Round one goes to Yarmouth
YARMOUTH—There are very few things in life that deliver time after time after time, especially amid intense hype.
One rivalry that does just that is the Yarmouth-Falmouth boys' soccer Passion Play, which consistently produces incredible drama.
Local fans were treated to the first of a likely three compelling chapters in the 2011 version of the rivalry Saturday night at Yarmouth High School.
The host Clippers, the defending Class B state champions, continued their resurgence from an 0-2 start this fall, crawling out of a 1-0 halftime deficit to emerge with a stirring 2-1 triumph thanks to second half goals from senior Ryan Maguire and sophomore David Murphy.
Yarmouth is now 5-2-1 on the season, has beaten Falmouth four straight times for the first time this century and handed the Yachtsmen their first loss in five outings this fall thanks to a superb team effort which featured strong senior leadership and critical contributions from underclassmen.
"We've been fighting all year," said Maguire. "We know we have a team here. We're not a bunch of individual players. We know we're not as great technically as we have been. The emphasis is outworking the other team. We stay mentally tough. We knew we could rally back. We knew we were tougher than them."
Here we go again
While it may seem that Falmouth and Yarmouth have dueled forever, the rivalry really escalated when the Yachtsmen joined the Clippers in Class B for the 1999 season.
Since then, each team has held the upper hand, but never for long.
After Yarmouth had the edge in Mike Hagerty's first three seasons as coach (1997-1999), Falmouth bounced back and won four successive Class B championships from 2000-2003, going 7-0-1 against the Clippers in the process. Yarmouth won successive titles in 2004 and 2005, but didn't have to face the Yachtsmen in the playoffs.
The teams have met in the postseason every year since.
In 2006 and 2007, Falmouth vanquished Yarmouth in the semifinals and went on to the Class B crown. In 2008, in the teams' first Western B Final meeting, in arguably the most memorable Clippers-Yachtsmen battle in recent memory, visiting underdog Yarmouth rallied from a 1-0 halftime deficit for a 2-1 win and went on to win it all. Falmouth bounced back in 2009, scoring three times in the second half to beat the Clippers in the regional final before taking the title.
Last year, Yarmouth swept the Yachtsmen in three meetings for the first time this century, holding on for a 1-0 home win (the Clippers' first victory over Falmouth on their home turf), triumphing, 2-1, at Falmouth (in the first meeting on the Yachtsmen's new turf), then eking out a palpitating 1-0 overtime win on Cotter Jackson's goal in the regional final. The Clippers then dominated Ellsworth in the state game to make it 11 straight seasons that the Class B champion hailed from either Falmouth (seven times) or Yarmouth.
Entering Saturday, in all, since 2000, the Yachtsmen held a 15-6 edge over the Clippers, with five ties.
So far this year, Falmouth appeared to have the upper hand. The Yachtsmen, despite a sporadic playing schedule, won their first four outings, 5-0 over visiting Poland, 14-1 at Lake Region, 2-1 at Cape Elizabeth and 2-1 at home over York.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, found itself behind the eight ball even before the season began. Not only was last year's juggernaut (arguably the finest team in program history) heavily affected by graduation, but heading into 2011, the Clippers were decimated by injuries.
Not surprisingly, Yarmouth stumbled early, falling by 2-1 scores at home to Cape Elizabeth and at York. To their credit, however, the Clippers kept working and good things have come. Yarmouth got in the win column with a 2-0 home triumph over rival Greely, then held off visiting Fryeburg, 1-0. After settling for a scoreless home tie against Freeport, the Clippers romped at Lake Region (8-0) and battled to eke out a stirring 2-1 win at Greely Thursday on sophomore Travis Hamre's late rebound tally.
Saturday night's special was taut throughout and demonstrated why both teams are championship caliber once again.
Neither team had a good scoring chance until the 25th minute, when Falmouth senior Brandon Tuttle split two defenders and broke into the box, but Yarmouth sophomore Chandler Smith (in his first game back from injury) broke up his bid.
With 8:15 left in the 40-minute first half, the visitors struck first, showing how opportunistic they can be. Junior J.P. White sent one of his precision passes into the box where Clippers sophomore Wes Crawford got his head on it. Trouble was, the ball went directly to Yachtsmen junior Grant Burfiend, whose header got past Yarmouth senior goalkeeper Chris Knaub and went into the top left corner of the goal for a 1-0 lead.
"They had a great finish and it was a great header to the upper right, but we bounced back well," Knaub said. "I know Wes was feeling it, but he came out and played great."
In the 35th minute, Maguire raced down the left sideline with senior Eamon Costello to his right and only one defender to contend with the two of them. Maguire passed the ball ahead to Costello, but he was offsides and the play was whistled dead. In the 38th minute, Clippers freshman Adam LaBrie launched a long shot that went wide and it was on to halftime.
Yarmouth left the field and went right into its shed where the door closed quickly. Hagerty then set about refocusing his charges.
"There wasn't screaming or yelling," Hagerty said. "All things considered, where we are right now, it wasn't a bad first half, we just fouled too much. We had chances."
With 30:09 to play in regulation, the Clippers started to press as Hamre's through ball to Maguire was just off the mark and Falmouth sophomore goalkeeper Will D'Agostino grabbed it. At the other end, Burfiend shot just wide as he looked to double the lead.
In the 51st minute, Yarmouth earned three successive corner kicks, but could put nothing on goal. With 25 minutes to play, LaBrie was knocked down in the box, but to the Clippers' coaching staff's chagrin, no foul was called.
With 21:11 remaining, Yarmouth's do-everything senior Sam Torres shot just wide from a tough angle.
Finally, with 19:17 left, the equalizer came. Maguire got the ball on the right side, dribbled around a defender to shoot with his powerful left foot and he launched a low rocket from 25-yards out. Although the shot was at D'Agostino, the goalie couldn't handle the angle and velocity and it slipped into the net to tie the score.
"Every single person on the team brought it," Maguire said. "I was just trying to get it on frame. That's what we've worked on all week. We were trying to create a little space. We got lucky and they got lucky. It happens."
"I was so excited how we came out in the second half," Hagerty said. "We didn't make big changes. We just had to be cleaner, smarter and play harder. In the second half, I think we outworked them a bit. We benefited from a wet field and a low, hard shot. We tell Ryan he hits the ball so well, if he keeps it on frame, good things will happen."
With 16:50 remaining, Falmouth's promising freshman Luke Velas rushed in, but Yarmouth junior Ethan Cyr was there to break up the play.
The game would be decided with 6:20 to go and again Maguire was right in the middle of things. Racing for a pass from LaBrie, Maguire was fouled outside the box, setting up a free kick.
Most on hand expected Maguire to send another bullet on net, but the Clippers mixed things up and Torres took the shot. His low blast to D'Agostino's right appeared ticketed for the net, but D'Agostino made a sensational diving save. Unfortunately for the Yachtsmen, the rebound came right to a charging Murphy, who banged it home for a 2-1 advantage.
"It felt great," Murphy said. "It was a great shot by Sam. The ball came right to me and I had to finish. We're really working a lot better as a team. Everyone's stepping up and playing as a team. We were just all positive and tried to stay positive. It worked."
"I've been playing in the back, but I know I'll have opportunities on offense," said Torres. "My team doesn't need me on offense. I had to move back for the team. We got Chandler back, so I have more freedom now."
"We knew we can close out a game," Maguire said. "We have a core of kids who are back from last year. I don't think we were down a goal last year. The first-year varsity players are picking up on the intensity. Sam's had trouble with his foot recently, but he said he was feeling it and I trust him more than anyone. We've played with each other for a long time. We have great plays designed. Murphy had a great run through at the right time."
"The second goal was a designed set piece," Hagerty added. "We had some of those earlier in the season that we put over the frame. We want to make the goalie make the save. David did a really good job, I thought, following that shot. It was a disciplined, smart soccer play."
Anyone who's watched Falmouth's boys' soccer team over the years knows that no lead is safe against the Yachtsmen and sure enough, the visitors went all out for the equalizer. The Clippers' defense was impenetrable, however, and cleared loose ball after loose ball out of the zone.
Finally, with time winding down, Falmouth earned a free kick from the right sideline. Junior Andrew Murry sent a high, lofting shot toward the goal. As seemingly every player on the field converged, soaring above the crowd was Knaub, who cradled the ball in his arms and held on as the final horn sounded.
Yarmouth 2 Falmouth 1.
"Falmouth's a very dangerous team," said Knaub. "They can come back at any time. I was thinking I had to get it. Anything in the air has to be mine. It was a perfect ball and I got it.
"We fed off of each other's energy. We came out of the shed at halftime feeling confident. We weren't down at all. We knew what we had to do and that we were capable of it. We've just grown together. We started out as a team that hadn't played much together. We lost a lot of good players last year. David and (sophomore) Ben Decker have stepped up huge in the midfieild. Sammy dropping back is huge. Ever since he dropped back, I don't think we've lost. Everyone's playing great. Having Chandler and Eamon filter back in is fantastic."
In celebration, the victorious Clippers were joined by a throng of fellow students and a large group of "buddies," youth players who were involved in pregame and halftime festivities.
All in all, it was a sweet taste of November in late September.
"Our team's all about facing adversity and reacting the right way," said Torres. "We can sulk and complain about our injuries and our terrible start, but we never once thought about it. We moved on. We've worked hard in practice. We're starting to peak right now and we're going to keep it going. We knew the Falmouth goal was a mistake. Wes miscleared the one ball, but I went over and talked to him and told him to pick his head up. In the second half, Wes played the best half he's played all season.
"Year after year, we know what Falmouth's going to do. They're going to play hard and do the right things tactically. We're starting to read their team pretty well. We came in prepared, knew what we needed to do and it was about executing. Our soccer skills are slowly progressing. It's been a quick turnaround. I knew we had it in us."
"It was a great game," Hagerty added. "Right now, Falmouth's technically a little better than us. They're cleaner. They're the best team we've played so far. They outplayed us in the first half. We really dug ourselves in a hole because we fouled them too often. I think that was our youth, excitement and them being better than us. They have a few more upperclassmen and a few more healthy kids. We settled in and our bench players got more comfortable. Some of our kids were seeing their first varsity minutes in front of that crowd (a full house of roughly 1,000 people) at that pace. I'm proud of how they responded.
"I'm surprised by three or four kids who are playing key roles that people might not notice. (Junior) Drew Grout in the back, it's his first year playing varsity. He's had to play a couple positions. I'm surprised at Alex Kurtz. He's a senior, but he hasn't played soccer in five years. (Junior) Mark Brown played very well tonight. Their effort is contagious."
Hagerty also had great praise for some of his senior leaders.
"Josh (Britten, out for the season with an injured shoulder) can't play, but he gave a speech to the team before the game and after we came out for halftime. For him to step up and speak was big for us.
"Chris had a great second half. He made a big save. He's so good in the air.
"Sam has been such a fabulous leader. People don't believe me when I tell them this, but in four years he's never complained. There are times when high school coaches stunt the growth of players because we put them where we need them, not where they fit best, but Sammy's such a smart soccer player. He just makes good, calm decisions. Twice today, he faked a pass, cut it back, held on for an extra second and had the right way to pass it. That's a college-thinking-level play. He could easily be one of the best strikers in the league. He could easily be one of the best midfielders in the league, but he's playing in the back for us and he's one of the best in the league there. His selflessness and sacrifice have been huge for us."
Many battles left
Falmouth took the loss in stride and knows it will have another opportunity (perhaps two) to gain a measure of revenge.
"I thought we played well in the first half," said longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. "When (Yarmouth) got that (first) goal, I think it deflated us a little bit, which happens sometimes. We'll learn from it and move on. We haven't played. We hadn't played in eight days."
Falmouth (fourth in the Western Class B Heal Points standings, as of Sunday morning) hosts Greely Monday, goes to Fryeburg Wednesday and is at Freeport Saturday. The Yachtsmen also have games remaining at Greely and York and home tilts against the likes of Gray-New Gloucester, Freeport, Yarmouth (Oct. 14) and Cape Elizabeth.
"We have nine games left and we have one regular practice which isn't a day before or after a game the rest of the season," Halligan said. "We just need to play. I think we'll be fine."
The Clippers moved up to second (behind York) in the Heals after Saturday's win. They host dangerous Gray-New Gloucester Monday, then are off until Saturday when they visit Poland. Yarmouth goes to Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth and hosts North Yarmouth Academy and York to close the regular season.
If this team continues to improve as they have the past couple weeks, look out.
"We want to keep up the intensity," Maguire said. "We're going to use this momentum and energy and carry it through."
"We're not going to stop," Torres said. "We're not going to celebrate. We can get complacent, but we'll keep pushing every single day."
"The team piece is getting better," Hagerty added. "We weren't necessarily on the same page when we played York, Cape, even Fryeburg. I was hoping we'd get better. We still have to get better because Falmouth and York are better than us right now. These guys believe they can play with anybody. I'm a little surprised it's here now. I thought it would be more of an October thing.
"We still have a long way to go. We have three more games we could easily lose and Gray on Monday is a very dangerous team. It's over there. High school kids don't like to play on Monday night. It's on grass. There's a potential for a letdown."