YARMOUTH—In a season which has seen its share of dramatic victories, the Falmouth field hockey team pulled off its most improbable triumph yet.
Trailing host and defending Class C state champion North Yarmouth Academy, 1-0, with time winding down Friday afternoon, it appeared that the Yachtsmen were going to fall short, but for the third time this year, they struck in the final minute.
Less than 48 hours after a 2-1 win over Fryeburg, on a goal with 53 seconds remaining, Falmouth senior Megan Fortier, who a year ago helped lead the Panthers to the title, broke her former team’s heart when she scored on a penalty corner with 24 seconds to play and then, in the second overtime, broke free and scored again to give the Yachtsmen a stirring 2-1 victory, their fourth in a row, as they improved to 8-4-1 on the season, dropping NYA to 9-4.
“I don’t think it gets better than this,” Fortier said. “I talked about it with my team, that this was the game to win. After (Fryeburg), it was kind of like another big game. We were all hyped for it.”
NYA has a new coach this year in Tracy Quimby and lost a lot of talent to graduation and transfers, but the Panthers have remained near the top of the Western Class C standings, winning nine of 12 prior to Friday. The only losses came at Greely , reigning Western B champion York and rival Sacopee Valley. NYA had won five in a row coming in, the most recent being an 8-0 home romp over Poland Wednesday and a 2-0 victory at Traip Thursday.
Falmouth, which struggled by its standards in 2010, losing to nemesis York in the quarterfinals, has returned to prominence this fall. The Yachtsmen went 4-0-1 to start the year, highlighted by a 4-3 home win over Greely Sept. 7 on sophomore Mikey Richards’ game-winner with three seconds to play. After losing at home to York in overtime, in a game it led late, Falmouth also fell at Fryeburg, Greely and York again, in overtime, again. The Yachtsmen bounced back with big home wins over Gray-New Gloucester and Wells, then beat Fryeburg in dramatic fashion.
Falmouth and NYA haven’t played much over the years, but they did meet in 2010, a game the Panthers won, 2-0, at Falmouth.
Friday, NYA appeared poised to beat the Yachtsmen once more, but the cardiac kids had the final say.
Neither team scored in the first half, but there were plenty of opportunities.
Ten minutes in, Fortier took her first shot, after a failed clear, but Panthers freshman goalie Elizabeth Coughlin made the save.
With 16:46 to go in the 30-minute first half, Fortier sent a cross through the box, but no one was there to tap it home. A minute later, Fortier took a pass from sophomore Jillian Rothweiler (the hero of the Fryeburg win), but shot just wide.
The onslaught continued the rest of the half as a Fortier cross was cleared at the last minute, senior Ali Carver’s pass trickled through the box untouched, Rothweiler took a pass from Fortier and shot, only to have a defender clear the ball away, sophomore Leika Scott shot just wide and after eluding three defenders, Fortier’s pass in front was cleared.
The tide turned quickly in the second half as NYA took the lead less than two minutes in.
With 28:12 to go in regulation, Panthers senior standout Katherine Millett, one of the state’s premier players, got a chance to strut her stuff and she somehow backhanded home a shot from an almost impossible angle from the left side of the goal. Somehow the ball squeezed past Falmouth sophomore goalie Hillary Nash and rattle the cage for a 1-0 NYA advantage.
Then, the Yachtsmen would scratch for the equalizer.
With 22:45 to go, Fortier’s backhanded shot on a 2-on-1 was saved by Coughlin. Six minutes later, Richards got in close, but couldn’t get a shot away in traffic.
The Panthers had a great chance to ice the game with 7:49 remaining, but Nash made a kick save of a shot and Millett’s follow-up, which she flicked backhanded, appeared ticketed for the upper right corner of the net, only to be knocked away by Carver.
That led to Quimby later asking for clarification on that play, as she felt a call should have been made.
“Katherine took a high flip from the left side to the right upper side of the goal cage and we wanted clarification because one of their players had put their stick in the air to stop it,” Quimby said. “There’s a rule in the book that says a field player can’t make a stop on a shot above their head. It was determined not to be dangerous. I wanted to clarify it for future reference since she does it often.”
With 3:27 to go, NYA sophomore Kayla Rose had a shot to clinch the victory, but again, Nash made the stop.
With 2:13 showing, Fortier sent a long blast just wide. A mere 27 seconds later, Fortier had a reverse shot in close, but Coughlin made a kick save.
The Yachtsmen appeared doomed to lose a heartbreaker, but earned a corner with just under 30 seconds left. Carver inserted the ball to Fortier, who blasted a shot on cage. Initially it appeared as if the ball was heading toward Coughlin’s pad, but somehow, it got through, rattled the cage and deadlocked the score with only 24.8 seconds remaining.
“I don’t mind having a flair for the dramatic,” Fortier said. “We stay calm. We knew what we needed to do. It was just executing it. It was a perfect insert and all I had to do was hit it in. We’d been working up to it. I didn’t know if it was going in.”
“It’s a tough thing to do, play against your old school and friends,” said Falmouth coach Robin Haley. “You want to play well and make a difference. She did. She finished it off and I’m happy for her.”
“We had a long talk about (Megan),” Quimby said. “We do know her. She’s no stranger. The question was, do we face her? The girls didn’t want to do that. In the last 15 minutes, we did go into defensive mode and moved our experienced players back.”
It was on to overtime, where teams play up to two eight-minute “sudden victory” sessions.
In the first OT, Falmouth had chance after chance to win the game.
The Yachtsmen had five corners in eight minutes, but couldn’t convert. Fortier had a shot blocked by a defender, Scott (from Fortier) had a shot saved, senior Catherine Hebson had a shot tipped just wide and with time winding down, Hebson had a shot on the doorstep that Coughlin denied.
In was on to the second overtime and for most of that session, it looked like the teams were destined for a tie.
With 5:45 left, Falmouth earned its 12th corner (the Panthers, conversely only had two), but had it broken up. Two minutes later, Fortier fed Hebson in front, but again Coughlin stood tall and made the save. With 2:14 left, Millett’s bid to win it for NYA was broken up by Yachtsmen junior defender Katie Cooleen.
Falmouth then transitioned the other way and got the winner.
Cooleen played a long pass up ahead to Fortier, who sped past one defender, then eluded another. It was then a one-on-one situation with Coughlin and Fortier wouldn’t be denied, sending a shot past the goalie and into the cage to end it.
Yachtsmen 2 Panthers 1.
“It was slightly frustrating in overtime,” Fortier said. “I did think it was going to be a tie. We kept pushing and did what we needed to do. Katie sent a great long ball down. I looked up and there was one defender. I tapped it around. I stayed calm. I knew we were going to finish it off.”
“I would have to preferred to have it not be the way it was today,” said Haley. “We started out really flat. Coming off such a huge win, it’s hard to rebound. The big difference for us today, is that we hung there, as frustrated as we were. We didn’t play the way we expected. We knew it would be hard against NYA since they’re such a great team. They made it that much more difficult.
“We were lucky to get scoring opportunities at the end. I’m really proud. We hung in there and were able to finish it off, but it wasn’t pretty today. We dominated the first half. The second half, I think the edge went to NYA. In overtime, it’s anybody’s game. We’ll take it though. We needed it.”
NYA was disappointed, largely because a win or tie would have put it in first in the standings.
“Its very tough,” Quimby said. “I told them this is what (Falmouth) did against Fryeburg. They knew and were ready. I’m extremely proud of how the girls played. They played to their abilities today. Every single player. This is what we need to do all the time.”
The Panthers got a tremendous defensive effort from junior Bailey Clock and Coughlin certainly turned heads with her multiple clutch saves.
“Bailey had an amazing game,” Quimby said. “She always seems to find the open players too. (Elizabeth’s) a freshman. It works to her advantage. She didn’t know Meg, so she didn’t have that fear. That helped her. She had an excellent game.”
Each team has one final game in the regular season, then will look to make a postseason run.
NYA (which closes at Waynflete Tuesday) will wind up second to Sacopee Valley in the Western C Heal Points standings, but will get up to two home playoff games and if it gets to the regional final, will play on turf at Thornton Academy.
“I’m looking forward to playing teams like Lisbon and Telstar, teams we haven’t played yet,” Quimby said. “This was the peak right here. I hope we can keep this intensity up and take it to the tournament.”
Falmouth finishes at Cape Elizabeth Tuesday. The Yachtsmen moved up to fifth in the Western B Heals and would love to ascend to fourth or higher to earn a home playoff game.
“We’re definitely peaking at the right time,” Fortier said. “We can still get better. We know what we have to do and we’re ready to go into playoffs.”
“We’d love to have home field, but we just want to get in,” Haley added.