YARMOUTH—Three weeks ago, the proud Cape Elizabeth football team took it on the chin on its home field by 20 points in a first-ever meeting with Yarmouth.
Friday night, the Capers returned the favor.
On the Clippers’ homefield.
In the biggest game of the year so far.
In a Western Class C quarterfinal, Yarmouth picked up where it left off last time by driving for a quick touchdown, courtesy the running of senior Matt Woodbury, but the game turned for good in the second period as Cape Elizabeth rode the running of junior Jack Drinan to a 14-6 halftime advantage.
The Clippers had their chances in the second half, but couldn’t cut into their deficit and early in the final stanza, another Drinan TD run, followed by a short scoring run from senior Nick Moulton, put the game out of reach. Yarmouth got a cosmetic touchdown in the waning seconds, but Cape Elizabeth had the last laugh, prevailing, 27-14.
The Capers improved to 6-3, ended the Clippers’ fine season at 6-3 and advanced to meet top-ranked Leavitt (8-0) Friday at 7 p.m., in Turner in the semifinals.
“We were still really mad from last time,” said Drinan, who had 198 yards and two TDs on 28 carries. “We knew we could play better. We weren’t going to go out in the first round this year. I love being the underdog, coming in and shutting the home crowd up, playing your game the way you know you can play it.”
Prior to this season, Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth, rivals in many sports over the years, had never met on the gridiron. That changed Oct. 11, when the Clippers went to Hannaford Field and beat the host Capers by a surprising margin of 27-7.
That was part of a superb 6-2 regular season by Yarmouth. The Clippers opened with a 36-6 “home” victory over Gray-New Gloucester in a game moved to the turf at Deering High due to issues with Yarmouth’s new field. The Clippers then gave preseason favorite Leavitt fits before falling to the visiting Hornets, 14-7. Decisive victories at Lake Region (63-0) and Mountain Valley (34-0) followed, but on Oct. 4, special teams breakdowns led to a 22-15 home loss to Wells. After winning at Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth closed with a 41-14 victory at Poland and a 31-0 home blanking of Freeport in the “Battle of the Bay.”
Yarmouth finished tied for third with Spruce Mountain in the Western C Crabtree Points standings, necessitating a coin toss last weekend to determine who would be third and host Freeport and who would be fourth and host Cape Elizabeth.
The Clippers lost the toss.
“My wife was behind me calling, ‘heads’ and I called, ‘tails,'” said Yarmouth coach Chris Pingitore. “I should have listened to my wife. It would have been an easier road, but to be the best we had to beat the best. You have to fight who’s in the ring with you. It’s too bad it came down to a coin flip. It might have been different.”
The Capers opened with a 26-7 home loss to Leavitt that was closer than the final score indicated. A 31-0 victory at Poland and an impressive 26-12 home victory over Wells followed, but Cape Elizabeth then stumbled at Spruce Mountain, 36-14. After a 42-22 victory at Freeport, the Capers fell at home to Yarmouth. They then finished strong by romping at Gray-New Gloucester, 57-14, and at home over Mountain Valley, 64-24.
None of those previous eight games meant a thing for either squad when the playoffs commenced Friday night, where Cape Elizabeth reminded everyone it has to be taken serious when the calendar reads November.
The game began amid balmy 61 degree conditions and the Clippers were red-hot to start, taking the opening kickoff and marching 71 yards in nine plays in just under four minutes.
Woodbury set the tone on the first play, a 27-yard scamper to the Capers’ 44. Yarmouth gradually moved the ball forward on the ground before Woodbury capped the drive with a 19-yard burst up the gut. The extra point try of sophomore Andrew Beatty was blocked, but with 7:55 to play in the first quarter, the Clippers had a 6-0 lead and appeared to be on their way to great things.
Cape Elizabeth’s first drive was short-circuited by an illegal chop block penalty and Moulton’s punt was partially blocked by Yarmouth sophomore Jack Venden, giving the hosts the ball at the Capers’ 48, giving them a chance to really seize control.
Instead, on first down, Woodbury was stripped of the ball and Cape Elizabeth junior Devon Stanford recovered at midfield.
The visitors weren’t able to capitalize, but the tide had turned.
The Capers got their initial first down on an 8-yard Drinan run, but a false start penalty set them back and on fourth-and-5 from the Yarmouth 34, Cape Elizabeth junior quarterback Noah Wolfinger threw incomplete.
The Capers’ defense then forced a three-and-out, not allowing the Clippers a single yard, and with 1 second to play in the first quarter, Cape Elizabeth took over at its 34.
As the first period (in which Yarmouth had a 77-23 advantage in yardage) gave way to the second, the Capers began to exercise their will.
Two plays in, Drinan burst free down the right sideline and wasn’t tackled until he reached the Clippers’ 7, good for a gain of 48.
Junior Christian Lavallee then rumbled to the 1 and after Wolfinger was held no gain, Lavallee got another chance and bulled his way into the end zone, capping a six-play, 66-yard drive to tie the game. Freshman Ben Ekedahl added the extra point and Cape Elizabeth was on top to stay, 7-6.
After Yarmouth went three-and-out again, the Capers began at their 20 and after Wolfinger found junior Ethan Murphy for 28 yards with a perfectly thrown pass down the left sideline, Cape Elizabeth’s hopes of extending its lead were dashed when Lavallee fumbled and Clippers’ senior Matt Klepinger fell on the loose ball at the Yarmouth 38.
Again, the Clippers could do nothing on offense and after Capers senior Caelan Houle (remember that name) threw Klepinger for a 3-yard loss on third-and-13, Yarmouth had to punt. A 14-yard return by senior Tony Moulton set Cape Elizabeth up at its 40 with 4:38 left in the half and the Capers set out to extend their lead.
It took 11 plays and almost all of the remaining time to reach paydirt, but Cape Elizabeth got the job done.
A15-yard burst from Nick Moulton and a 14-yard run by Drinan got the visitors to the doorstep, but after Drinan appeared to score on the next play, an illegal procedure penalty negated it.
After a Wolfinger incomplete pass, Drinan got the ball again and ran to his right, not stopping until he dove and barely got inside the pylon and his 10-yard scamper with 20 seconds showing, followed by a Ekedahl extra point, made it 14-6 Capers.
Yarmouth, which hadn’t thrown a pass to that point, went for broke before halftime and almost was rewarded.
Starting at their 34 with 14.8 seconds to go, Clippers senior quarterback Brady Neujahr was sacked by Houle on first down, but he hit a pass to Woodbury for 23 yards to the Capers’ 45 with 3.4 seconds left, giving Yarmouth one more play.
Neujahr dropped back and launched a pass deep down the right sideline to senior Race Morrison, who came down with the prayer at Cape Elizabeth’s 10, but he was brought down at the 5 and the half ended before the hosts could run another play, preserving the Capers’ 14-6 advantage.
“We had a young guy back there and he let the guy get behind him, but for once we got a break and he fell at the 5-yard line,” said Capers coach Aaron Filieo.
“If we got that pass it might have been a different ballgame,” lamented Pingitore. “It wasn’t in the cards for us tonight. The last time we played, they blitzed linebackers and gave us problems in the pass game. We knew we could execute our running game. Our inside game chewed up yardage. There was a good flow. It wasn’t until they went up 14-6 that we thought we had to pass the ball. Maybe if we did it earlier, it could have been effective. Who knows? Our game is running the ball.”
When the Clippers defense forced a Cape Elizabeth three-and-out to start the second half, Yarmouth had a chance to cut into the deficit, but after Neujahr found senior Thomas Lord for 14 yards on first down, Woodbury was held to no gain, Klepinger was thrown for a 3-yard loss (by Houle, naturally) and Neujahr threw incomplete, forcing a punt.
Cape Elizabeth wasn’t able to pick up a first down and had to punt, but after Woodbury ran for 26 yards to the Capers’ 45 and Neujhar moved the chains again with a 12-yard bootleg to the 30, the threat fizzled, as Woodbury rushed for a yard and Klepinger gained two before Neujahr threw incomplete. On fourth down, Feenstra sacked Neujahr and Cape Elizabeth took over at its 33.
Again, the Capers offense couldn’t move the ball and late in the third period, Yarmouth took over at its 37. Woodbury ran for 6 yards and Klepinger got almost 4, setting up third-and-inches, but Woodbury was thrown for a 1-yard loss on third down and on fourth-and-1, Woodbury got the ball again and was thrown backwards for a 2-yard loss by Stanford, giving Cape Elizabeth the football at the Clippers’ 44.
It would take the final 58 seconds of the third quarter and the first 92 of the final period for the Capers to drive for some breathing room.
A 9-yard Drinan run on the final play of the third moved the chains. On third-and-8 from the 25, Wolfinger found Tony Moulton for 15 yards and a first down at the 10 and on the next snap, Drinan scored from 10 yards out up the gut and Ekedahl’s extra point made it 21-6 Cape Elizabeth with 10:28 to play.
Yarmouth’s next drive began auspiciously as Neujahr hit freshman Grant Tobias for 16 yards to the Capers’ 44, but after an incomplete pass, Houle broke through the line once again and sacked Neujahr for a 2-yard loss.
“Caelan’s a good player,” Filieo said. “He’s big and he’s physical. He’s pretty crafty. He’s not just a big brute. He’s pretty nimble in there.”
Sophomore Cody Cook then ran for 6 yards, setting up fourth-and-6 at the 40.
Then, stunningly, the Clippers, despite trailing by 15 and having promising field position, lined up to punt and senior Nathaniel Shields’ Auble’s boot went into the end zone for a touchback and a net gain of 20 yards.
It was never supposed to happen.
“That was a mistake,” Pingitore said. “I’d called a fake punt. Apparently, our punter went in and called a punt regular. We had Brady out there. It was supposed to be a direct snap to him and a pass. They weren’t covering our gunners. We set it up. It was just a mistake.”
With 8:52 remaining, Cape Elizabeth took over at its 20 and embarked on a textbook clock-draining drive to end all doubt, using up three seconds shy of eight minutes to march 80 yards on 13 plays.
A 10-yard run by Drinan got it started. Lavallee then ran for 11. Runs of 5-yards by Drinan and 6 from Lavallee moved the chains again. A holding penalty was overcome in part by a Clippers’ offsides transgression and Drinan ran for 5 to pick up a first down. After Tony Moulton ran for 7, a chop block penalty moved the ball back to the 38, setting up second-and-18. After Moulton lost a yard, Drinan ran for 11, but it was still fourth-and-8.
Wolfinger threw his final pass of the night, hitting Feenstra for 25 yards to the 3 and two plays later, Nick Moulton scored from a yard out. The extra point was no good, but just 55.3 seconds remained and the Capers led, 27-6, almost the identical score to their previous loss to the Clippers.
To its credit, Yarmouth, on the final drive of its accomplished seniors’ careers, didn’t quit and put up one final touchdown.
After Woodbury returned the kickoff 40 yards to the Cape Elizabeth 49, Neujahr hit Morrison over the middle for 23 yards and after three incomplete passes, Neujahr threw the ball into the end zone, where Woodbury came down with it for a 26-yard score with just 5.5 seconds remaining. The Clippers then faked the extra point, as Neujahr rolled right and hit Woodbury for the two-point conversion, cutting the deficit to 27-14.
Yarmouth wasn’t able to recover the ensuing onsides kick, however, as Nick Moulton fell on it and one Wolfinger kneel-down later, the Capers put the finishing touches on their 27-14 victory.
“We probably played our best game of the season,” Houle said. “They knocked us down early on, but we didn’t give up. We played as hard as we could. We had a chip on our shoulder. We made sure we were ready for this. It’s a huge step up from last season. We’re moving in the right direction. We’re under the radar, but we’ve gotten better as the season progressed. Our chemistry has gotten better.”
“We’ll definitely enjoy this for the time being because it’s been awhile (since we’ve won a playoff game),” said Filieo. “These guys are just resilient. They don’t get high or low and in this game, that’s the best way to be. Our first game (against Yarmouth), I was more fired up than the players and it detracted from my focus and they were’t really stoked. Coming in, we knew we had a good game plan and we executed it. We took the first shot, but we stuck to the plan. I like our offensive line. It’s been getting better every week. We just wanted to pick our spots in our passing game. We wanted to control the line of scrimmage and set the tone. I thought our line did a nice job. It’s about picking your spots.”
Cape Elizabeth finished with a 321-256 edge in yardage, with a 258-130 bulge coming on the ground.
Drinan stole the show with his 198 yard, two TD performance.
“I didn’t really expect to be such a big part of the offense,” Drinan said. “Usually we split it between me, Christian and Nick. The fact that Coach trusted me with the ball so much made me feel great and made me rush better. The line was so good. They blocked their best. The holes were there because of great blocks.”
“(Jack’s) so good,” Houle said. “He’s just so dynamic. He runs hard all the time. He’s a great running back.”
“Jack’s an outstanding football player,” Filieo added. “He’s been coming along and he had a breakout game.”
Wolfinger threw just nine times, completing five attempts, good for 80 yards. Three of the passes went to Murphy, who ended up with 40 yards.
The Capers did have one turnover and were flagged seven times for 53 yards.
They also played a tremendous defensive game.
“We were playing vicious defense,” Drinan said. “We were attacking the line, playing good coverage in the secondary. Their speed killed us last game, but we didn’t let them take advantage this game.”
“We just got after it, flew around and made gang tackles,” said Feenstra. “This shows everybody that we’re here and we want to win a Gold Ball.”
“We had to contain them inside,” said Houle. “They didn’t have good off the edge running like last time.”
Yarmouth was paced by 88 yards and a TD on 16 carries from Woodbury. Neujahr, a four-year starter under center, completed 6-of-13 attempts for 142 yards and a score. Morrison had two catches for 63 yards and Woodbury caught two balls for 49 yards and a score.
The Clippers had a turnover and committed two penalties for 10 yards.
Yarmouth’s seniors won state titles in 2010 and 2011, made the playoffs in dramatic fashion in 2012 and produced a better-than-expected record this fall, but it was still a tough way for the Clippers’ season to conclude.
“It is disappointing,” Pingitore said. “Since I saw Cape play Leavitt in the first game, I’ve said they’re the most dangerous team in the conference. They’re a lot like we are. They have athletes at skill positions. It was a role reversal of our last game. If they play the way they did tonight, they have a chance to beat Leavitt. It started well, but Cape came with a game plan and they executed it. They beat us at our own medicine, power football. Credit to them. They ran isos, got us on the edge and figured us out defensively after our first series. We couldn’t get untracked after that. We had some good drives, but they stalled. We just haven’t given up yardage like that all season. We’ve held everybody to under three yards a play. That got in the kids’ heads a little bit.
“Going into the season, there weren’t many expectations for us. We’re still a fairly young team in a new conference. I had no doubt we’d compete. I’ve coached the seniors for four years. They’re probably the best group of seniors in the conference. They were pretty special. You can compare them with anybody. They’ve accomplished a lot.”
Yarmouth can’t be overlooked going into 2014.
“I think we have a lot of potential,” Pingitore said. “Unfortunately, we’re low in the junior class. We have ebbs and tides. Our sophomore class is as talented as any class we’ve had. We should have a big freshman class coming in. We’ll be young again, but we have talent to do some things.”
Cape Elizabeth will be a decided underdog when it goes to Leavitt Friday evening for the semifinals. The Capers played the Hornets tough in the regular season, but doing it on the road in November will be a tall task.
Cape Elizabeth lost to Leavitt, 35-21, in the 2009 Class B state final, in the lone prior playoff meeting between the schools.
The Capers know they’ll be the underdog, but will make the trip confident they can shock the world.
“The first time against Leavitt, we didn’t have as good chemistry and we shot ourselves in the foot,” Houle said. “We did play hard that game. Hopefully we’ll play hard next week. We’ll practice hard, work hard and be up for the challenge.”
“We have to play even better,” Drinan said. “Leavitt’s a great team. We’ll come out as hard as we possibly can, knowing it could be the end of the season or the beginning of something greater. No one is expecting a lot of us.”
“We played them tough the first time and we know what to expect,” Filieo added. “They’re big, they’re physical, they’re fast. They’ve been there before. Our guys are playing with confidence right now. What the hell do we have to lose? We’ll go up to Turner and have some fun.”
Cape Elizabeth junior Jack Drinan stretches forward for extra yardage as Yarmouth sophomore Cody Cook attempts to bring him down. Drinan had 198 yards and two TDs on 28 carries.
Yarmouth senior Matt Klepinger tries to elude the tackle of Cape Elizabeth senior Tom Feenstra.
Cape Elizabeth junior quarterback Noah Wolfinger throws a pass.
Cape Elizabeth junior Ethan Murphy attempts to bring down Yarmouth senior Race Morrison.
Yarmouth senior quarterback Brady Neujahr runs away from Cape Elizabeth senior Tom Feenstra.
Cape Elizabeth senior Nick Moulton protects the ball as he runs into a couple Yarmouth tacklers.
Cape Elizabeth junior Jack Drinan is congratulated by classmate Christian Lavallee (42) and sophomore Ryan Harvey after scoring a touchdown during Friday’s 27-14 win at Yarmouth in a Western Class C quarterfinal. The Capers will go to top-ranked Leavitt for the semifinals Friday.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
CE- 0 14 0 13- 27
Y- 6 0 0 8-14
Y- Woodbury 19 run (kick blocked)
CE- Lavallee 1 run (Ekedahl kick)
CE- Drinan 10 run (Ekedahl kick)
CE- Drinan 10 run (Ekedahl kick)
CE- N. Moulton 1 run (kick failed)
Y- Woodbury 26 pass from Neujahr (Woodbury pass from Neujahr)
CE- Drinan 28-198-2, N. Moulton 5-29-1, Lavallee 4-19-1, T. Moulton 3-12, Wolfinger 1-0
Y- Woodbury 16-88-1, Klepinger 8-13, Lord 4-7, Cook 2-10, Neujahr 1-12
CE- Wolfinger 5-9-80-0-0
Y- Neujahr 6-13-142-1-0
CE- Murphy 3-40, Feenstra 1-25, T. Moulton 1-15
Y- Morrison 2-63, Woodbury 2-49-1, Tobias 1-16, Lord 1-14
CE: Houle 2, Feenstra 1