Falmouth edges Deering on late PK

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Falmouth senior Brendan Hickey lies prone on the turf after scoring the first goal of Tuesday’s home showdown against Deering. The Yachtsmen would pull it out, 2-1, on senior Nate Arrants’ late penalty kick.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

FALMOUTH—Falmouth’s perennially strong boys’ soccer team came into this season, its first as a member of the Southwestern Maine Activities Association, full of unknowns and largely devoid of its accustomed high expectations.

But as September gives way to the playoff month of October, the Yachtsmen are reminding a new set of opponents just how special they can be when they’re clicking on all cylinders.

Tuesday evening, Falmouth hosted talented Deering in a battle of once-beaten squads and as expected, there wasn’t much separation over 80 minutes, but in the end, the Yachtsmen found a way to prevail in dramatic fashion.

Falmouth jumped to a 1-0 lead when senior Brendan Hickey, who is battling an ankle injury, scored on a header off a corner kick in the 30th minute.

The Yachtsmen’s defense stymied the potent Rams most of the way, but with exactly 10 minutes remaining in regulation, Deering senior Bill Turahimbawe finished after a great individual effort to tie the contest.

With the prospect of overtime looming, Falmouth went back on the attack and was rewarded as a Rams defender was called for a hand ball in the box, giving the hosts a penalty kick.

Senior Nate Arrants would do the honors and with 2:46 remaining, his kick was true.

The Yachtsmen fought off one final Deering foray and went on to a 2-1 victory in the first-ever countable encounter between the programs.

Falmouth improved to 7-1 and dropped the Rams to 6-2 in the process.

“The kids came back and played better after they gave up the goal,” said Falmouth assistant coach Todd Whitcomb, who was filling in for longtime head coach Dave Halligan, who missed the contest for personal reasons. “They said to themselves that they weren’t going to lose.”

First time

While Falmouth has met Portland in the playoffs on multiple occasions, prior to Tuesday night, the Yachtsmen had never faced the city’s other public high school.

Both the Rams and Yachtsmen have lived up to billing as top contenders in a very deep and balanced Class A South this autumn.

Deering, which was upset by Portland in last year’s quarterfinals after a terrific regular season, began with a 1-0 home win over perennial powerhouse Scarborough. After dropping a frustrating 2-1 decision at Gorham, the Rams blanked visiting Biddeford (3-0), host Massabesic (1-0) and visiting Noble (2-0), then defeated host Kennebunk (2-1) and visiting Windham (3-1).

As for Falmouth, which also lost to Portland in last year’s postseason, on penalty kicks in the semifinals, it blanked Cheverus in the opener (1-0), then lost at Bonny Eagle, 2-1. The Yachtsmen hadn’t lost since, downing host Noble (7-0), visiting Portland (1-0, in overtime), host Sanford (1-0), visiting Westbrook (3-0) and host Marshwood (2-1).

Tuesday evening, under pleasant 72-degree skies, Falmouth managed to get the better of Deering in the teams’ initial meeting, a game which left those on hand hoping the squads will meet up again in the playoffs.

Turahimbawe got a good look in the second minute, when he one-timed a 25-yard blast on the run, but Yachtsmen freshman goalkeeper Alvaro Fuentes-Cantillana made the save.

In the sixth minute, Falmouth earned its first corner kick, but senior Griffin Conley headed the ball wide.

After the Rams earned a couple corners and on the second, senior Robert Ochan shot just wide, Yachtsmen sophomore Tom Fitzgerald missed wide, a rush by Falmouth senior Eli Freedman broke up a Turahimbawe rush in the box, Yachtsmen junior Niklas Hester had a shot saved by Deering sophomore goalkeeper Max Morrione, Fitzgerald weaved through the defense and had the ball knocked out for a corner kick. That set up Arrants for a look in front, which Morrione deflected out for another corner.

This time, senior Ben Wuesthoff served the ball in front and Hickey, the lacrosse standout who recently committed to Merrimack College, was able to redirect it home for a 1-0 lead.

Hickey, who suffered a sprained ankle in the preseason and saw limited minutes Tuesday, made the most of his time on the pitch.

“Hickey always comes clutch,” Arrants said. “He was out the first three weeks and came back last game. He’s working his way back.”

“We’re working on our ability to defend in the box,” Rams coach Joel Costigan said. “We’ve worked on it since preseason, but we need to do a better job. We’re not as tall as in the past and other teams have really tall players who can win the ball in the air.”

Late in the half, Falmouth tried to double its lead, but a couple corner kicks didn’t result in a shot, Fitzgerald had a shot saved and a Fitzgerald chip into the box was cleared by a Deering defender.

In the first half, the Yachtsmen had a 4-1 shots advantage and a 5-2 edge in corners.

Falmouth’s defense would continue to stymie the Rams in the second half, but eventually, the visitors would break through.

After Fuentes-Cantillana made a save on a shot from Deering senior Caleb Delano and junior Kato Tchiputo shot high, the Yachtsmen nearly made it 2-0, but freshman Gus Ford was robbed point blank with 20:42 remaining.

Just when it appeared the Rams were going to get shut out, Turahimbawe put on an individual show with 10 minutes on the clock, as he got through the defense, found a little room, then buried a low shot inside the left post past a diving Fuentes-Cantillana.

“We tried to transition on them and that’s how we scored that goal,” Costigan said. “We pushed up and we had support when we transitioned.”

It appeared Deering had momentum, but Falmouth didn’t let the visitors score again.

In fact, the Yachtsmen went back on the attack and after Fitzgerald shot high, Fitzgerald fed junior Seamus O’Brien, whose promising shot was tipped out by Morrione, setting up a corner kick.

With 3:30 to go, Hester took a feed from Arrants had a great look to put Falmouth back on top, but he was robbed by Morrione.

Then, with 2:46 on the clock, Wuesthoff played the ball in from the side and it clearly hit a defender’s hand.

The whistle blew and Falmouth was awarded a penalty kick.

“I talked to the ref earlier and he described that if the ball hits the hand, it’s not a problem, but if the hand hits the ball, it is,” Arrants said. “The ref could clearly see it. I think it was the right call.”

“I’m always struck by the fact that the referee won’t call it because he doesn’t want to affect the game, but that’s not deciding the game, that’s how the game went,” Whitcomb said. “Too many referees won’t make that decision. If the hand was out, it was obviously a hand ball and he called it. That’s what he’s paid to do.”

“I couldn’t tell from this angle,” Costigan said. “Hand balls are always an interpretation. I would say that what I always want is for a referee to call the game as he sees it.”

Arrants would do the PK honors and he didn’t hesitate, burying a low blast to Morrione’s right into the net for a 2-1 lead.

“Ben doesn’t like taking them, so I had to step up and do it,” Arrants said. “We had a few early on in the season. After that, I came and practiced and I was able to get it done. My heart was beating out of my chest. All eyes were on me. Usually, I just put it in a corner. It’s all about placement.”

“I didn’t say anything, but I was hoping Nate would take it,” Whitcomb said.

Deering had time to answer, but managed just one more shot, a bid from Tchiputo with 23.1 seconds on the clock which Fuentes-Cantillana saved, to bring the curtain down on Falmouth’s 2-1 victory.

“We lost all our starters from last year, but we’re just working hard,” Arrants said. “You need a gritty team more than a skilled team in Maine soccer. I knew we could still do it. It’s never easy, but we had to grind it out.”

“We’re young and it’s a different league and even little things like finding fields is an adjustment this year,” Whitcomb said. “The SMAA runs differently than the Western Maine Conference. We only play these teams once, so we have to win to get the (Heal Points). The SMAA tends to be a little quicker. You have to play quicker in the midfield. It’s an advantage if you play quick well.”

The Yachtsmen had an 8-4 edge in shots and an 8-2 advantage in corner kicks. Fuentes-Cantillana made three saves.

The Rams got six saves from Morrione.

“I’ve been really impressed with our goalkeeper,” Costigan said. “Max has gotten a lot better. He’s probably one of the best keepers in the league and he’s only a sophomore.”

Ultimately, Deering just came up a little short.

“It’s no fun to lose that way, but I thought Falmouth controlled the play tonight,” Costigan said. “They spread us wide and controlled the center-midfield spot. We tried to play too direct too often, trying to play balls over guys who are over 6-feet tall, which is difficult. We just didn’t click all the way through.”

No relief

Both teams have plenty of hurdles to clear for the duration of the regular season.

Deering (which dropped to seventh in the Class A South Heal Points standings at press time) hopes to get back in the win column Thursday at home versus Cheverus. The Rams then host Portland.

“Portland is always a good matchup,” Costigan said. “They usually match us athletically and speed-wise.”

Deering then plays at Bonny Eagle and Sanford and closes at Marshwood.

Falmouth (currently first in Class A South) goes to unbeaten South Portland Thursday and hosts Scarborough Tuesday of next week. The Yachtsmen then visit Thornton Academy, welcome Gorham, visit Biddeford and close at home against Kennebunk.

“We’ll come out tomorrow and keep working on things,” Arrants said. “We have to get faster on offense and defense has stepped up lately and will continue to do that.”

“These guys have to buy in,” Whitcomb said. “If they play the way they can play, they can beat anybody. The best 11 isn’t always your 11 best. When we figure that out, we can play as a team better than anybody else.”

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

Deering junior Abdirizak Ibrahim heads the ball away from Falmouth senior Nate Arrants.

Deering senior Bill Turahimbawe plays the ball as Falmouth junior Niklas Hester keeps pace.

Deering senior Caleb Delano gets his head on the ball.

Falmouth senior Eli Freedman’s slide tackle takes the ball away from Deering senior Bill Turahimbawe.

Deering senior Robert Ochan plays the ball between Falmouth junior Niklas Hester, left, and senior Ben Wuesthoff.

Falmouth senior Brendan Hickey manages to head the ball past Deering sophomore goalkeeper Max Morrione for the game’s first goal.

Falmouth senior Ben Wuesthoff soars over Deering seniors Robert Ochan (24) and Muzammel Osmani.

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