This isn’t the story I planned on writing.
To be honest, it wasn’t even among the five to seven ideas kicking around upstairs in the days and hours leading up to Cape Elizabeth’s Class B football state championship tilt with the Leavitt Hornets of a place called Turner.
Like most anyone that witnessed the Capers of 2009, all my plans were centered on the premise that no one could beat this team. Not this year.
This evidence-based theory was drawn from the perfect regular season turned in by the Cape Elizabeth footballers, one in which they mortified opposing coaches and players with precision-milled focus expressed through tenacity, speed, power and skill.
The top-ranked Capers tossed even more coals on the fire when they opened the playoffs with a casual stroll over Wells, then prevailed in a wild one that will long be remembered by the soggy loyalists on-hand at Hannaford Field for the regional championship.
Two weeks after handing Mountain Valley its lunch to close the regular season, the Capers took the Falcons’ best shot and prevailed, clinching the program’s first Western B title through wicked rain and wind sent along by the final gasps of Hurricane Ida tiring off the Maine coast.
Finally it was Leavitt’s turn to feel the wrath of a near-feverish football program, starving to achieve one more first in the school’s brief, yet proficient history.
But Cape Elizabeth didn’t win.
In fact, they were beaten rather thoroughly, 35-21, by an undefeated Leavitt team that just happened to be equally blessed with size, speed and talent. The Capers pulled within a score with a minute remaining, but for the most part had no answer for Leavitt senior tailback Josh Strickland.
The Capers’ season ended watching the back of No. 1 go for 51 of his 298 yards rushing and his fourth touchdown on the very same play.
Ouch. That one might leave a mark.
It’s fair to say nobody from these parts saw that one coming. It seemed improbable there could be any team capable of derailing the Capers’ mission.
Fueled by the record-setting exploits of tailback Tommy Foden, the Capers’ offense struck a fine balance with Ezra Wolfinger delivering one spiral after another into the sticky hands of the league’s top receiver, Finn Melanson. Wolfinger was hardly selective, mixing in a little Foden or Kyle Piscopo now and again, effortlessly quarterbacking the league’s most explosive aerial attack.
Defensively, forget about it.
The Capers completely demolished the competition. With a talented blend of youth and experience, veterans like Foden, Wolfinger, senior linemen James Martin, Brian Stephenson and Will Pinnette, welcomed huge contributions from hard-nosed junior linebackers John McDonald, Jack Barber and Kyle Danielson. Lest we forget sophomore Andrew Lavallee, the next in a one-family haven of outstanding two-way linemen.
The Capers also discovered that Steve Homa plays one heck of a middle linebacker. He saved his finest play for the regional and championship finals.
And so it was, the end justified the means, and the Capers ran the table without so much as one interesting encounter. What other conclusion could football-crazed Cape Elizabeth fans come to?
Yes indeed, the only plan was to head on down to Fitzy and watch coach Aaron Filieo and his Capers collect that final piece of hardware they so dearly coveted.
That moment never did arrive. But during this process a different story came to light. Not a better one, really. Just a different one. Though deprived of a Cape Elizabeth coronation, keen insight was gained on the arduous journey of becoming young men. Fully aware of the potential for heartache, this team had the courage to put it on the line and chase the one dream uniting them all.
They were led every step of the way by a fiery young coach with true passion for the game. Filieo has infused a soccer town with a newfound affection for pigskin, and did it by practicing exactly what he preaches.
As he sees it, life is about effort. Filieo truly hopes to instill in his players a passion for each and every thing they choose to accomplish. That in football and life, commitment, loyalty and hard work will always produce positive results. He asks for nothing more than what he gives, the very best each player has to offer, and then demands nothing less.
Filieo, through his own accomplishments establishing a program Cape Elizabeth can be proud of, blazed a trail of success for his players to follow.
They did. And they do.
“We all share a genuine appreciation for Filieo,” said Jimmy Bump, a star quarterback for three seasons (’06-’08). “At the end of the day, you understand that he cares. He’s doing what’s best for you. When coach gets on you that’s good. He sees something in you. It’s not just in football but as a teacher. He pulled me aside in the sixth-grade and said he believed in me. He still does that even now.”
Heck, Coach might be right.
After all, character is not defined by numbers on a scoreboard. Words like respect are earned. Championship young men win and lose with honor. As it turns out, the Capers were loaded with players just like that.
In the end, this magical run left behind a profound sense of communal pride and respect for a job well done. It may have a stung a little afterwards to look into the watery eyes of Wolfinger, yet there he stood with the guts to look back into yours. The quarterback epitomizes this Cape Elizabeth football odyssey. They started out as kids with promise and walked away four seasons later like men.
“For me, watching Ezra grow has been really rewarding,” said Bump. “When he came in he was just a kid. Now he’s got me by three inches, maybe 20 pounds. That doesn’t even compare to the amount he has grown mentally. When he took the field Saturday I saw a young man. The loss will fade. The beauty is that Ezra will grow and learn from it.”
Along the way, this team continued the Capers’ legacy of excellence. Like any good family, they left the next generation in a better position to succeed. Just as current assistant coach Mike Kertes’ team did, and Bump’s group did in the years that followed. The impact of playing football at Cape Elizabeth might best be encapsulated by the dozen or so former players that waited outside the gate for Filieo after the state final. They waited just to walk their old coach to the locker room one more time. Let him know they could be there for him too. Pride builds programs.
It would be foolish to suggest football alone produces character. All champions begin at home. But through this game of inches there are certain lessons to build on for a lifetime.
There will be other disappointing hours ahead for each and every player in a Cape Elizabeth uniform. Life comes for us all. But if they rise with the mettle displayed in the agonizing moments following this heartbreaking loss, maybe there really is a silver lining in every experience.
But man, growing up sure ain’t easy.