(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared June 21, 2008)
PORTLAND—In the end, the offensive juggernaut proved that defense really does win championships.
The Yarmouth Clippers, who scored 184 goals in their first 14 games, found the net on nine occasions Saturday afternoon in the Class B state championship game at Fitzpatrick Stadium and more importantly, for the third time this season, stymied the potent offense of rival Cape Elizabeth in a gratifying 9-4 triumph.
Yarmouth led 3-0 after one period and 4-0 at halftime and never allowed the Capers to get any closer than three goals en route to a third state championship in five seasons.
“It’s the best feeling ever,” said senior Jason Hichborn, who scored three times. “I can’t describe it. It’s awesome.”
“It’s very meaningful, there’s no denying that,? added Clippers coach Craig Curry, who got to share the victory with his son, senior standout John. “These are all John’s best friends and the seniors stepped up and did it. They were courageous. It was great.”
From agony to ecstasy
Yarmouth’s 2007 season ended with a bitter one-goal loss at eventual champion NYA in the Eastern Class B final. This spring, the Clippers entered as the favorites and weren’t about to settle for anything shy of a championship.
A 19-6 win at eventual Class A title winner Scarborough started the season. Yarmouth would stumble twice by one goal (12-11 at Portland and 6-5 at NYA), but the Clippers manhandled most of their opponents, even in a season which saw them play a much more challenging schedule than in the past.
The loss at the Panthers May 31 served as a timely wakeup call and Yarmouth closed the year with a 15-4 home romp over Kennebunk and a 7-3 home triumph over Cape Elizabeth. While the Clippers were tickling the twine on a regular basis, their defensive prowess allowed less than five goals per contest.
Yarmouth finished 10-2 and earned the top seed for the Eastern B playoffs. The Clippers humbled No. 5 Lincoln Academy 16-0 in the semifinals, then got a taste of revenge with a 12-7 regional final win over visiting No. 7 NYA in the regional final.
That earned Yarmouth a Saturday date with the Capers, who lost twice to Yarmouth and once each to Greely and Portland in the regular season, before advancing courtesy playoff wins over Waynflete and Greely.
In addition to beating Cape Elizabeth at home in the regular season finale, the Clippers won 9-3 at the longtime power May 16.
Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth had met in four previous state games. The Capers won the championship in overtime in both 1996 and 2003. The following year, the Clippers earned their first title with an 11-6 triumph. In 2005, however, Cape Elizabeth upset Yarmouth 7-6.
The Clippers would continue their trend of winning state titles in even years (they handled Kennebunk 8-5 in 2006) and did it with relative ease.
Yarmouth set the tone right off the opening faceoff. Senior specialist Tim Sweeney won the faceoff, collected the ground ball and allowed the offense to set up. Sophomore Steven Petrovek then found himself catching a pass right in front of the Capers’ net, but his bid for a quick score was stonewalled by Cape Elizabeth sophomore goalie Ben Brewster.
After Yarmouth senior goalie extraordinaire Jon Poole made a couple saves to keep the game scoreless, the Clippers broke the ice with 5:39 to play in the opening period when senior Jack Gross scored an unassisted goal.
Brewster stemmed the tide for the moment with a pair of saves, but Yarmouth broke through again with 1:27 to go in the quarter when junior Rob Highland scored unassisted. Just 38 seconds later, Petrovek set up Hichborn for a score which gave the Clippers a 3-0 lead after one period.
A 12-5 ground ball advantage helped lead the way.
“We were so fired up when we came out,” Hichborn said. “We knew it would be hard to beat them a third time and that we needed to be pumped up. We usually come out flat, but today, we just came out and were clicking early.”
Early in the second quarter, Highland hit the post on a shot. Seconds later, Poole came up huge, denying Capers senior Chris Bagley point blank. Later in the period, Poole did it again, standing tall to deny a Bagley bid in front.
Then, with 4:23 to play in the first half, Yarmouth took a 4-0 advantage when senior scoring machine Sam Miller finished unassisted. The Clippers took that lead into halftime, thanks in large part to eight saves from Poole.
Cape Elizabeth hoped to make a run in the second half, but had the odds stacked against it. The Capers hadn’t scored a second half goal in either regular season meeting, but finally broke through with 10:21 to play in the third quarter when senior Johnny Hayes fed senior Zach Belden in transition for a tally which cut Yarmouth’s lead to 4-1.
It was the first time Cape Elizabeth had managed to score against the Clippers in 50 minutes, 44 seconds, dating back to the second quarter of the regular season finale.
Poole kept the lead at three with clutch saves on a Hayes rocket and a point blank bid by Belden. With 3:26 to play in the third, Yarmouth’s offense returned to life. Petrovek passed to John Curry, whose shot was slowed by Brewster, but still trickled past the goalie into the net to make it 5-1. Less than two minutes later, with 1:35 to go, Hichborn scored another unassisted goal and the Clippers took a commanding 6-1 advantage to the final stanza.
Prior to the start of the fourth, senior James MacLeod was penalized for an illegal stick, forcing Yarmouth to play a man-down for three minutes.
The Capers would capitalize when Bagley (from junior Jon O’Hearn) scored just 38 seconds into the period. With 9:49 to go, Cape Elizabeth junior Mike Holden hit the post and the Clippers appeared to have dodged a bullet, but with 8:10 to play, Bagley fed Belden for a goal, pulling the Capers to within 6-3.
Any comeback hopes were quickly squelched on the ensuing faceoff.
Sweeney won yet again, fed senior Dan Gerges and Gerges found Highland, who scored just 14 seconds after the play began, to push the lead back to four, 7-3.
With 5:34 to play, Miller set up Gross’ second goal of the game. With 3:51 remaining, Yarmouth scored its last goal as Miller assisted Hichborn for a man-up strike and a 9-3 lead.
“We were down 6-3 and we had some other chances, but we got a couple penalties and that put it away,” Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond said. “(Yarmouth’s) very good man-up. If you give them opportunities, they’ll take advantage.
“Their goalie played very well each time we played them. He obviously has a good game when he plays us. He made some tremendous saves. It not only got them going, but it took a little away from us. We felt the pressure and tried to do some things offensively we’re not trying to do. That hurt us.”
With just under a minute remaining, senior Jim Wilcox (from senior Tom Michaud) found the net for Cape Elizabeth, making it a 9-4 game, but the Clippers slammed the door shut from there. Sweeney won one final faceoff and Yarmouth soon rushed the field to exult.
“It feels incredible, especially doing it with all my friends,” Poole said. “We have a huge group of seniors. This was our goal the entire year, but we avoided all the statements saying we were the best team. It doesn’t mean anything unless you do it.”
“We just came out ready to play,” added Miller. “We’ve all been waiting for this day so long. We worked so hard this season. Everyone came out big. This is a great game to finish on. Not just the year, but our careers.”
Hichborn led the Clippers with three goals. Gross and Highland had two goals apiece. Curry and Miller both scored once. Miller added two assists. Petrovek also had two assists and Gerges one.
“We don?t have one person to go to, we have an entire team,” said senior defensive standout Nick Randall. “Everybody can do it. It feels amazing. Winning a state championship senior year is awesome.”
Coach Curry was thrilled with his team’s offensive balance.
“We knew early in the season we were riding Sammy,” he said. “As long as they gave it to us, we took it, but I think NYA exposed us. Then, it was easier to motivate and tell the kids that we couldn’t do it any longer. I think it was after that game we found ourselves. We didn’t have a bad game after that.”
The bigger story was the Yarmouth defense.
Longstick middie Tucker Sampson, Randall and a pair of basketball standouts, Lucas Denning and Joe Dilworth, slowed the Capers down and Poole was nearly flawless in goal.
“We know how to defend them,” Randall said. “We have three great defensemen. We put them on their offensive players. We slide well. Jon always comes up huge. He’s amazing.”
“Our defense is unreal,” said Miller. “Jon Poole played a fantastic game. He made some unbelievable saves. We did well on transitions and ground balls.”
“We had great defense and I feel like I played pretty well,” added Poole, who stopped 14 shots. “Shutting (Cape Elizabeth) down rarely happens. It feels really good to be able to accomplish that. The other two games didn’t mean anything. We all worked incredibly hard in the offseason. Joe Dilworth, our new defenseman, worked harder than anyone to be with us.”
Curry also had plenty of praise to go around.
“The guy on the ball did a great job,” he said. “We rarely had to slide. It’s a lot of hard work in practice. I’m proud of them. Lucas assimilated to how we play defense and Joe just assimilated to playing lacrosse. We’ll miss Jon Poole very, very much. You can’t say enough about those kids. They’re great athletes.”
Sweeney won 10 of 16 faceoffs. The Clippers had a 37-26 edge in ground balls. Sweeney led the way with seven, Highland corralled six, while Dilworth, Petrovek and Poole all had three apiece. Bagley, Hayes and sophomore Will Desena led the Capers with four each. Yarmouth had 26 turnovers to 23 for Cape Elizabeth, but the Clippers forced eight in the final quarter.
Belden finished with two goals for the Capers. Bagley and Wilcox had one apiece. Hayes, Michaud and O’Hearn each had one assist. Brewster stopped 12 shots.
Now, the question is can Yarmouth do it again?
It hasn’t yet won a title in a odd-numbered season. The Clippers like their chances to end that drought in 2009.
While 17 seniors, including a passel of standouts, are graduating, Yarmouth simply reloads. The Clippers will once again wear the bulls-eye next spring.
“It’s such a difficult thing for these kids,” Curry said. “I haven’t coached yet when they’re the underdog. There’s so much pressure to be favored for three or four years. To be able to overcome that is a tribute to them. They were awesome.
“I love these guys. Absolutely. I’m coming back. I’m excited for the kids coming back.”
Yarmouth senior Joe Dilworth and his defensive mates completely put the clamps on Cape Elizabeth’s offense en route to a 9-4 victory in Saturday’s Class B state final.