Yarmouth rallies, earns first state final berth
YARMOUTH—Fittingly, a program that is still in its relative infancy turned to one of its youngest members to make the difference Saturday afternoon.
With time growing thin, facing a five-point deficit to talented and gritty Lisbon, the Yarmouth Clippers saved their best for last, capping a stirring rally from a 12-0 hole and taking the lead for good when freshman quarterback Brady Neujahr raced untouched 65 yards to paydirt with 4:06 to play.
After a defensive stop, Yarmouth ran out the clock, improved to 11-0 and ended the Greyhounds' season at 9-2 by virtue of a 14-12 decision and advanced to meet Stearns in the Class C state final next Saturday (game time will be announced Monday).
A program that won just once in its first 18 varsity contests is now 48 minutes away from the biggest prize of them all.
"These kids aren't quitters," said Jim Hartman, the only varsity coach the Clippers have known. "We knew we had to be patient and play field position. I knew someone would break one."
Another duel to the end
Just two years ago, the idea of Yarmouth playing in a regional final would have been scoffed at.
The Clippers went 0-8 in their first varsity season of 2007, then wound up 1-7 in 2008. After an 0-2 start in 2009, Yarmouth came of age and did so quickly, erupting for six straight wins to make the playoffs for the first time. Upset victories at Livermore Falls and Old Orchard Beach sent the Clippers to the Western C Final, which they lost, 41-7, at Dirigo.
This season, Yarmouth has snuck up on no one, dominating from start to finish. The Clippers won six of eight regular season games in emphatic fashion (by a 59-3 average) and held off the two squads which gave them a scare, Oak Hill (20-15) and Lisbon (16-14).
Yarmouth earned the top seed for the Western C playoffs and after pummeling No. 8 Maranacook (54-6), impressed in a 28-7 win over No. 5 Oak Hill last weekend.
Lisbon's loss to Yarmouth was its only setback in 2010 and the Greyhounds wound up second in Western C. They dispatched No. 7 Jay, 28-6, then eked out a 24-16 overtime win over No. 3 Winthrop last week.
Lisbon has a storied history, winning Class C titles as far back as 1960. The Greyhounds won the 1961 Class C title, shared honors in 1968, 1971 and 1978, won it all in 1997, 2005 and 2006 and fell in the state game in 1981 and 2003.
Lisbon and Yarmouth had no playoff history prior to Saturday's contest. which was played under greatly appreciated warm skies in front of a huge gathering of vocal fans who would witness an instant classic.
The hosts got the ball first and hoped to make an immediate statement, but only gained three yards on three rushes and had to punt.
The Greyhounds then embarked on an impressive 11 play, 52 yard, 4 minute, 40 second drive to take the lead.
A 12-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Ryan Riordan to junior Zack Splude got the march started. Two plays later, the tandem hooked up again for 20 yards. Yarmouth's defense appeared to hold, forcing a fourth-and-10 at its 15, but Rioradn scrambled to his left, broke two tackles and fought his way to the 3 for a first-and-goal. Two plays later, senior Tobey Harrington bulled in from the 1. A two-point conversion pass failed, but Lisbon had struck first, leading 6-0.
The Clippers got the offense going on their next possession as a 16-yard run from senior Nick Proscia moved the ball into Greyhounds' territory. On fourth-and-3 from the 35, Neujahr rolled left and picked up 17 yards for a first down at the 18. A false start short-circuited the drive, however, and on third-and-15 from the 23, Neujahr was sacked by senior Mike McNamara for a six-yard loss. Junior Anders Overhaug gained eight yards on the next play, but wound up well short of the first down marker and the visitors took over at their 21.
Yarmouth's defense forced a three-and-out and as the first period gave way to the second, the Clippers drove again.
After Proscia picked up a first down with a 13-yard scamper, Overhaug ran for 13 and a first down at the Lisbon 35. On third-and-3, Proscia ran for five and another first down. Again, Yarmouth shot itself in the foot, however, with an illegal procedure penalty. On fourth-and-2 from the 15, senior Asa Arden picked up two yards, but was tripped up just short of the first down marker and again, the Greyhounds got the ball on downs.
This time, the visitors made the Clippers pay as Riordan dropped back and launched a perfect pass to senior Josh Pomerleau along the right sideline. Pomerleau caught the rainbow at the 40 and outran the pursuit the rest of the way to complete a stunning 87-yard scoring play. Again, the two-point conversion (a rush attempt by Splude) failed, something which would prove huge later, but Lisbon had shocked Yarmouth by taking a 12-0 lead with 7:38 to go before halftime.
If the Clippers hadn't managed to get into the end zone before the break, they would have been in serious trouble, but thanks to special teams and a gift, they finally got on the board.
After its next drive ended at the Greyhounds' 48 after a sack, Neujahr took the fourth down snap and quick punted. The ball landed at the 20 and bounced all the way to the Lisbon 5.
"That was a key play," said Hartman. "Brady had that jet punt. He was last year's junior high punter. He got it done."
Two plays later, the Greyhounds fumbled the center exchange and Proscia pounced on the ball at the 7.
It took Yarmouth two plays to get on the board. After Proscia ran for a yard, Neujahr rolled left and threw a pass to Proscia who did the rest, breaking the plane, and just like that, with 2:36 remaining in the half, the Clippers were on the board.
"That was big to get momentum back and not fall too far behind," said Neujahr. "We got back in it. I just rolled out. There was a guy coming right in my face, but Proscia barely got open for a second. I threw it and it was right there."
With junior Bryce Snyder unavailable due to injury, Proscia kicked the extra point and his boot was true, making it 12-7.
Each team had a possession before the half, but couldn't convert and Lisbon took a five-point lead to the break.
In the opening 24 minutes, the hosts had a 147-146 edge in offense, but were hindered by penalties.
"We noticed early on that we'd wasted so much emotion coming out here," Hartman said. "We were so fired up. We talked all week to the kids to stay calm and positive. We noticed they were really tired before the second quarter and had lost a step or two. We told them to stay with it."
The second half would provide plenty of tension, drama and ultimately for the home folks, joy and triumph.
The Greyhounds got the ball to start the second half and moved from their 3 into Yarmouth territory behind the running of Splude and a 23-yard pass from Riordan to junior Cam Graf. The Clippers would stiffen, however, and on fourth-and-6 from the 24, Riordan threw toward the end zone where senior Tommy O'Toole intercepted the pass before being downed at the 2.
A 30-yard Overhaug run got the hosts out of danger, but they couldn't pick up another first down and had to punt.
Lisbon then drove from its 10, picking up a first down on a 17-yard pass from Riordan to Graf. Yarmouth forced a punt, but McNamara appeared to pick up a first down after gaining 17 yards on a fake. However, a hold negated the gain and McNamara again had to punt. This time he did and the Clippers took over at their 37 late in the third.
A 14-yard run from Overhaug created some optimism, but another false start penalty set the hosts back. Proscia ran for four yards on the next play, but fumbled. Luckily for Yarmouth, junior Eric Deerwester was there to make the recovery. A two-yard Proscia run brought an end to the third period.
Overhaug ran for eight to start the fourth quarter, setting up a fourth-and-1 from the Lisbon 40. Proscia barely gained that yard to move the chains, but Overhaug and senior Nate Pingitore only picked up three yards on two rushes and Neujahr threw incomplete, necessitating a punt.
The Greyhounds started at their 9 and went three-and-out. With 9:09 to play, Yarmouth took over at its 47, in great field position, but after Proscia and Overhaug only gained a yard each, a Neujahr pass to Pingitore went for seven yards, but left the Clippers a yard shy of a first down. Junior Dennis Erving then unleashed a perfect punt which forced Lisbon to start at its 1 with 7:05 remaining.
Any hopes that Yarmouth had of a quick stop and great field position went out the window when Splude broke free up the gut and wasn't brought down until he reached the Clippers' 25, a 74-yard gain. Overhaug's hustle saved what could have been a backbreaking touchdown.
The Greyhounds had a chance to ice the win, but after McNamara ran for four yards, Riordan was thrown for a yard loss. After Riordan threw incomplete, the visitors took their final timeout with 5:25 left. on fourth-and-7, Riordan found Splude, but he only managed six yards and the hosts got the ball back at their 16 with 5:18 showing.
"The defensive stop after that long run was big," said Hartman.
This time, finally, Yarmouth's offense would rediscover its explosiveness.
On first down, Neujahr threw to Overhaug for 14 yards. After Overhaug was held to no gain on a rush and Neujahr gained five yards on a sweep to the right, the Clippers faced third-and-5 at their 35.
Neujahr kept the ball again on the next play, but this time met no opposition and wasn't touched until he was mobbed by his joyous teammates in the end zone.
The freshman rolled right, found a hole and raced down the right sideline. As Lisbon's defense chased after him to no avail, Neujahr capped the 65-yard TD run and with 4:06 to play, Yarmouth was back on top.
"I ran outside and they bit down on Proscia," said Neujahr. "He hit the outside guy and I saw a lane and took it downfield. It was an option, but I read his block and found the seam. We hadn't run that option play. I got sprung loose.
"I wanted the ball in my hands. No one was catching me on that one. I was just thinking touchdown. That's the highlight of my career so far.No one had a hand on me. It was awesome. I was only thinking of getting in the end zone."
"Our freshman quarterback pulled through at the end for us," Proscia said. "He doesn't play like a freshman. We treat him like a freshman though. We had to keep pushing. If they stopped us, it would have been hard to get the ball back. We were ready to step up."
"I was getting ready to call another play, babying the quarterback," added Hartman. "One of the receivers said we should run 'Student Body' and we ran it. The last time we played Lisbon, we had it twice, but Brady cut it inside. This morning, I told him not to cut back."
The Clippers should have gone for the two-point conversion to ensure that they couldn't be beaten by a field goal, but Hartman elected to have Proscia kick the extra point and he nailed it for a 14-12 lead.
"(The Greyhounds) don't have a field goal kicker," said Hartman. "We wanted to take the sure points and to be honest, I was a little frazzled."
While Yarmouth had all the momentum, the Greyhounds and their prolific passing attack still had a chance to respond, but the Clippers defense would save its best for last.
On first down, Riordan threw incomplete as O'Toole had a chance for an interception, but couldn't hold on. Riordan then threw high in the direction of senior Zack Greene. On third down, Riordan was again off the mark. On fourth down, Lisbon's final chance, Riordan was hit by senior Jack Watterson as he threw and his pass was batted down by O'Toole.
"We've worked on defending the pass all week in practice," said O'Toole. "We knew that if we got beat, we had to keep our heads high and keep working. We can't rely only on offense. We picked it up on defense when we needed to."
"We are so aggressive on defense," Hartman said. "We knew they couldn't run on us and that they'd have to pass. They took advantage. We don't see a lot of passing. For (Riordan) to stand in there, that was just tremendous. At the end, we got the stop. Jack Watterson didn't play defense until the fourth quarter. He was huge."
Yarmouth got the ball on downs at the Greyhounds' 41 with 3:43 to play still needing a first down or two to run out the clock. After Proscia ran for two yards, then five, Pingitore was thrown for a seven-yard loss, forcing a punt, but on the kick, Erving was roughed as the Clippers retained possession and got a new set of downs with 1:39 to go.
With Lisbon out of timeouts, Proscia ran for a yard before Neujahr twice took a knee.
At 3:16 p.m., the clock showed 0:00 and Yarmouth was able to celebrate its inspirational 14-12 win.
"The defense didn't give up and played with heart," Neujahr said. "We didn't get down and played hard all game. We knew we could come back. We knew we wouldn't score a lot of points. We faced adversity this year, like the first Lisbon game. Lisbon's tough and quick on the outside."
"It's hard to believe, but it's a great feeling," O'Toole said. "We've worked since February in the weight room. I'm glad to see it pay off. It's hard work. Three-hour plus practices. Working all year, in the summer. Dedication, discipline, all that work got us here. We praise Lisbon. They're a great team. They have weapons just like we do. We knew it would be close the whole time."
"It's just a great feeling," Proscia added. "It wasn't easy at all. Lisbon put up a fight. We just had to keep our hearts in it. It was a tough battle."
The Clippers had a 319-302 edge in total yardage. Neujahr finished with 99 yards and the program's most famous TD to date on four rushes. He threw for 27 yards and a score on 3-of-6 attempts. Overhaug led Yarmouth with 104 rushing yards on 15 carries. Proscia gained a gritty 98 on 19 tries. He also caught the six-yard TD pass. The Clippers were penalized five times for 28 yards.
For Lisbon, Riordan completed 9-of-22 passes for 182 yards a TD and an interception. On the ground, the Greyhounds were limited, although Splude had 100 yards (74 on one carry) on 10 attempts. Lisbon was flagged five times for 46 yards and was hurt by the two crucial turnovers.
When Yarmouth takes the field next Saturday, it will be the first time that a school will be playing for a football state championship in the same autumn it won a soccer title (Bangor will be doing the same when it meets Cheverus in the Class A Final). Hampden Academy made it to the 1998 state final in both sports, but lost football to Leavitt and soccer to Greely. York won the Class B football title in 1989 and boys' soccer the following year. Yarmouth now has a chance to do the Wildcats one better.
"We've come a long way," said Hartman. "We have great athletes in the school. We win in lacrosse and soccer and baseball. The kids know how to complete. It's such a blessing. I hope football will now bring that to other sports and it'll feed off each other. We have such a great athletic department, starting with (athletic director) Susan (Robbins). The key for us is the kids believe in what the coaches tell them and in each other. We have talent. Proscia's as good a player as there is. If there's a better linebacker, I'd like to see him."
Stearns went 8-0 in the regular season, earned the top seed in Eastern C and defeated Orono (54-8), Foxcroft Academy (14-13) and John Bapst (20-7) to make it to Fitzpatrick Stadium.
The Minutemen tied for the Class C title in 1974 and 1975 and won it outright in 1982, 1984, 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1998. They fell in the 1986, 1993 and 1994 state games. Stearns also tied for the Class D championship in 1964.
The Minutemen and Clippers have never met.
Yarmouth is thrilled to live to play another week, but the Clippers aren't about to rest on their laurels.
"We're ready to try hard and show what Yarmouth's made of, not just a lot rich boys," said Proscia. "We can play football. Stearns is tough. They have a great running game. We'll have to put a lot of heart into it and try to stop their running game. I'm excited."
"I think it's just begun," said O'Toole. "We'll work like we have all year. We won't take a break now. It can go either way, but we haven't done all this work to settle for nothing."
"We'll keep working hard all week," Neujahr said. "We've done that all year. We'll play with a lot of heart next week. We want to finish it off."
Hartman knows the final step won't be easy.
"Stearns plays great defense," he said. "I think we have another Lisbon. They won't come down here and get the snot knocked out of them. They won't waste their time. We have young players. We'll have to see how much energy these guys have."
Eleven tests have been passed.
Destiny's darlings are one win away.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com