CAPE ELIZABETH—Visibly cold and soaked to his core in the bowels of the Cape Elizabeth football facility, senior quarterback Ezra Wolfinger flashed his trademark smile and wondered out-loud if Mountain Valley coach Jim Aylward conjures up a little rain-inducing voodoo each time these Campbell Conference rivals gather with a regional title on the line.
And all sorcery aside, real or imagined, Mountain Valley has ended the Capers’ season each of the last three years, twice in driving rain to advance to the state final.
Then again, perhaps every spell is meant to be broken.
Battling through a deluge of biblical proportions, top-ranked Cape Elizabeth did just that, overcoming the rain and that one final obstacle, rallying late on the strength of a magical Wolfinger throw to pull out a 23-13 victory over No. 3 Mountain Valley and capture the program’s first Western Class B title on a cold and nasty Saturday at Hannaford Field.
Though it was anything but easy, the moment has finally arrived for coach Aaron Filieo and his unbeaten Capers (11-0). Saturday (at a time to be determined), they will step out on Fitzpatrick Stadium for a chance to consummate their relentless quest for gold against the Eastern B champion Leavitt Hornets (11-0). The top-ranked Hornets advanced with a 13-0 victory over No. 3 Gardiner (8-3).
Deep in the fourth quarter of the regional final, Cape Elizabeth found itself on the wrong end of the scoreboard for the first time all season, trailing 13-9. With his Capers unable to escape the grip of a nightmarish second half on offense, Wolfinger shook off his own struggles with a gutsy play for the history books.
Staring down third-and-14 at the Capers’ 40, Wolfinger stood tall in the driving rain and delivered a perfect ball over the top to sophomore Kyle Danielson for a 39-yard gain and new life at the Falcons 21.
Five plays later, Wolfinger rolled to his right and found senior fullback Kyle Piscopo backpedaling all by himself in the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown and a 16-13 lead after senior Matt Donovan’s PAT split the uprights with 2:59 remaining in the game.
“I just put it out there and (Danielson) made an incredible play,” said Wolfinger. “That was all him. Mountain Valley came prepared to fight and we knew it was going to be a slugfest. But this was our game. This is our year.”
“Ezra has been a key leader for this team all year,” said Danielson. “He’s not very vocal but he shows us the way. He leads with his heart.”
Mountain Valley took over at its own 25 needing just enough yards to get within range for a potential game-tying field goal, but this is not last year or any of the past three for that matter.
Senior Tommy Foden, Cape Elizabeth’s dynamic catalyst all season, officially put an end to the prolonged suffering, picking off a wobbling floater at the 25 and racing untouched to the end zone for the 23-13 final.
“That was highly emotional game,” said Filieo. “I was getting a little worried. We haven’t had the chance to play in a close game like that all year. But we had a lot of guys step up and respond. We had guys battle through injury.”
After blasting the Falcons 34-0 at home in the regular season finale, this game looked like it was heading in the same direction, when the Capers opened with a 70-yard, five-play drive to take a 7-0 lead in just one minute and thirty seconds.
Wolfinger connected with senior receiver Finn Melanson only once all day, hooking up on a 10-yard out to the home sideline to extend the opening drive.
On the very next play, Piscopo, a do-everything workhorse for Cape Elizabeth, took a handoff on play-action and ran over several would-be-tacklers for 55 yards all the way down to the Falcons’ 2.
Foden, the Capers’ most prolific scorer, banged in on first-and-goal for his 27th touchdown of the season, and just like that it was 7-0 with 10:28 still left in the first quarter after Donovan’s first extra point.
Mountain Valley went three-and-out and punted, and Cape Elizabeth did the same.
This set up the first of several game-changing punts by Capers junior Patrick Tyler, perhaps the game’s most valuable player. Tyler crushed one spiraling kick after another to help win the pivotal battle of field position, with his first punt sailing 56 yards to pin the Falcons at their own 12.
Mountain Valley was forced to punt again, but never got the chance. Instead, a high snap forced senior Brady Fergola to chase the loose ball down in the end zone, where he was dropped for a safety by Capers junior Leandre Some for a 9-0 first quarter lead.
The Capers appeared to be in full control, but there were issues lurking beneath that would soon surface.
Filieo’s normally high-octane offense was playing without senior center James Martin, an issue complicated by the nasty conditions.
Cape Elizabeth fumbled eight times, losing just one, but four came on the center-quarterback exchange. With the weather becoming increasingly difficult to navigate, the Capers’ offense sputtered and stalled. Wolfinger, intercepted just once all season, was picked twice, one that led to a Falcons’ score just before halftime when he overthrew Piscopo in the flat.
Mountain Valley took over at the Capers’ 39, and six-plays later, with a little trickery mixed in, the Falcons closed the gap to 9-6, botching the point-after kick but feeling pretty good all things considered with just 36 seconds left in the half.
Struggling to move the chains against the Capers’ powerful “Hurricane” defense, quarterback Chris Day pitched to Izaak Mills, his backup, who connected with tailback Matt Duka on the halfback option for 10 yards to the 13.
Tailback Josh Allen found daylight over center on the next play and barreled in for a score to completely change the complexion of the game at the break.
Mountain Valley had won the opening coin toss but deferred, and opened the second half with their most impressive drive of the game. Duka, who rushed 22 times for 120 yards, led a 10-play, 80-yard scoring drive that chewed up the first four minutes of the third, putting Cape Elizabeth behind for the first time all season.
Gaining the edge on the toss play, Duka carried five times for 65 yards on the drive, sweeping left 14 yards for a 13-9 Falcons lead with 8:19 left in the third.
With the conditions beginning to dominate play the rest of the third was a punt-happy exchange of field position until the Falcons caught a break and seemed poised to take control early in the fourth quarter.
With time winding down in the third, the Capers faced third-and-14 at their own 23. This time Wolfinger fielded the snap cleanly and rolled to his right to throw, but when he did the ball slipped clean out of his hand and was recovered by the Falcons at the Capers’ 13.
But Mountain Valley wasn’t exactly having an easy time of controlling the wet football either, picking up 4 yards on first down before fumbling the exchange on second down but recovering. Duka picked up 5 yards on third to set up a monumental fourth-and-2 at the 5.
Aylward elected to go for it with Allen, but the Capers stacked him up for no gain and took over on downs with 10:36 left to play.
Cape Elizabeth managed two first downs on eight plays to gain some breathing room, but Duka intercepted Wolfinger on the sideline with seven-minutes remaining inside the Capers’ 50.
As fate would have it, Duka coughed it up on second down and Cape Elizabeth’s Caleb Tracy recovered at the 44, now with six-minutes left in the regional final.
Wolfinger returned and showed the mettle of a true champion, marching the Capers’ 66 yards on eight plays to take the lead back for good, 16-13, with 2:59 left to play.
After just missing on second down, Wolfinger went back to the same play, and Danielson made a season-saving catch over his inside shoulder to set up Piscopo’s touchdown and send Cape Elizabeth to its first ever state championship game.
The Capers have no history with Leavitt, which has been as dominant in the east as Cape Elizabeth has been in the west. Forty-eight minutes stand between the Capers and their first Gold Ball.