Falmouth drops regional final heartbreaker at Marshwood

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Falmouth senior quarterback Jack Bryant dives for a first down as Marshwood sophomore John Valentine gives chase during the teams’ Class B South Final showdown Saturday afternoon. Bryant produced over 300 total yards through the air and on the ground, but the Yachtsmen fell just short, dropping a 31-28 thriller.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Marshwood 31 Falmouth 28

F- 7 7 6 8- 28
M- 7 7 7 10- 31

First quarter
M- Bryant 22 pass from Springer (Horton kick)
F- Ga. Aube 12 run (Walker kick)

Second quarter
M- Taran 30 pass from Springer (Horton kick)
F- Micucci 66 pass from Bryant (Walker kick)

Third quarter
F- Bryant 1 run (kick failed)
M- Horton 35 pass from Springer (Horton kick)

Fourth quarter
M- Goodwin 7 run (Horton kick)
F- Bryant 1 run (Bryant rush)
M- Horton 23 FG

SOUTH BERWICK—It was an instant classic that featured a little of everything.

Big plays.

Long drives.

Momentum-changes left and right.

Star players coming up huge in the clutch.

And even a dose of controversy.

What Saturday afternoon’s Class B South Final didn’t have, however, was the historic happy ending that the Falmouth Yachtsmen so desperately wanted and felt they deserved.

Facing top-ranked, undefeated, pedigreed Marshwood on the Hawks’ Stadium Field, third-seeded Falmouth proved once and for all that it was a legitimate title contender, giving Marshwood all it could handle for 48 minutes before its stirring run came to a close.

The Hawks, who crushed the Yachtsmen, 48-22, in the 2015 regional final in Falmouth and handled the visiting Yachtsmen, 42-19, back on Oct. 6, took a quick 7-0 lead when, after recovering a fumble deep in Falmouth territory, junior Tommy Springer threw a screen pass to sophomore Justin Bryant, which resulted in a 22-yard touchdown.

A 7-0 deficit is nothing new to the Yachtsmen, however, and as they have so many times this autumn, they drove the field and drew even when senior Garret Aube scored on a 12-yard scamper.

Early in the second quarter, after pinning Falmouth deep in its territory, Marshwood got the ball back and went on top, 14-7, when Springer hit senior Joseph Taran for a 30-yard scoring pass.

Again, back roared the Yachtsmen, as stellar senior quarterback Jack Bryant and senior Emilio Micucci hooked up for a 66-yard touchdown pass to forge a 14-14 tie which lasted into halftime.

Falmouth then went on top for the first time early in the third quarter after recovering a fumble deep in Hawks’ territory, as Bryant scored on a 1-yard dive, but a bad snap on the ensuing extra point meant the lead was six points, not seven.

Marshwood would drive retake the lead, 21-20, when Springer found senior Max Horton for a 35-yard touchdown pass in the final minute of the third and when senior Matthew Goodwin scored on a 7-yard run with 10:57 to play, the Hawks were ahead by eight.

But one more time, the Yachtsmen answered, as Bryant capped an 83-yard drive with another 1-yard run and this time, Bryant kept the ball and scored on a two-point conversion rush to tie the score for the third time, 28-28, with 5:49 remaining.

Marshwood countered, thanks to a trick play, as senior Jayke Longarini threw a halfback pass to senior Kyle Glidden to move the ball into Falmouth territory and after the drive stalled, Horton booted a 23-yard field goal with 1:19 left on the clock to put the hosts ahead for the final time.

Bryant and the Yachtsmen got the ball back at their 40 with 1:16 to go and that was more than enough time to march again.

Three Bryant completions netted 50 yards in just over 20 seconds and with the ball at the Hawks’ 10, Falmouth was on the verge of completing a dramatic comeback, but with 46.3 seconds remaining, Bryant was tackled from behind by sophomore Drew Gregor, was ruled to have fumbled on the play and Horton recovered to deliver the coup de grace.

One snap later, Marshwood ran out the clock and survived and advanced in breathtaking fashion, 31-28.

The Hawks improved to 11-0, improved to meet Northern B champion Skowhegan (7-3) in the state final next Saturday at a time to be announced at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland and in the process, ended the Yachtsmen’s stellar season at 8-3.

“It was ebbs and flows all the way through,” said Falmouth coach John Fitzsimmons. “We came down here thinking we could win. The program has come a long way and every year, we get better. This is two out of three years in a championship game. Last time, they rolled us. This time, they didn’t. I’m very proud of the kids.”

Fireworks

Marshwood was expected to play for a regional title, but Falmouth was not.

The Hawks, perennial championship contenders, won all eight of their regular season contests, by an average margin of 41-11.

As the top seed in Class B South, Marshwood dispatched No. 8 Mt. Ararat, 47-0, in the quarterfinals, then sent fourth-ranked Greely home in the semifinals, 45-19.

The Yachtsmen, who didn’t make it past the quarterfinals in 2016, had to navigate a tough regular season slate this fall and other than losses at Kennebunk (51-34) and Marshwood (42-19), passed every test, averaging 41 points in their six wins.

Falmouth earned the No. 3 seed in Class B South and after a 48-8 romp over sixth-ranked Westbrook in the quarterfinals, it sprung a 32-20 upset at No. 2 Kennebunk, the defending regional champion, last weekend.

In the teams’ regular season meeting Oct. 6, the Hawks took a 21-13 lead to the fourth quarter, then pulled away as they held Bryant without a touchdown pass.

The teams had also met twice previously in the playoffs (see sidebar, below), with Marshwood winning both.

Saturday, on a chilly and windy afternoon (the temperature at kickoff was 34-degrees and with a 10 mile-per-hour wind factored in, it felt like 26), both teams demonstrated why they’re among the state’s best, but in the end, the Hawks made one more play to prevail.

Falmouth won the opening coin toss, but deferred possession to the second half.

That appeared to be a wise move, as Marshwood went three-and-out on its first possession (a 3-yard run by Taran, a screen pass to Horton for no gain and an incomplete throw by Springer), but on the ensuing punt, the ball bounced and was ruled to have hit a Falmouth player before the Hawks recovered at the Yachtsmen 39.

That bit of good fortune got the hosts started and six plays later, they were in the end zone.

A 10-yard Springer run got things started. After Glidden ran for eight yards, Yachtsmen sophomore Shane Allen threw Justin Bryant for a one-yard loss, but Glidden moved the chains with a nine-yard burst. Falmouth senior Griffin Aube held Springer to no gain and a block-in-the-back penalty backed Marshwood up to the 22, but on the next snap, Springer threw a screen pass to the left to Bryant, who bulled into the end zone with 7:52 to go in the first quarter to break the ice. Horton added the extra point for a 7-0 lead.

The Yachtsmen have fallen behind by a 7-0 margin on multiple occasions this fall, including in the semifinals at Kennebunk, but as they’ve done all year, they bounced right back on their first possession, marching 69 yards in 10 plays, chewing up 5 minutes and 2 seconds to tie the score.

Garret Aube got things started with a 23-yard run, then picked up seven more. After junior Riley Reed gained a yard, Aube picked up the first down at the Hawks’ 36 with a two-yard run capped by a nice second effort. After Jack Bryant was held to a yard, a chop block penalty and another Bryant one-yard run set up third-and-22 from the Marshwood 48. Bryant then kept the ball to the left and appeared bottled up before breaking through a hole and fighting his way forward to the 25, as his 23-yard run moved the chains. After a false start penalty moved the ball back five yards, Bryant threw incomplete, then found Griffin Aube for 13 yards. On third-and-2, Garret Aube got the call and he ran to the left side and didn’t stop until he reached the end zone 12-yards away. With 5:02 left in the first quarter, senior John Walker tacked on the extra point to tie the score, 7-7.

Falmouth’s defense then rose up again, forcing a three-and-out, as Glidden ran for three yards and Justin Bryant gained five before Bryant was held to one yard on third-and-2, forcing a punt.

The Yachtsmen got the ball back at their 44 after just a 12-yard punt and had a chance to drive for the lead, but a turnover would prevent that from happening.

Jack Bryant started the drive with a five-yard run and a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit was tacked on, moving the ball to the Marshwood 36. Horton then threw Reed for a three-yard loss and on the next play, in an ominous sign of things to come, Bryant was sacked by Gregor, fumbled and Hawks senior Seth Aumann fell on the loose pigskin at the Marshwood 40.

On the final play of a first quarter which saw the Yachtsmen enjoy an 85-65 edge in yardage, Justin Bryant was held to no gain. On the first snap of the second period, Springer scrambled for two yards, but on third-and-8, Bryant was held to just two yards and the Hawks had to punt again.

Horton, whose foot would be the difference late, then came up with his best punt of the day, actually of the season, a 54-yarder which bounced and was downed at the Falmouth 2 after sophomore John Valentine saved it from going into the end zone.

The Yachtsmen were pinned deep and limited as to their play calls and two Garret Aube rushes gained a total of four yards and on third-and-6, Jack Bryant was sacked by Gregor at the 2, forcing a punt.

Marshwood got the ball back at the Falmouth 39 and needed just three plays and 74 seconds to go back on top.

After Springer ran for 11 yards, he hit Justin Bryant for three more. After a holding penalty backed the Hawks to the 30, Springer found Taran wide open on a post pattern down the middle and Taran waltzed into the end zone with 7:23 to go before halftime. Horton added the extra point for a 14-7 lead.

To no one’s surprise, the Yachtsmen struck back, thanks to their biggest play of the afternoon.

Starting at its 20 after a touchback, Falmouth needed only four plays and 86 seconds to counter.

Garret Aube got things started with a 14-yard run. After Aube ran for four more, Jack Bryant was thrown for a four-yard loss, but on third-and-10, he dropped back and found a wide open Micucci down the right sideline behind the defense and Micucci did the rest, racing in for a 66-yard touchdown catch. Walker’s PAT tied the game again, 14-14, with 5:57 to go in the first half.

Each team had a chance to go ahead before the break, but couldn’t do so.

The Hawks started at their 33 on their next drive, but after a nine-yard Justin Bryant run and a false start penalty, Springer, under pressure from senior Josh Allen, threw over the middle and Griffin Aube intercepted the ball and returned it 20 yards. At the end of the play, however, a personal foul penalty was called on the Yachtsmen, backing them up to the Marshwood 43.

After Jack Bryant threw incomplete, he ran for just one yard, but on third-and-9, Bryant hit Griffin Aube on a crossing pattern for 14 yards and a first down at the 28. After Goodwin threw Reed for a one-yard loss, Reed gained the yard back, but after a hold, Bryant gained just five yards on third-and-22, necessitating a punt.

The Hawks got the ball back with 1:38 to go, but they were pinned at their 3. After Springer kept the ball for four yards and Justin Bryant gained three more, Springer was held to a yard, seemingly forcing Marshwood to punt, but an illegal formation penalty made the hosts run one more untimed play after the clock hit zero and Springer took a knee to send the game to halftime deadlocked, 14-14.

The Yachtsmen had a 173-114 edge in first half yardage, thanks in large part to Garret Aube’s 66 rushing yards and 93 passing yards from Bryant.

There would be little separation in the second half as well.

Falmouth got the ball first and chewed up nearly eight minutes, but ultimately came away empty.

After Garret Aube stumbled at the 9 on the kickoff return, the Yachtsmen promptly got rolling, as after Jack Bryant and Aube each ran for two yards, Bryant kept the ball, ran up the middle and didn’t stop until he reached the 40, after a 27-yard scamper. After Bryant ran for a yard, he hit Garret Aube for 10 yards and a first down at the Marshwood 49. Aube ran for four yards, then took off for 26 for another first down at the 19. Bryant kept the ball for six yards, then gained two and after a Falmouth timeout, Bryant got the Hawks to jump offsides, setting up a first-and-goal at the 6. Bryant kept the ball for three yards, but Reed lost one and Goodwin sacked Bryant for a six-yard loss, forcing the Yachtsmen to try a field goal. Walker’s 27-yard bid would be blocked and despite gaining 81 yards on the drive, Falmouth still found itself tied.

Marshwood had to start at its 3, however, and immediately gave the ball back, as after Justin Bryant gained five yards, he fumbled and Yachtsmen senior Noah Barney fell on it at the 9.

Falmouth then needed just two plays to take the lead for the first time.

After sophomore Michael Simonds caught a pass from Jack Bryant and took the ball to the 1, Bryant did the rest, bulling over the goal line with 3:59 left in the third period. A bad snap on the ensuing extra point kept the lead at 20-14.

The Hawks then got their offense going again, driving 62 yards on six plays in 3:05 to go back on top.

After Springer kept the ball for four yards, Springer hit Glidden for eight and a first down at midfield. Taran ran for three yards and Glidden picked up nine for a first down at the Falmouth 38. After Springer kept the ball for three yards, he found Horton on a post pattern. Horton bounced off one tackler, eluded another and completed the 35-yard TD catch and run. Horton then added the extra point with 47.8 seconds left in the frame for a 21-20 Marshwood advantage.

The Yachtsmen hoped to counter as the third quarter gave way to the fourth, but after Reed ran for three yards, Jack Bryant gained two and Bryant ran for eight yards on the first snap of the final stanza, Garret Aube fumbled and Hawks senior Cameron Fischer recovered at the Falmouth 40.

Marshwood would take advantage, needing just three plays and 31 seconds to extend its lead.

After Glidden ran for 22 yards, he picked up 11 more and Goodwin did the rest, taking a handoff and scoring on a 7-yard run to the left. Horton added the all-important PAT for a 28-20 Hawks’ advantage with 10:57 remaining.

The Yachtsmen were suddenly on the ropes, but answered like champions, driving 83 yards in a 13-play, 5-minute drive to draw even again.

Jack Bryant got things moving with a 6-yard pass to Micucci. After Garret Aube moved the chains with an eight-yard run, Bryant found Simonds for 11 yards for a first down at the 42. Bryant threw incomplete on the next two downs, but on third-and-10, a late hit penalty on the hosts gave Falmouth a first down at the Marshwood 48. Bryant then found Garret Aube for 18 yards and Simonds for 11 more for a first down at the 19. After Bryant ran for four yards, he hit Simonds for two, with Simonds hurting his leg on the play. After Bryant threw incomplete, the visitors faced fourth-and-4, but Bryant somehow threaded a pass through traffic to Micucci, who was brought down just shy of the goal line at the 1. On the next snap, Bryant did the rest, scoring on a 1-yard run and with 5:49 left in regulation, Bryant added the two-point conversion rush, first dropping back to pass, scrambling, then racing just inside the right pylon to make the score, 28-28.

The back-and-forth, anything-you-can-do-I-can-do-better drama continued, as the Hawks turned to their bag of tricks to drive the field again for a go-ahead score which held up.

Marshwood began its next drive at its 27 and after Justin Bryant ran for four yards, Longarini got the handoff and ran to his right, but instead of keeping the ball, he lofted it downfield to a wide open Glidden, who made the catch, then took off. Glidden wasn’t corralled until he reached the Yachtsmen 22, capping a gain of 47 yards.

“It’s a play we’ve been practicing for the last two seasons,” Longarini said. “We never got around to running it, but in the fourth quarter, when the game was on the line, I think it was a good, go-to play. Coach (Alex Rotsko) told me to take my glove off, so I knew exactly what was going on. I think everyone was ready to execute it. I don’t think they expected it. He was wide open behind the defense.”

“We’ve practiced it two years and hadn’t used it in a game,” Rotsko said. “I had it in the back of mind all game.”

Justin Bryant moved the chains with a 10-yard run, but after Glidden ran for three yards and Bryant gained five, a holding penalty backed the Hawks to the 13. Bryant would get seven yards back, but on fourth down, Marshwood had to go for the field goal and Horton came up huge, drilling the 23-yard field goal with 1:19 remaining for a 31-28 lead.

As impressive as Horton’s kick in a clutch situation was, the hold by junior Johnathan Renaud was equally impressive, seeing Renaud just starting practicing in that role Friday.

“Our backup holder did a phenomenal job all game holding,” Horton said. “We practiced for the first time yesterday. When we got that penalty, I got nervous, knowing it would come down to a field goal. I just told myself to relax and I did my job. Coach said before the game to make the game memorable and we did.”

“(Johnathan) had never held in a game before and we went four-for-four on extra points and made the field goal,” Rotsko said.

When the Hawks kicked off short, freshman Sam Kidder brought the ball back to the Falmouth 40.

With 1:16 still to play, even without a timeout, Jack Bryant had plenty of time to work his magic.

And he almost produced the most memorable drive in program history.

Almost.

Bryant got things started by hitting Griffin Aube for 16 yards and on the next snap, the tandem did the same thing, putting the ball at the Marshwood 28. Bryant then threw to Micucci on the right sideline and Micucci barely came down inbounds at the 10.

With plenty of time remaining, it appeared the Yachtsmen were on the verge of taking the lead, but disaster struck instead.

Bryant dropped back to pass, rolled left, then started to run as Gregor closed in. As Gregor got his arms around Bryant and pulled him to the ground, the ball squirted free and while Falmouth felt Bryant was trying to throw (and was down first regardless), Horton pounced on the loose pigskin at the 25 and the play was ruled a fumble and a Marshwood recovery with 46.3 seconds left.

“I threw it in the flat, I thought it was a pass, but the ref saw it differently,” Bryant said. “He thought it got knocked out before. It’s a tough judgment call.”

“I have to respect what the ref sees, but I thought (Jack) was down already and I thought he was trying to throw the ball,” Fitzsimmons said. “That’s the way it goes. I thought we were going to score.”

Marshwood, not surprisingly, saw the play a little differently.

“I saw Drew tackle him, the ball slipped out and I just jumped on it,” Horton said. “I wasn’t sure if it would be our ball or not, I wasn’t sure if he was down. I saw the ref point our way. It’s the greatest feeling in the world.”

“Thank God, they didn’t have timeouts or it could have been different,” Rotsko said. “They did a nice job in the two-minute situation, but Drew made the play. We knew we just needed one sack. That was a big play. A lot of guys made big plays.”

All that was left was for the Hawks to take a knee and at 2:59 p.m., Marshwood was able to celebrate its exhausting and exhilarating 31-28 victory.

“Falmouth had a good game plan,” Rotsko said. “They did a great job. They’re tough. They beat Kennebunk last week and almost beat us today. They deserve all the credit in the world. (Bryant’s) a good player. He’s a threat to throw anytime and he can run. He’s strong. (Garret) Aube is a good player. (Griffin) Aube is one of the better players in our league.”

Ecstasy

The Hawks finished with 288 yards of offense and overcame two turnovers, as well as eight penalties for 63 yards.

Springer, who was sidelined in the fourth quarter and replaced by junior Connor Caverly, completed 5-of-7 passes for 98 yards and threw three touchdowns, as well as one interception. Springer also ran eight times for 35 yards.

Justin Bryant gained 65 yards on 12 carries and caught two passes for 25 yards and a score.

Glidden finished with 65 yards on seven rushes and had three receptions for 90 yards.

Longarini completed his one pass attempt for 47 yards.

Taran had two rushes for 6 yards and one TD reception for 30.

Goodwin ran just once for a 7-yard touchdown.

Horton had a 35-yard touchdown catch and made all four of his extra points and the decisive field goal.

Back on Sept. 1, in the regular season opener, Marshwood crushed host Skowhegan, 55-12. The teams will meet again 11 weeks later, as the Hawks seek their third Class B championship in four seasons. Marshwood beat Skowhegan, 26-14, back in the 1989 Class A state final.

These Hawks are ready for another coronation, which would be the program’s 18th all-time.

“It feels amazing to go back to states,” Horton said. “We’ll keep working like we have all season and approach it like we have every game this season and get the job done.”

“It’s exciting and fun for the kids,” Rotsko said. “They can create memories to last a lifetime. I’ve done it for 100 years and I have a lot of good memories. This is their chance.”

Agony

Falmouth finished with 408 yards of offense and was paced by Jack Bryant, who completed 14-of-19 passes for 223 yards and a touchdown and ran 19 times for 97 yards and two more TDs.

Bryant, who hopes to play at Bates College next fall, will go down in program history as one of the best to wear a Yachtsmen uniform.

“It’s been so fun playing for Falmouth,” Bryant said. “Some of the best experiences of my life have been playing with this team. Great coaches, great guys. I love Falmouth.”

“Jack had a great day,” said Fitzsimmons. “He’s been a star. I’ve been blessed with six years of great quarterbacks. I had Noah Nelson, who’s the starter at Bowdoin, for three years, then three years of Jack Bryant. He’s so skilled intellectually, with desire and execution. We often ask him what he’s seeing.”

Garret Aube had a solid swan song as well, carrying 13 times for 103 yards and a touchdown and catching two passes for 28 more yards.

“Aube is one of the best running backs I’ve had reading blocks,” Fitzsimmons said. “He’s a great player.”

Micucci had four receptions for 102 yards and a TD.

Griffin Aube caught four balls for 61 yards.

Simonds also had four receptions for 32 yards.

Reed ran six times for 0 yards.

Falmouth was done in by four turnovers and only was penalized three times for 34 yards.

“I think this showed how far our program has come,” Bryant said. “Two years ago, we were in the same exact situation and they killed us. We came in today and played a great game. A few calls didn’t go our way and a few balls didn’t bounce our way and that’s the way it goes. Tomorrow, we’ll wake up and be disappointed, but we knew they’re a great team to lose to. We have a lot of seniors who have been around and we didn’t get down. We thought we could win.

“We’ve accomplished a lot. We have talented and experienced guys and we were ready for a great season and we had one. We wish it could have gone a little further, but it was a great year.”

“The kids gave everything they could,” Fitzsimmons said. “I have nothing but pride about how they conducted themselves. It’s a tough loss, but I’m proud there’s no quit in my players. Marshwood is undefeated for a reason, but I think they knew they played a heck of a team that was ready to match them. They might feel a little lucky tonight.

“Defensively, we made improvements and that made a big difference. We had a couple busted plays, but the consistency of the defense overall was great. The kids did their job well.”

While graduation will take a heavy toll on the program, the Yachtsmen have established themselves as a perennial contender in a deep region and should be heard from again in 2018, right into November.

“We’ll start thinking about 2018,” said Fitzsimmons. “We’re losing some good ones, but we have some good ones coming back. We’ll start again.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Falmouth senior quarterback Jack Bryant drops back to pass as Marshwood senior Max Horton looks on.

Falmouth senior Brady Douglas and Marshwood sophomore Justin Bryant fight for a loose ball.

Falmouth senior Griffin Aube rushes Marshwood junior quarterback Tommy Springer. Aube had an interception during the contest.

Falmouth senior Garret Aube breaks the tackle attempt of Marshwood senior Ian Parmley en route to a big gain.

Falmouth seniors Noah Barney (65) and Will Bopp send Marshwood junior Trevor Chase flying.

Falmouth sophomore Michael Simonds tries to make a move on Marshwood senior Kyle Glidden after a reception.

Falmouth senior Emilio Micucci (14) and sophomore Brady Douglas celebrate Micucci’s long second quarter touchdown reception.

Falmouth senior Noah Barney congratulates senior Jack Bryant after Bryant’s second half touchdown run.

Falmouth senior captains Josh Allen, left, Noah Barney and Jack Bryant walk off the field with the regional runner-up plaque.

Previous Falmouth stories

Season Preview

Falmouth 42 Messalonskee 14

Previous Falmouth-Marshwood playoff results

2015 Class B South Final
Marshwood 48 Falmouth 22

2013 Western B quarterfinals
Marshwood 57 Falmouth 0

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.