeth 47, a sweep by freshman Jack True resulted in a five-yard loss and Yarmouth had to punt again.
The Capers got the ball at their 15 and milked the rest of the quarter. A 29 yard burst by Weare moved the ball to the Clippers’ 47. Three runs gained nine yards as the third came to a close.
Then, on the first play of a fourth quarter which will long live in lore, Weare got the handoff, bounced off a tackler and broke free for a 38-yard touchdown. Ekedahl banged home the PAT and with 11:50 to play, it looked like lights out as Cape Elizabeth enjoyed a 28-6 advantage.
The drive measured 85 yards, used seven plays and chewed up 4:03.
Everything was pointing to the Capers putting a merciful end to the game, but Cook had other ideas.
Taking the ensuing kickoff at his 25, the standout again broke free and wasn’t taken down until he reached the Cape Elizabeth 1.
“It’s just a middle wedge,” Cook said. “My blockers made the hole. I just went.”
After Thoma was stuffed for no gain, Uhl got the call and bulled in from the 1. A two-point conversion rush by Uhl was stuffed, however, and with 10:59 to play, Yarmouth was still down, 28-12.
The Clippers then appeared to get a break when Cook recovered the ensuing onsides kick, but the officials ruled that the ball never hit the ground and the rarely seen kick catching interference penalty not only negated the recovery, but gave the Capers the football at Yarmouth’s 40.
One more score might have iced it, but after gaining one first down, a holding penalty backed Cape Elizabeth up and on fourth-and-11 from the 30, Boechenstein threw incomplete.
The Clippers’ pulse then got stronger.
On first down from the 30, Snyder took a handoff on a counter and broke loose for 50 yards. On the next snap, it was Cook’s turn and he too would find running room, not stopping until he crossed the goal line 20 yards away. With 7:05 left, Cook scored on a two-point conversion rush and suddenly, Yarmouth was within one score, trailing, 28-20.
The Clippers stepped it up on defense, allowing the Capers just three yards on three rushes and a punt gave Yarmouth the ball back at its 26 with 4:28 remaining.
An 18-yard burst by Uhl got things going, but a holding penalty appeared to doom the hosts, moving the ball back to the 35. After Snyder ran for seven, Thoma threw a quick hitch to Cook on the left side and Cook did the rest, shaking one tackler, cutting back and racing toward the end zone where he again was brought down one measly yard short.
“I had good blocking out there on the wing,” Cook said. “I love getting in the open field like that.”
That was just a momentary setback, however, as Uhl bulled in from the 1 and when Cook added the two-point rush with 3:16 left, the Clippers had come all the way back to tie it, 28-28, and had all the momentum.
Cape Elizabeth had let a big lead slip away in Week Two versus Poland, but made plays at the end to win and the Capers turned to that experience Friday.
Starting at the 30, Boechenstein hit Ekedahl for 38 yards to Yarmouth’s 32 and it appeared the visitors were in business, but on the next play, Boechenstein threw again and this time his pass was long and Leblanc somehow got his hands up in time to not only make the interception, but gain 27 yards on the return.
“I called a play action pass because I thought we could come up with a quick dagger with them playing extra-aggressive,” Filieo said. “The tight end was open, but (Jeb) overthrew him and the kid made a nice interception.”
When the Clippers went on offense at the Cape Elizabeth 48 with 2:47 to play, it appeared a foregone conclusion that they would cap their miracle comeback with a victory and a 14-yard run from Snyder moved the ball to the 31, making that eventuality seem even more likely.
But after Cook gained a yard, Lavallee made another huge play, sacking Thoma for a 10-yard loss. Thoma then threw incomplete and on fourth-and-19 from the 40, Veilleux decided to do the safe thing and punt.
Thoma’s punt took a favorable Yarmouth bounce and pinned the Capers at their 14.
Only 32.4 seconds remained and overtime appeared certain.
But Cape Elizabeth proved to have plenty of time.
After Weare got some breathing room with an 11-yard run, which stopped the clock to reset the chains, Boechenstein dropped back and hit Ekedahl for 29 yards down the right sideline, Ekedahl went out of bounds at the Clippers’ 46 with 7.7 seconds showing.
On the next snap, the tandem did it again, as Ekedahl hauled in a 27-yard reception on the left sideline.
“I personally don’t think that I had a great performance,” Boechenstein said. “I missed some touchdown passes earlier in the game. I threw some interceptions I wasn’t happy about. I knew I had to make up for that at the end.”
“Those were beautiful balls thrown on the sideline,” Ekedahl said. “Great job blocking. A total team effort.”
“We ran a trap (on first down), then I looked at their coverage and saw they were in single coverage on the outside, so I wanted to give (our receivers) a chance to catch the ball and get out of bounds,” Filieo said. “Ben made a nice catch (on second down). Then, we were in a position to do a more sophisticated pass. (Jeb) put it where Ben could catch it and get out of bounds.”
Just 1.4 seconds remained.
Time for one more play.
Most high school teams would throw the ball into the end zone and try to win with their offense, but Ekedahl had shown good range in pregame warmups and Filieo turned to him.
“Most of the coaches wanted to throw the ball in the end zone, but I said, ‘Field goal,'” Filieo said. “I said to Ben, ‘What do you think?’ Ben didn’t even know how long it was. He was like, ‘What’s the question?’ He knew.”
The winning kick almost never happened, as the snap was low and bounced to Boechenstein. The holder managed to set the ball up for Ekedahl to kick and as it floated toward the end zone, it’s likely it never got more than 11 or 12 feet off the ground (the crossbar is 10 feet high). Somehow, the ball kept going and long after the echo of the final horn had sounded, it slipped over the crossbar and the official ruled it good.
“Coach said kick it and I was confident,” Ekedahl said. “I make them in practice. I work on them every day. When the ball bounced on the snap, that was a little sketchy, but it was a beautiful hold by Jeb. I knew I hit it well. I was trying to angle it a little bit. It went in, luckily.”
“We had confidence he could make it,” Boechenstein said. “We all believed at the end and we came through and got the win. We didn’t want to go to OT. We knew Ben could kick up to 40 yards on field goals and if we could get it into range, he could kick it.”
“Jeb did a great job with the snap,” Filieo added. “Ben has a nice drive. I tried to get him to get some height on it, but he had enough.”
Cape Elizabeth 31 Yarmouth 28.
Pandemonium erupted on one side of the field, while disbelief reigned on the other.
“It was a lot of fun,” Ekedahl said. “A lot of different emotions. I wound up happy at the end.”
“The experiences against Leavitt and Poland gave us confidence going into this situation,” Boechenstein said. “This would have been a killer for confidence if we lost.”
“Yarmouth never let up,” Filieo added. “On offense, they kept hitting us with the counter. We knew it was coming. To their credit, they didn’t run it in the first half. They executed it well. It’s hard to figure out what went wrong. We had breakdowns on special teams. We’ve been bad all year. We work on it. It’s frustrating. We obviously have to fix that.”
Boechenstein ended up completing 7-of-16 passes for 150 yards and overcame two interceptions. Drinan gained 160 yards and scored twice on 27 carries. Weare picked up 129 yards and scored one TD on 23 rushes. Ekedahl, in addition to his game winning field goal, caught five passes for 129 yards. Senior Ethan Murphy had one reception for 15 yards and Drinan caught a pass for 6 yards.
In all, Cape Elizabeth gained 424 yards. The Capers overcame two turnovers and five penalties for 30 yards.
Yarmouth was paced by the multi-talented Cook, who ran five times for 41 yards and a touchdown, had two two-point conversion rushes, caught one pass for 57 yards and returned two kickoffs for 155 yards and a score. Snyder rushes five times for 72 yards and caught three passes for 53 yards.
“Cody and Jack have both made big plays on offense, defense and special teams all year long,” Veilleux said. “They’re captains and key players for us. I don’t know where we’d be without them.”
Uhl rushed for 55 yards and two touchdowns on 15 attempts. Thoma went 5-for-13 for 117 yards with two interceptions.
Junior Ricky Tillotson also helped spark the comeback with his play at middle linebacker, making countless tackles and serving as a defensive inspiration.
“Ricky’s having a good season,” Veilleux said. “He’s moved to middle linebacker and he’s really playing well. He’ll only get stronger and better. He was everywhere tonight.”
The Clippers produced 237 yards and dominated the return game, but two turnovers, five penalties for 34 yards and a stunning turn of events in the final minute (failing to score in the Capers’ end, then allowing Cape Elizabeth’s drive) spelled an agonizing defeat.
“Losing is never fun,” Cook said. “It’s really tough, especially when we battled back. I’m really proud of how we fought and of our heart. Our coaches have focused on conditioning and that gives us an opportunity to come back in games like this. We had all the momentum, but we can’t let them drive down the field like that. Tonight proves how much heart this team has. We can come back.”
“We’ve come out slow all season,” Veilleux lamented. “We don’t play four full quarters. When our kids realize it’s time to play, they respond. When they respond, they’re tough to stop. I’m proud of how they came back. They could have moved on. We made a lot of mental and execution errors. We’re still a young team. Those two long passes killed our spirit. I thought the kick would be short. The kids fought hard.”
There’s a good chance, much to the delight of the local high school football world, that we could do this all over again in three weeks in the Western C quarterfinals, likely in Cape Elizabeth.
Yarmouth (which is now ranked fifth in the Western Class C Crabtree Points standings) will be tested by visiting Poland next week, then closes at Freeport. The Clippers will be in the playoffs, but to host a game, they’ll need some help.
“I hope the same thing happens that happened last year and we can go beat them,” Cook said. “The biggest point of emphasis is playing 48 minutes and not coming out flat. If we come out flat, we dig holes.”
“This loss hurts, but we’re on the right track,” Veilleux said. “We’ll build on this one. If we win out, it will be a reversal of last year. We’ll go to their place and play them in the playoffs. We hope we can do what they did to us here. I don’t think anyone wants to see us in the playoffs. If we can tidy some stuff up, we’ll be a team to deal with.”
Cape Elizabeth (fourth in Western C) welcomes Gray-New Gloucester next week, then finishes in Rumford, against Mountain Valley. Win both and the Capers should host at least one round of the postseason.
“The next two games we should do well in,” Boechenstein said. “We have to get ready for the playoffs.”
“Now we’ll get homefield, which is really big for us,” Ekedahl said. “This gives us motivation to keep going.”
Yarmouth junior Lucas Uhl barrels through a hole.
Yarmouth sophomore quarterback John Thoma throws over the upraised hand of Cape Elizabeth junior Ryan Harvey.
Cape Elizabeth senior Nate Weare is tackled by Yarmouth juniors (from left) Noah Colby-George, Jack Venden and Brennan Strong.
Cape Elizabeth senior Jack Drinan bounces off a tackle attempt by Yarmouth junior Joey Fortin.
Yarmouth junior Cody Cook leaves Cape Elizabeth in his wake as his kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter gives the Clippers life.
Cape Elizabeth sophomore quarterback Jeb Boechenstein drops back to pass. Boechenstein completed two huge passes in the waning seconds to set up the winning field goal.
Cape Elizabeth senior Jack Drinan is congratulated by senior Christian Lavallee (42) and senior Devon Stanford after a first half touchdown.
Cape Elizabeth freshman Ryan Weare (51) and classmate Luc Houle celebrate after the Capers recover a fumble in the first half of Friday night’s epic at Yarmouth. Cape Elizabeth let a 28-6 fourth quarter lead slip away, but won it, 31-28, on a field goal from sophomore Ben Ekedahl as time expired.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
CE- 14 7 0 10- 31
Y- 0 6 0 22-28
CE- Stanford 1 run (Ekedahl kick)
CE- Drinan 53 run (Ekedahl kick)
CE- Drinan 4 run (Ekedahl kick)
Y- Cook 81 kickoff return (kick failed)
CE- Weare 38 run (Ekedahl kick)
Y- Uhl 1 run (run failed)
Y- Cook 20 run (Cook rush)
Y- Uhl 1 run (Cook rush)
CE- Ekedahl 36 FG