Yarmouth beats Falmouth in OT thriller for Western B title
YARMOUTH—This goal was golden indeed.
With the season on the line and over 86 palpitating minutes in the books, Yarmouth senior Cotter Jackson found himself in the right place and etched his name in Clippers' lore Wednesday evening.
After Yarmouth and rival Falmouth, the defending Class B state champion, battled into overtime, Jackson ended matters when he pounced on a loose ball in the box and sent a shot past Yachtsmen senior goalkeeper Ben Goffin to give the Clippers a hard-fought 1-0 victory in the Western B title game.
Falmouth's season ended at 11-5-1, while Yarmouth (16-0-1) advances to face Ellsworth in the Class B state game, Saturday at either Falmouth High or Hampden Academy at a time to be announced.
"I'm excited beyond belief and I'm proud of every single person on this field," said Jackson, amid a delirious post-goal celebration. "I couldn't ask for more. We always know that we work hard and if we do, we win. We never surrendered and gave it our all. We left it all on the field."
The dominance of the Falmouth and Yarmouth boys' programs this century has been well documented. The Yachtsmen have won Class B seven times since 2000 and the other three years saw the Clippers celebrate a championship. In many of those seasons, the rivals were the two top teams in the state (regardless of class) and that was arguably the case again in 2010.
Yarmouth has enjoyed a magical ride this fall. The Clippers went 13-0-1 in the regular season (the lone blemish was a 1-1 tie at Cape Elizabeth) and earned the top seed for the Western B playoffs. Yarmouth had no trouble with No. 8 Oak Hill, 3-0, in the quarterfinals (junior Spanish exchange student Pau Melero had two goals and senior standout Luke Pierce scored the third), then edged No. 4 York, 1-0, in Saturday night's semifinals (on a second half goal from Pierce).
Falmouth struggled in the regular season, losing twice each to Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth, but its 9-4-1 mark was good for third in the region. Last Wednesday, in the quarterfinals, the Yachtsmen edged No. 6 Gray-New Gloucester, 1-0, on sophomore Cooper Lycan's second half goal. In the semis, Saturday at Maranacook, Falmouth fell behind 1-0 early, but drew even on a goal from senior Sam White on a free kick. Then, in overtime, White set up junior Andrew Murry for the winner.
Earlier this year, Yarmouth beat Falmouth for the first time ever on the Clippers' turf field, 1-0, Sept. 11. On Oct. 12, in the first meeting on the Yachtsmen's new turf field, Yarmouth held on for a 2-1 triumph.
The teams had met eight previous times in the playoffs, with Falmouth holding a 6-2 edge. This was the third straight season that the rivals have squared off in the regional final. Two years ago, the visiting Clippers rallied for a stunning 2-1 victory (on a Pierce header off a corner kick in the waning moments). Last fall, the Yachtsmen got revenge, erupting for three second half goals en route to a 3-0 triumph.
Yarmouth knew that beating Falmouth three times in one season would be very, very difficult and that proved to be true in a contest that lived up to billing in front of a huge throng of boisterous and appreciative fans who filled the bleachers and ringed the length of the field.
In the sixth minute, the Clippers almost struck first when junior Josh Britten roared past four defenders before crossing the ball on goal, but Goffin managed to get a fingertip on the pass and sent it out of harm's way.
The Yachtsmen's potent offense made its presence felt with 31:08 to play in the 40-minute first half when senior Michael Bloom raced in, but Yarmouth junior goalkeeper Chris Knaub (who would play a huge role all over the field) raced out to kick the ball away.
Yarmouth coach Mike Hagerty instituted a new wrinkle for the playoffs, having Knaub race up to throw the ball in from the sideline. With 24:53 left before halftime it almost resulted in a goal as Knaub's throw neared the goal, forcing Goffin to punch it out. He managed only to knock up straight up in the air, but the Clippers couldn't pounce and the game remained scoreless.
With 12:12 to play in the half, junior Ryan Maguire had a good look after a throw in, but shot wide. Less than two minutes later, junior Sam Torres crossed the ball on target, but no one was there to bang it home.
With 3:25 left, Knaub had to make a save on a Bloom header and an even first half ended 0-0, with both teams attempting two shots on frame (Yarmouth had two corner kicks to none for the visitors).
Both teams would have golden chances to take the lead in the second half.
Falmouth got its first corner kick opportunity with 36:20 to play. With the always-dangerous White spearheading the Yachtsmen's set pieces, the Clippers were on their heels, but the threat passed.
With 25:45 remaining, Pierce passed to Torres running free, but the play was blown dead as Yarmouth was ruled off-sides. Five minutes later, Maguire's free kick from the side resulted in a Pierce header that went just high.
Knaub then made every Clipper player, coach and fan's heart stop for a moment when he nonchalantly came out of the goal and kicked away White's long serve with 18:39 to play.
With 12:55 showing, Yarmouth appeared to finally have the break it needed.
Torres raced in, forced Goffin to come out of the goal, then served the ball to a wide open Maguire, but Maguire's shot missed the open net.
"I thought I put my foot on the ball, but it didn't go in," Maguire said. "I give credit to (senior) Campbell (Belisle-Haley) and Luke who told me to keep my head up."
"Our team picked Ryan up and he played well," said Pierce.
"Ryan was mortified," Hagerty added. "However, he went out and played even harder. That's how we want them to respond. We tell kids it's not about the play that just happened, but it's about the next play."
Two minutes later, at the other end, Bloom took a pass from Murry and shot just high.
With 8:23 to go, Pierce fought off three defenders and unleashed a low shot, but Goffin made the save.
A minute later, Bloom passed in the middle to White, who one-timed a rocket with his left foot, which went just wide.
As time wound down, Knaub broke up a Murry rush and made a save on a Bloom header.
"We have Chris and he's a special goalie," Hagerty said. "He really commands the air. I'm so proud of his growth through the year. (Assistant) coach (Dale) Wing worked so hard with him. He's never fearful coming off his line and he makes the right decision. His athletic intelligence is off the charts."
"Big-time players make big-time plays and that was happening all over the field," said Falmouth's longtime coach Dave Halligan. "It was end to end, I was exhausted watching it."
The game would go to overtime.
In Maine high school soccer, overtime is decided by two "sudden victory" 15-minute overtimes. If neither team scores, it's off penalty kicks.
That wouldn't be necessary Wednesday.
Yarmouth entered the OT already playing without senior defensive stalwart Kyle Groves (given a yellow card late in regulation) and just 1:18 into the extra session, freshman Chandler Smith received a yellow, giving the visitors a great opportunity.
Instead, the Clippers would finally put an end to the game.
The winner came with 8:47 left in the first overtime. After the ball went out of bounds, possession Yarmouth to the left of the goal, Knaub ran up to throw it in. His launch went all the way across the goal mouth where Goffin punched it to Maguire, who managed to put a shot on frame. The ball trickled through the defense and found its way to Jackson, who wouldn't be denied.
At 7:45 p.m., Jackson's redirected shot eluded Goffin, tickled the twine and unleashed pandemonium on the field as the hero was mobbed by his teammates and seemingly half the town of Yarmouth, who raced on to the pitch, while Hagerty ran into the embrace of girls' coach Rich Smith, whose team had its fine season end in agony at the hands of Falmouth four days prior.
Final score: Clippers 1 Yachtsmen 0.
"The ball popped out and I saw Ryan have it lined up for a shot," said Jackson. "Luckily, it just popped back over to me and I tapped it in and luckily it found the back of the net. Often times I can get a little hotheaded and get above myself, but this time I made sure it bounced off my foot and into the back of the net.
"I would have loved to have finished it in normal game time. I went into OT confident. I have confidence in everyone on the field. I knew we'd get the job done."
Maguire was thrilled to earn redemption.
"To be honest, I was a little nervous going to overtime, but I knew we'd prevail," he said. "I was just trying to get it on frame. That's what we've been doing all year. It happened to find Cotter's foot. He has the best touch on the team and he wasn't going to miss from there."
Knaub, who started the play, had a great vantage point to witness its happy conclusion.
"It was definitely an interesting night," he said. "I'm glad (me throwing the ball in) paid off. We thought about it earlier in the year, but didn't have a chance. We decided to incorporate it last game and worked on it in practice and it worked out. I knew we'd put one in. We worked so hard the whole game. I saw it bounce around and Cotter hit it in and I don't know what happened next. I won't lie, I was walking back, waiting to see if it would go in."
"It finally paid off," said Hagerty. "We knew we had that in our bag of tricks. Last year, we ran some plays off it and it was effective. We always tweak our set pieces. That we knew would be our big surprise. Cotter does a terrific job on set pieces. He and Ryan and Pau, their job is to finish the mess since Luke presents such a challenge. I don't know who had the first touch. It ended up in a scrum. We always talk about being quick, but don't rush. Cotter did that. A lot of kids kick that ball wide or over. I could see his long leg wind up through the crowd. He did a great job. We've played him in three different positions this year."
"We pulled one of our forwards back and put him in the goal like a corner kick and we handled it all right until the end when they got a bounce," Halligan lamented.
The Yarmouth "team" had found a way yet again.
"This is amazing," said Pierce. "I'm speechless. It was such a nice team win. So many guys stepped up on all fronts. It was all out, back-and-forth. It's nice to do it at home. We weren't nervous at all. We have the utmost confidence in our keeper and our defense. It came down to guts. We had nothing but good thoughts going into overtime. It was pure adrenaline and guts at the end of it."
"That was a blast," Hagerty said. "Such a good soccer game. The whole ride has been great. I used to joke that I didn't want to play Falmouth, but it was great, that much sweeter. Falmouth's a fantastic team. It was the best game of the year. It was clean. Both teams came to play tonight. The first game was a little rough. The second was better, but still a little controversial. I think tonight was one of the best games I've been involved in and not just because of the result.
"The game really opened up in the second half. Both teams had chances. It was a terrific battle. I couldn't be prouder of this group to play so consistently all year. With all this talent, they put the team first all the time. It's great when good things happen to good people and these kids are so deserving. Such a great reflection of the town and community."
One goal shy
Falmouth was disheartened by the result, but was valiant and sporting in defeat.
"It was good defense between two good teams that really went at it hard and have a lot of respect for each other," Halligan said. "It went back and forth. We had our chances. Their keeper came up big."
The Yachtsmen's 11-5-1 record marked their lowest win total since 1999, but they made great progress over the course of the season.
"We came a long ways from the beginning of the year," Halligan said. "I'm happy with my guys. The seniors had their chances. They won a couple. Sam White, Nick Bachman, Michael Bloom, Ben Goffin, they all did a great job and worked hard on their game. It's disappointing for them, but you have to dare to be here. I'm awfully proud of them. They played like champions even though they didn't come away with a championship, but so did Yarmouth. They deserved it. They have some terrific players. They'll be a terrific representative Saturday."
State championship Saturday
Yarmouth will meet up with Ellsworth (17-0) Saturday. The Clippers are seeking their fourth Class B title since 2004, seventh since 1973 and eighth title overall (a Class C crown from 1982 is also on the resume).
Yarmouth and Ellsworth shared the 1989 Class B crown after playing to a 2-2 tie in the state game. They also squared off in the 2004 final (a 1-0 Clippers' triumph).
While Yarmouth was exuberant over vanquishing Falmouth in the regional final, it won't rest on its laurels and will seek to finish the job against the Eagles Saturday.
"We're confident," Hagerty said. "We've played Ellsworth before. We know (Brian) Higgins is the winningest active coach in Maine (17 regional crowns in 37 years). They're big and they're tough. They do a good job on corner kicks."
"We're enjoying this," Maguire said. "The next game won't be easy. The teams from the east are as good and physical as the Western Maine Conference."
"We play together," Knaub said. "This is the tightest team I've been on. We don't play for ourselves, but for our town. I'm excited. I know we have one more in us."
Fittingly, Jackson, the hero, had the final word.
"As a senior, I want nothing more than to bring home a championship. Not just for me and the other seniors, but for everyone. The whole town."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com