WELLS—When the final horn sounded, the Wells Warriors football team lingered under the lights and talked among themselves on how its first win over mighty Cape Elizabeth since 2005 was all about “respect.”
And while there’s no question Wells earned some juice around the league, there just happened to be a few other important eventualities on the line such as sole possession of second place and a home date for the first round of the Campbell Conference playoffs next month.
But even with these few items up for grabs, the Warriors’ big-time victory will long be remembered by the magical two-way performance turned in by junior quarterback Paul McDonough.
In a hard-hitting, harsh-talking battle of attrition, McDonough intercepted an errant pass from his safety position and returned it 22-yards for a touchdown midway through the opening quarter. He would then go on to play a downright heroic second half behind center in the face of a terrific Capers defense paced by the relentless, punishing play of sophomore Andrew Lavallee in the trenches.
For his encore, McDonough engineered a 10-play scoring drive that began with under a minute left in third and ended nearly four minutes later with perhaps the play of the season so far. Like he has a knack for doing, McDonough turned absolutely nothing into the game-winning touchdown to lift Wells to a critical 14-7 win in front of a hostile, super-charged house on hand at Warrior Memorial Field.
The first regular season loss in two years for Cape Elizabeth drops the defending regional champs back into the pack of one-loss teams, joining Wells at 5-1.
Locked in a 7-7 tie, Wells took over with 46 seconds left to close out the third quarter and finished only after McDonough had engineered a 10-play, 41-yard scoring march. McDonough broke free for a 30-yard gain down the center of the field, and twice connected through the air on a huge 3rd-and-long situation and another on 4th-and-11, with a scrambling throw over the middle for 18 yards to extend the drive.
“Some of the throws McDonough made late in the game I thought were even bigger than the pitch play they scored on,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Aaron Filieo. “He’s just so athletic. We had the right call on the pitch and had two guys there all over him. That was like playing backyard football.”
From the 4-yard line on 2nd-and-goal, McDonough called his own number and rolled left in the option to suddenly find he had no place to go. Corralled in the grasp of a pair of Cape Elizabeth defenders, McDonough managed to get free just long enough to lateral the football back to senior Michael Moates all alone at the 5-yard line. With just about everyone under the fairly reasonable impression McDonough had been stopped, there was no one keeping an eye on Moates and he waltzed in untouched for the score that proved to be the difference as Wells took a 14-7 lead with 9:09 left to play in the game and never looked back.
McDonough compiled 104 yards of total offense in the second half on 3-of-6 passing for 36 yards and seven carries for 68 more. He was helped out along the way by Wells senior fullback Chad Whitten, particularly to start the second half when he began to find room between the tackles and picked up 39 yards on 10 carries.
“It’s not the end of the world, it just leaves us with a sour taste,” Lavallee. “This is a reality check for us. We know that we have room to get better. We haven’t lost in the regular season for a long time. It shows that we’re not as good as in previous seasons. But we still have it takes to be there in the end. We have to work hard and improve.”
Not be outdone, the Warriors defense was beyond stingy in a game that was stuck on nasty from the first snap. McDonough picked off Cape Elizabeth senior quarterback Derek Roberts for six, and the Wells defense completely and thoroughly dominated the second half. After taking the lead in the fourth, Wells pounded out a 10-play, 55-yard drive that stalled but spent 5:57 of the final quarter. The Warriors took possession with 7:29 left to play and didn’t give it back until there were just two minutes left for the Capers to rally.
But there would be no comeback in this one, as the Warriors forced a pair of turnovers on the Capers’ last two possessions of the game to seal the win.
In one almost unbelievable way to evaluate the second half, Wells held possession of the football for 16:57 of the available 24 minutes. In that time, Wells ran 39 plays to the Capers 16 and picked up 181 yards despite earning eight penalties along the way.
Cape Elizabeth had only one extended drive in the loss, hammering away in the running game on a 13-play series that lasted for 7:37 of the second and went 55 yards to tie the score at 7-7. The Capers thundered away with senior captain Jack MacDonald, with Roberts handing to the fullback nine times for 32 yards. MacDonald powered his way to the one-yard line but couldn’t punch in on three tries.
Instead, Cape Elizabeth would need a diving catch at the threshold of the end zone on fourth down by senior Kyle Danielson to even the score. Roberts rolled to his right and found Danielson for the score.
“(McDonough’s) a good player,” said Danielson. “This is a tough loss but I like the way we never gave up. Even after the interception with under a minute left we still fought and got the ball back. This game could have totally different. We lost on a lot of silly mistakes, mostly mental. But I have a feeling we’ll see this team again and it will be a different game.”
After stopping Wells’ long march but still trailing 14-7 with just over two minutes left in the game, Cape Elizabeth took over, but was intercepted on the very first play. Wells had a chance to salt the game away, but Danielson punched the ball free and recovered it with 46 seconds left for one more try.
This time, the Capers would get off three plays, but Roberts was sacked from behind and fumbled back to Wells with 24 seconds left. The Warriors took a knee and celebrated with helmets raised after a monster win that puts them alone in second place.
Looking ahead, there’s a very good chance that Wells will win out and finish the season at 8-1, which would guarantee them the No. 2 slot for the Western B regional playoffs that begin in just four weeks. Wells’ final three games are at Poland, home against Gray-New Gloucester and at York.
The Capers, on the other hand, are by no means down and out. A year after winning its first regional championship, Cape Elizabeth can still finish as high as second in the division if they can beat Greely on the road next week, Lake Region at home and then on the road in the regular season finale at Mountain Valley.
“We just couldn’t get anything going on offense,” said Filieo. “Our field position was terrible all night and we usually count on that. The defense pitched a shutout for three quarters. We know we’re going to fight. It’s a matter of practicing harder and getting more experienced.”