Falmouth sweeps Class B soccer crowns
The Falmouth soccer program doubled its pleasure Saturday, as both the boys' and girls' teams won Class B state championships at Hampden Academy.
The girls went first and got a first half goal from junior Alex Bernier, who continued her season-long flair for the dramatic, and held on from there to defeat Presque Isle, 1-0, and repeat as champions with their seventh crown in 11 seasons and 10th overall.
The boys then battled a very good Camden Hills team, but thanks to the heroics of junior Grant Burfiend, a Yachtsmen playoff hero extraordinaire, they made it eight titles in 12 years and 10 all-time, 2-1.
It marked the first time since 2006 that both squads reached the pinnacle in the same season.
A lot of fun
Falmouth's girls won Class B last fall and welcomed Wally LeBlanc as the team's new coach this fall. LeBlanc had plenty of talent to work with, but it took some time for the squad to hit its stride.
The Yachtsmen started 5-0-1 (which included a 1-0 home victory over York and a 1-0 overtime win at Yarmouth on a Bernier goal), but dropped two games to Greely (5-1 away and 2-1 at home) in a five-day span. Late-season losses at York (2-0) and at home to Yarmouth (1-0) were remedied with a 1-0 overtime win at Cape Elizabeth (Bernier again had the decisive tally) to close the regular season.
Falmouth's 9-4-1 mark gave it the third seed in Western Class B. After blanking No. 6 Yarmouth in surprisingly easy fashion in the quarterfinals, 4-0, the Yachtsmen twice led leads slip away at No. 2 York before the teams went to penalty kicks, where Falmouth prevailed, 3-2.
That win sent the Yachtsmen to undefeated, top-ranked Morse for the regional final last Wednesday. While some thought the Shipbuilders weren't legitimate, due to their schedule, LeBlanc knew otherwise and indeed, Falmouth got a battle for 80 minutes.
The Yachtsmen trailed 1-0 at the half and could have been down by more, but things changed in the second half as junior Cassie Darrow scored twice (the first set up by junior Caitlin Bucksbaum and the second on a breakaway) and Falmouth held on to advance, 2-1.
"We had a strong heart-to-heart talk at halftime about how we wanted to finish the season," said LeBlanc. "I asked the girls to play the game with heart and see what happens. I thought Morse was sensational. They were probably the toughest team we played all year. Our resilience was the difference."
Falmouth (which previously won Class C in 1992, 1995 and 1998 and Class B in 2001, 2002, 2005, 2006, 2008 and 2010) met Presque Isle (seeking its first championship) in the state game.
The Yachtsmen beat the Wildcats, 2-0, in the 2008 state final and did it again Saturday.
Midway through the first half, Bernier took centerstage, as she got to a cross from Bucksbaum and one-timed a blast into the net. After Darrow just missed making it 2-0 (hitting the crossbar), Presque Isle pushed for the equalizer, but it never came as Falmouth's season ended at 13-4-1 with a Gold Ball.
"We came out strong and played very intelligent in the first half," said LeBlanc. "We caught them off guard. We played well in the midfield. In the second half, they made the same adjustments we did against Morse. We got on our heels and tried to protect the lead. The girls were intelligent with how they defended. It was a lot of fun.
"We didn't talk about winning a state championship at the beginning of the year. We talked about being the best team we could be and keeping our goals realistic. It was one surprise after another and that gave us a sense of pride. The win at York was a wonderful win for the mental health of all of us.
"It was a great first year (for me). The support from the parents, community and athletic director were fantastic."
As always, the Yachtsmen will be hard hit by graduation (seven seniors are on the roster, including three starters), but as always, a strong core will return and that group will be bolstered by key newcomers, suggesting that Falmouth could three-peat for the first time if all goes well.
"We have great talent coming back and high hopes of what we can do with it," LeBlanc said. "It bodes well for next season. The three starters will be tough to replace. The other seniors were great role players."
Magic carpet ride
The Falmouth boys weren't defending a championship this fall, after falling in an overtime heartbreaker at rival Yarmouth last autumn.
This fall, the Yachtsmen didn't feature some of the household names of the past and much of the roster was untested, but Falmouth put it together late in the year.
After winning their first four games (which included a 2-1 triumph at Cape Elizabeth and a 2-1 home win over York), the Yachtsmen fell at Yarmouth, 2-1. A tie and three wins followed, but the team lost at Greely, 1-0, then, two games later, suffered its worst setback this century, 4-0, at York. With the remaining schedule featuring tests with Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth could have dropped to a low seed and been forced to play postseason games on the road, but instead, the Yachtsmen showed the first signs of the champions they would become by downing the Clippers (1-0) and rallying to tie the Capers (2-2) to wind up 9-3-2, good for the No. 2 seed in Western B.
After a 3-0 win over No. 7 Lincoln in the quarterfinals, Falmouth was pushed to the brink by upstart No. 6 Fryeburg, but juniors Luke Andrews (with just over five minutes to play) and Jeremy Lydick (with 14 seconds to go) scored to help the Yachtsmen advance, 3-2. Falmouth then had to go back to York for the regional final and this time Burfiend played the hero, scoring the game's lone goal with just seconds to play.
Falmouth entered Saturday's state game with a perfect 9-0 record in the ultimate game (winning Class C in 1996 and 1997 and Class B in 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2006, 2007 and 2009). They'd improve to 10-0 in state finals, in a first-ever meeting with Camden Hills, but it didn't come easily.
In the 12th minute, Burfiend put the Yachtsmen on top when his corner kick eluded the Windjammers' goalkeeper. Camden Hills drew even before halftime, setting the stage for Burfiend to play the star again. With 13:11 to go in regulation, Burfiend broke free and finished for a 2-1 lead.
"Grant has come into his own," said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. "He's a talented kid. He was at his best in the big games. He's a dangerous player."
Falmouth's defense did the rest and the season ended at 13-3-2 with yet another championship.
"This one we really had to work for," said Halligan. "Our last three games all came down to the last 15 minutes and were one-goal games. We had our ups and downs. It was a roller coaster ride. Exciting and scary at times. I attribute our strength of schedule and resiliency of our players for being the difference. Our goal from the very beginning was to get better every day. After we got beat at York, 4-0, we had a meeting and went undefeated the rest of the way. The kids worked hard.
"Camden Hills was very good. They could have competed in our league. It was a good feeling when it ended."
The regional final win was Halligan's 300th at Falmouth. He's now 301-78-39 with the Yachtsmen and 371-117-55 overall (he spent 1979-86 coaching Cape Elizabeth's boys' team).
Don't be surprised if several more victories follow in 2012. While Falmouth will graduate some key seniors, plenty of talent waits in reserve, including many players who played pivotal roles on this squad.