Yarmouth is titletown wthout peer; Clippers win first football title, 34-6
PORTLAND—The fairy tale has come true.
The Yarmouth football program punctuated its dizzying rise from upstart to contender to champion Saturday night with a no-doubt-about-it 34-6 victory over Stearns in the Class C state final at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland.
The Clippers, who won just once in their first 18 outings as a varsity program, are now among the state's elite and helped Yarmouth High make history as the first school ever to produce a football and boys' soccer state champion in the same year.
Saturday, senior Nate Pingitore set the tone with a long kickoff return to start the game. He later rushed for three TDs, senior Nick Proscia added another and freshman quarterback Brady Neujahr threw for a fifth. The Clippers underappreciated defense did the rest and Yarmouth finished the season 12-0 with a flourish.
"There are so many good athletes and sports programs in Yarmouth and the kids knew from last year that they could do it," said Clippers coach Jim Hartman. "They focused on it, worked hard in the weight room, did everything right. It's the best group of kids I've ever coached."
Old and the new
Yarmouth and Stearns are at the opposite end of the tradition spectrum.
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 was sensational from start to finish. The Clippers opened with a 60-7 home rout of Old Orchard Beach, then survived a late rally from host Oak Hill, 20-15. Easy wins over Traip (46-7) and Sacopee (62-0) followed. On Oct. 2, Yarmouth went to Lisbon and survived, 16-14, on a late field goal. The Clippers then closed the regular year 8-0 after rolling past Boothbay (63-6), Madison (67-0) and Freeport (57-0), giving them a composite regular season scoring margin of 391-49.
Yarmouth earned the top seed for the Western C playoffs and after pummeling No. 8 Maranacook (54-6) in the quarterfinals, impressed in a 28-7 win over No. 5 Oak Hill in the semis before rallying for a stirring 14-12 victory over Lisbon in the regional final last Saturday afternoon on freshman quarterback Brady Neujahr's late 65-yard TD run.
Stearns, meanwhile, tied for the Class C title in 1974 and 1975 and won it outright in 1991, 1992, 1995 and 1998. The Minutemen fell in the 1986, 1993 and 1994 state games. Stearns also won Class B in 1982, 1984 and 1987 and tied for the Class D championship in 1964.
This year, the Minutemen 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 and Clippers had never met.
Saturday night, Yarmouth came out strong and left no doubt that it was the finest Class C team in the state this fall.
Stearns won the opening coin toss, but elected to defer possession to the second half. On the kickoff, Pingitore grabbed the ball at his 21 and raced 60 yards before Minuteman senior Cody Wallace made a touchdown-saving tackle at the Stearns 19.
"That kickoff return was the play of the game," Proscia said. "It showed we were ready to go."
The Clippers wouldn't be able to take advantage, however, as Proscia ran for a yard, junior Anders Overhaug picked up three, Proscia was held for no gain and on fourth-and-6 from the 15, Pingitore was thrown for a loss
Yarmouth's defense quickly picked up the slack, forcing a three-and-out and after a 12-yard punt return from junior Dennis Erving put the ball at the Minutemen 39, the Clippers drove for the only touchdown they would need.
After Overhaug gained 8 yards on first down, senior Asa Arden was thrown for a one-yard loss and Overhaug was stuffed for no gain, setting up a fourth-and-3 at the 32. This time, Yarmouth picked up the first down as Neujahr found Proscia (who made a nice catch on a low spiral) for an 11-yard pass. Two plays later, Neujahr dropped back again and while on the run, threw a perfect strike against his body to senior Ryan Perrier for a 17-yard score. Junior Bryce Snyder added the extra point and with 6:01 to play in the opening stanza, the Clippers were on top to stay, 7-0.
"We set the tone with field position and special teams," Hartman said. "That made the kids realize they could play here."
Yarmouth's defense forced another three-and-out, but the offense couldn't add to the lead, losing a yard on three plays before punting.
Late in the quarter, Stearns took over at the Clippers' 40, but the game was about to turn for good.
On second-and-10, senior quarterback Jared McGreevy dropped back to pass, but was sacked by Yarmouth junior Ben Weinrich for an 11-yard loss. Even worse for the Minutemen, McGreevy hurt his knee and had to leave the game.
"I saw a hole and I got right through and grabbed him and got the sack," Weinrich said.
On the ensuing play, with sophomore Jordan Morrow under center, a bad exchange led to a fumble that was recovered by Proscia at the Stearns 46.
"Our guys felt (Morrow) was a better quarterback for them," Hartman said. "We were a little worried about him. Losing their senior leader was not a good thing for them."
As the first period gave way to the second, the Clippers added to their lead.
It took eight plays to march to the end zone. Proscia got it started with an 18-yard burst. He later gained nine yards on successive rushes. On third-and-goal from the 4, Pingitore, whose availability was in question all week due to injury, took a quick pitch to his left and raced for the pylon to score. The extra point was no good, but with 9:57 to play before halftime, Yarmouth had a 13-0 advantage.
On the second play of their next series, the Minutemen gave the ball away again as a fumbled pitch was pounced on by Clippers senior Billy Clabby at the Stearns 30.
Three plays later, Yarmouth had a commanding lead.
After Overhaug gained six-yards, then 19, Pingitore scored on a 5-yard rush on a sweep right. With 7:58 to play in the half, Snyder added the point-after and the Clippers were up, 20-0.
The Minutemen moved the ball on their next series, but a block in the back and a combined sack from Weinrich and junior Carter Dorsett ended the threat.
After a Clippers punt, Stearns drove into Yarmouth territory with time winding down in the half, but could only get to the 27 before time wound down.
The Clippers took a 20-0 lead and a 123-20 disparity in yardage to the locker room.
Hartman ensured there was no overconfidence going into the third period.
"I've lost leads at halftime bigger than that," Hartman said. "You want to keep the pressure on. We talked about it. The kids were a little hyper. I had to calm them down. They had a good sense it was going to happen."
"You have to think it's 0-0 and keep playing your hardest," added Weinrich.
The Minutemen got the ball first in the second half, but lost 15 yards before having to punt. Yarmouth then drove for another TD.
Starting at the Stearns 47, Prosica picked up 13 yards. The Clippers soon faced third-and-17 and on a trick play, Pingitore threw incomplete, but a roughing the passer penalty gave Yarmouth a new set of downs. Overhaug ran for two yards, then eight and Proscia did the rest, gaining the final 16, capping the drive with a 2-yard burst. With 5:24 to play in the third period, Snyder's extra point made it 27-0.
The Minutemen fumbled the ball away again on the first play of their next series (Weinrich recovered it and returned it 10 yards) and on first-and-goal from the 8, Pingitore scored for the third time, on an 8-yard run. Snyder added another extra point and with 4:59 to go in the third, Yarmouth's scoring was done.
To its credit, Stearns played hard throughout and was rewarded with a 70-yard scoring drive. Morrow found senior William Eurich for 16 yards, but faced a second-and-10 at the Clippers' 45. There, Morrow (4-for-8, 85 yards and a TD) dropped back and found senior Ethan Michaud behind the Yarmouth secondary. Michaud completed the 45-yard pass play, but a two-point conversion pass went for naught. With 56.2 seconds to go in the third period, the Clippers had a 34-6 lead.
That's how it would end.
Yarmouth had two long, time consuming drives in the final period. The Clippers finished things off on defense and at 8:18 p.m., celebrated a state championship for the first time.
"It's so nice," said Proscia. "We've worked at it. We've chanted, 'Who are we? Champions!' Last year, we started the dynasty and this year, we got to states. You couldn't ask for a better ending. It's a great feeling to finally bring it home. We just kept pushing."
"It feels great," Weinrich said. "It's exhilarating to do it with the whole team, make it this far and win the whole thing. I thought it would be very close. We did our best and tried our hardest."
"When we were 1-17, I wasn't sure if I belonged out here," Hartman added. "The kids finally believed and did what we asked and it was off to the races. It's a great night."
Statistically for Yarmouth, which had 260 yards of offense, Proscia had 101 yards and a TD on 20 carries. He also caught a pass for 11 yards. Pingitore's three TDs came on four carries. He finished with only 18 yards, but did he ever make an impact.
"Nate was definitely the player of the game," said Proscia.
"Nate played with a sore hip flexor and didn't practice all week," Hartman said. "He couldn't walk. Somehow, he came out tonight and gutted it out. For him to do that, it gave the team a huge spark. It was fantastic."
Overhaug had 102 yards on 16 carries. Neujahr threw just five times, completing two for 28 yards and a score. He rushed three times for 17 yards.
"We ran the ball tough," Hartman said. "We did a great job. We only ran Brady a couple times, but they were big, key runs. We kept the pressure off the freshman. That's what's great about running the ball like that."
Yarmouth didn't turn the ball over, but was penalized seven times for 58 yards.
Stearns only managed 81 yards, turned the ball over three times and was flagged four times for 37 yards.
"Everyone said Stearns had the best defense in the league, but we showed we did," Proscia said. "We had a good game plan. We keyed on (junior Jude Tapley, Eurich and McGreevy) and made sure they didn't get a lot of yards."
"Stearns looked a little familiar to us, like Maranacook, on tape," Hartman said. "They did the same plays and we were successful against them. They mirrored them, but you can't judge a team on tape. We went into the game comfortable. I think we were the best team in the state in the playoffs giving up points. Proscia and (junior Jon) Held and our outside guys and are all great athletes. The line set the tone with a couple sacks. They played well after that. We'd given up some aggressive plays in the air. We kept them back this week. We were worried about covering (Eurich) out of the backfield."
Despite its size, Yarmouth can claim an athletic feat that no school in the state has accomplished. Boys' soccer drubbed Ellsworth, 5-0, in the Class B Final back on Nov. 6. Now, football has followed suit.
Don't be shocked if it happens again.
"These kids go from sport to sport and it rubs off," Hartman said. "Yarmouth plays every year for the lacrosse state title. You have a dozen lacrosse guys out here. Baseball played in the Western Maine Final. Hockey does the same thing, they're looking to go to states. I have to give the whole athletic department credit. Hopefully it continues. Soccer and football can coexist. By God, we did it. It's a credit to the whole athletic department and the breed of kids.
"We return our line. We're returning our backfield. (Sophomore Nik) Pelletier will be the fullback next year. (Sophomore Caleb) Uhl can play. We'll unloosen Brady. He'll have his turn throwing the ball next year."
"We'll try our hardest next year and we'll probably get here again," Weinrich added. "We want to make this a tradition. A dynasty."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com