It's Falmouth! At last!
FALMOUTH—Suffice it to say that the Falmouth boys' lacrosse team wants what the Cape Elizabeth Capers have.
A state title.
Also recognition for being the best team around.
The Yachtsmen are almost there.
Wednesday evening, Falmouth, for the third year in a row, had a crack at beating the storied Capers in the Western B Final and moving on to the state game for the first time.
In 2009, it wasn't quite ready to match the state's flagship program on the big stage.
Last year, the Yachtsmen took an early lead, but couldn't finish the job, losing in painstaking fashion in overtime.
This time around?
In a microcosm of the 2011 season, host Falmouth was better at the start, Cape Elizabeth made things very interesting late, but when all was said and done, the Yachtsmen celebrated their first regional title, holding off the Capers, 11-9.
Seniors Nick Bachman and Brendan McDonnell spearheaded the offense in the first half as Falmouth raced to a 6-1 lead. An improbable goal from junior defensive standout Mike Ryan with 4:56 to play, followed by Bachman's fourth goal 46 seconds later, made it 11-5 and appeared to end all doubt, but Cape Elizabeth demonstrated its heart and pride one final time, erupting for four goals in a 1 minute, 53 second span to petrify the Yachtsmen and their fans.
But this time, Falmouth finished the job as standout junior goalie Cam Bell made a late save and ran out the clock on the exhilarating win.
Falmouth improved to 13-1, ended the Capers' year at 11-3 and advanced to meet Eastern B champion North Yarmouth Academy (8-7) in the Class B Final, Saturday at 3 p.m., at Fitpzatrick Stadium in Portland.
"It means everything," Bachman said. "We've always wanted to be this kind of team. We knew we had the potential to do it and we did it."
Many thought Cape Elizabeth was a year away last year and the Capers lost twice to Falmouth in the regular season, but they came alive late and upset the Yachtsmen, 7-6, on Timmy Lavallee's overtime goal to advance, where they upset Yarmouth in the state final, 7-6.
This spring, the Capers were considered by many to be the favorite, but they were humbled in the opener at Falmouth, 12-4, in a game that got lopsided late. Cape Elizabeth bounced back to defeat visiting Freeport (14-0), Kennebunk (15-2), Yarmouth (13-2) and North Yarmouth Academy (17-2) before winning at Greely, 14-8 and being upset, 8-7, at Lewiston.
On May 18, the Capers welcomed Falmouth for a rematch and got a measure of revenge with an 8-7 overtime triumph (senior Wilson Laprade had the winning tally). Cape Elizabeth closed with victories at NYA (15-2), York (15-0) and Yarmouth (6-2) and a home triumph over Waynflete (16-5) to go 10-2, good for the No. 2 seed in the region.
After earning a bye into the semifinals, the Capers had their way with No. 3 Greely Saturday, rolling, 15-3, behind five goals from senior Teddy Smith.
Falmouth, meanwhile, came into the year believing (even if others didn't) that it was the best squad in the state.
In the regular season, the Yachtsmen had no peer.
After beating up on visiting Cape Elizabeth in the opener, Falmouth enjoyed decisive victories over visiting Waynflete (17-5), host defending Class A champion Scarborough (13-3), visiting NYA (14-2) and host York (15-5). Falmouth then ended Yarmouth's mindboggling nine-year, 73-game home win streak, 14-5, and less than 24 hours later, easily handled visiting Brunswick, 13-1.
The overtime loss at Cape Elizabeth followed, but the Yachtsmen closed strong, dominating visiting Yarmouth (17-0) and Greely (14-2) and host NYA (15-2) and Freeport (19-3) to go 11-1, good for the No. 1 spot in Western B.
In Saturday's semifinal round, Falmouth raced to a 6-0 lead after one period versus No. 4 Waynflete and was up 12-0 by halftime, necessitating a running clock in the second half. The Yachtsmen went on to a 17-1 triumph behind four goals from sophomore Charlie Fay, three goals and four assists from junior Mitch Tapley and three goals and two helpers from McDonnell.
In addition to its OT win a year ago, Cape Elizabeth also eliminated Falmouth from the playoffs in the 2009 regional final, 11-7.
Wednesday, the Yachtsmen left no doubt that it's them and everyone else this spring.
Falmouth got the jump 3 minutes, 22 seconds into the 12-minute first period when McDonnell took a pass from Tapley and beat Capers senior goalie Jack Roos.
"Having Mitch on the field is always a bonus for everyone else," McDonnell said. "He draws the defender. The first goal, he drew my slide and I followed my man. It was a perfect play. Mitch knew exactly where to put it and we scored. Switching to attack this year really helped me. I got comfortable dodging. I don't think many teams think of me as a threat. Before this game, I only had two or three effective dodges."
It only took 36 seconds for Cape Elizabeth to tie the score as Smith (from Lavallee, playing up) did the honors.
Neither team scored until the final minute of the first when Tapley scored unassisted to put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay.
Falmouth then dominated quarter number two.
Forty-seven seconds in, McDonnell set up Bachman's first goal. McDonnell then scored unassisted two minutes later for a 4-1 lead. Bachman took over from there, scoring unassisted with 6:49 to play in the half, then doing it again with 4:08 remaining, with his team a man-down. Bachman made a tremendous individual effort on the play which left jaws agape.
"A fast start meant absolutely everything," Bachman said. "Cape's that team where you can be up eight goals and you never feel comfortable. You always know they're such a well-coached and great team. We like to initiate from the top, see the field and get the ball moving. We don't like to have one guy do everything. I think it shows."
At the half, the Yachtsmen had a 5-3 advantage in faceoffs, had grabbed 22 ground balls and seemed in thorough control, up 6-1.
This team knew better, however, and kept the pressure on in an even third quarter.
Fifty-five seconds into the second half, sophomore Willy Sipperly got in on the act, taking a pass from Tapley and scoring a man-up goal for a 7-1 advantage. With 8:09 left in the third, Smith retrieved a ground ball and with Bell out of position fired what seemed to be a sure goal, but the goalie somehow got back in position and made a tremendous save.
Cape Elizabeth cut the deficit to 7-2 when Lavallee set up sophomore Justin Cary with 6:41 showing, but with 3:01 left, Sipperly scored unassisted, on a rocket that Roos couldn't see, let alone stop. Just 28 seconds later, Cary again (this time from Smith) scored and the Capers were down 8-3 heading for the fourth.
There, the hosts appeared to salt the win away, but the defending champs had one final surge left in them.
A Lavallee goal 28 seconds in cut the deficit to 8-4 and after Bell denied both senior Casey O'Donovan and Laprade, Smith (from Laprade) scored with 6:54 left and Cape Elizabeth was only down three.
The Yachtsmen got a little breathing room when Fay took a pass from McDonnell and scored with 5:11 remaining. Fifteen seconds later, off a draw win, Ryan ran into the offensive zone, wasn't picked up and raced in on Roos. He beat the goalie with a bounce shot and that made it 10-5.
"I was just looking to curl around and hit a middie up top, but no one was there," Ryan said. "I just saw an opening and I went with it and it went in."
Bachman scored unassisted with 4:10 to go to make it 11-5 and it appeared that that was all she wrote.
Not so fast.
The Capers got their comeback started with 2:29 to play when senior Timmy Takach scored from Smith man-up. At the 1:13 mark, Smith scored unassisted, but the lead was still four goals.
Not for long.
With 43.4 seconds showing, Cary took a pass from Smith and beat Bell to make it 11-8.
Then, with 36.8 seconds to play, O'Donovan (from Lavallee) tickled the twine and suddenly Cape Elizabeth had life, down just 11-9.
"We didn't worry about being down by however many we were down by," Capers coach Ben Raymond said. "We talked about getting one goal at a time and fighting back. That's all you can do in those situations."
The Capers won the ensuing faceoff and could have really tightened the noose, but with 11.6 seconds to go, Smith shot wide and with 4.9 seconds showing, the final shot of Smith's high school career ended up in the net of Bell, who raced upfield and ran out the clock.
"After last year, I knew what it felt like to lose in the end," Bell said. "We knew we had to pull together and hold on. I was looking to just run, not pass it at the end."
"We needed all those goals," said Falmouth coach Mike LeBel. "Two goals with 36 seconds, especially when you lose the faceoff, it's absolutely a possibility. I wish we could have eaten up a little more time. I knew (Cape) has the ability with their guys to get the ball and find the open man and go and shoot. The defensemen in that situation played a little tight. They got shots on cage and there's a good chance they'll go in. That's what happens when you go into survival mode. You have to take shots instead of working your offense."
At 7:42 p.m., the Yachtsmen were Western B champs by virtue of their 11-9 triumph.
"We've been waiting for this for four years," said McDonnell, one of eight seniors on the roster. "Cape and Yarmouth have always been the teams to beat. We never beat (Cape in the playoffs). This is a first for Falmouth. We haven't lost on our new turf. We're setting our own little record like Yarmouth has. We've subconsciously prepared for (Cape) all year. We knew we'd play this game. We knew it would be hard and that they wouldn't give up. They're great coached. They come out hard. They came out in the second half and put a couple home. They went on a couple runs. I'm just happy our defense stayed with it. We made adjustments. They have some great players on that team."
"We wanted to come out intense and I think we did and keep that intensity until the end," Ryan said. "It got a little shaky at the end, but we don't mind. I think overall, it was a great effort."
"All these guys know each other's strengths and weaknesses," LeBel added. "You couldn't ask for a better game as a spectator. This was the game of the year. We didn't luck into it. We controlled the game all day. They're outstanding. They're great players, but we controlled it for 48 minutes."
Falmouth was led by four goals from Bachman.
McDonnell and Sipperly each had two goals, Fay, Ryan and Tapley one. McDonnell and Tapley also had two assists. Ryan led the team with eight ground balls. Bloom had seven, all in the first half. The Yachtsmen grabbed 39 in total. Bell made 12 clutch saves.
"Cam played out of his mind," Bachman said. "We all had to play our best games today. When we let up a little, they took advantage."
For Cape Elizabeth, Cary had a breakout game and scored three times, as did Smith, in his swan song. Lavallee, O'Donovan and Takach had one goal each. Lavallee and Smith also had three assists apiece. Laprade finished with one. Roos made 11 saves in the final game of his superb career.
"We'll definitely miss Jack, without a doubt," Raymond said. "It's been a long time since I've had to worry about who's coming back playing goal."
Takach gave the Capers an 11-10 edge in faceoffs, beating junior Abyn Reaby-Gerwig 11 of 20 times and Ryan once.
"We just didn't have the start we wanted to, but we played a great second half," Raymond said. "I definitely feel like we ran out of time. We played really well at the end. I told coach LeBel and (Falmouth assistant) coach (Chris) Richards (a longtime Cape Elizabeth assistant), 'Too bad we didn't play five quarters today.'
"(Falmouth) had a lot of possession in the first half. They beat us on ground balls. They were patient and a lot of those possessions ended in goals. They were smart with the ball. They were more patient in the first half than the second half. When we had some good looks at goal, their goalie made good saves. We threw the ball away a little bit. The unfortunate part for us is that we didn't play our best in the first half. If we played the way we did in the last quarter in the first half, it might have been a different conversation."
The Capers had another superb season, but were disappointed to fall short.
"I think we definitely improved throughout the season," Raymond said. "A lot of kids got better throughout the year. We grew as a team. We were just two goals short and maybe a minute short. The seniors were outstanding. That's what I feel the worst about. It's such a group of great, quality kids and they didn't get to have a championship experience their senior year. You couldn't ask for a better group of kids on or off the field. They were well respected in and out of school. They worked with everybody, with little kids, they're active in everything, they get good grades, they get along and like each other. They've been great role models for the underclassmen."
Next year, Cape Elizabeth should be right back battling for the top spot.
"We have a great group coming back and we knew they'll be ready," Raymond said. "We'll work hard. We'll start with Tim Lavallee offensively. (Sophomore) Alex Bornick will be there. Justin Cary had a great game today. (Junior) Thomas Bottomley played really well."
One game left
As silly as it sounds, considering we're alluding to a state championship game, Falmouth will have to guard against overconfidence entering Saturday's contest, as most lacrosse aficionados felt that the regional final was the de facto state game.
The Yachtsmen dominated the Panthers twice in the regular season, 14-2 at home May 3 and 15-4 in Yarmouth May 27. The teams have no playoff history.
After getting this close to the pinnacle, Falmouth will compartmentalize Wednesday's landmark victory and be more than ready to win the ultimate prize.
"We have to come out and work hard," Bell said. "We have to practice like we play. We have two more days."
"This was huge, but I think we just have to focus," McDonnell said. "We have determination. We have to come into it strong. We've played NYA before. We know who's going to shoot. We know their goalie. We'll focus on what we can do to improve and what we can do to beat them. Hopefully, we'll win it."
"We have to keep our heads straight," added Bachman. "All year, we were looking forward to this regional final game, but now we have another one and we have to put it away. Everyone's looking forward to getting out for a state championship game. You don't get to do that all that often. If we play our game, stick to our game plan, I'm feeling comfortable."
The coach won't take the Panthers for granted.
"Last time we played NYA, they had a couple kids out," said LeBel. "They have some good players we have to contain. If we can't, we'll have a tough time."