With the rain falling all around him , Falmouth junior Josh LeFevre boots the ball during the Yachtsmen’s 2-0 win over Deering in Thursday’s Class A South quarterfinal. Falmouth advanced to meet Gorham in Saturday’s semifinal round.
Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.
More photo below.
FALMOUTH—Falmouth’s boys’ soccer team has fought all season to secure homefield advantage for the playoffs and the Yachtsmen find themselves in a position to stay home all the way through the regional final if they take care of business in the Class A South playoffs.
Thursday evening, Falmouth took the first step toward what it hopes will be its first Class A state title when it overcame a steady rainfall and a talent Deering Rams squad in the quarterfinals.
It took the Yachtsmen a mere 6 minutes, 39 seconds to score the only goal they would need, as sophomore Tom Fitzgerald left the defense in his wake before setting up senior Nate Arrants in front.
Falmouth wasn’t able to extend its lead before halftime, but the Yachtsmen got some breathing room with 24:45 to play, when Fitzgerald set up Arrants for a breakaway goal and Falmouth went on to a 2-0 victory.
The Yachtsmen improved to 13-2, ended Deering’s season at 10-5-1 and in the process, advanced to host third-ranked Gorham (12-2-1), the defending regional champion, in the Class A South semifinals Saturday at 7 p.m.
“Crazy things happen in the tournament and you can’t play not to lose,” said longtime coach Dave Halligan, who now has 370 victories with Falmouth. “You have to go with your best and play to win. We had some things we worked on that we thought we could do and we were able to do that.”
Prior to Sept. 26 of this year, Deering and Falmouth had never met in a countable game. On that evening, the host Yachtsmen eked out a 2-1 win on a late Arrants penalty kick.
That victory was part of a stellar (and in the minds of many, unexpected) 12-2 campaign which was only marred by losses at Bonny Eagle and South Portland. Falmouth earned the No. 2 seed in Class A South and by virtue of top-ranked South Portland’s upset loss in its quarterfinal Wednesday, the Yachtsmen became, by default, the favorite in the region.
The Rams, meanwhile, entered the campaign with high hopes, but stumbled by a goal at Gorham and Falmouth and at home against Cheverus and Westbrook and also settled for a tie at home against Portland to drop to the No. 7 seed. Deering avenged its loss to the Blue Blazes with a 3-0 home victory in the preliminary round Saturday to advance to a first-ever playoff showdown with Falmouth.
The game was supposed to be played Wednesday, but bad weather, combined with both schools’ volleyball teams playing in the state semifinals, pushed it back 24 hours where the rain continued to fall, but it didn’t faze the Yachtsmen, who advanced to the semifinals for the third year in a row.
The game’s first goal was set up by a dazzling series of moves by Fitzgerald, who got past three defenders before passing to Arrants on the doorstep and Arrants sent the ball past Deering sophomore goalkeeper Max Morrione for a 1-0 lead with 33:21 to go in the first half.
“We knew it was extra-important to get off to a fast start tonight, especially because of the weather conditions,” Arrants said. “The ball will skip in and the goalies don’t have as much control on nights like this. Tom made it easy for me. All I had to do was put my foot out. We knew we could get around the outside. He played it in and I got open. That set us up for a perfect goal.”
Later in the half, Falmouth tried to double its lead, but junior Kyle Bouchard shot just high, Arrants missed just wide and senior Ben Wuesthoff had a shot in the box blocked to keep the score 1-0.
The Yachtsmen continued to control play in the second half and eventually got some breathing room.
With 38:25 left in regulation, junior Josh LeFevre got a look from the side, but Morrione made the save.
After Arrants missed high, Falmouth earned a pair of corner kicks, but couldn’t score.
The Rams then nearly drew even on a long feed to senior Caleb Delano, but Yachtsmen freshman goalkeeper Alvaro Fuentes-Cantillana got to the ball first.
Deering then earned a corner kick, but couldn’t produce a shot.
The hosts then got the second goal.
After Wuesthoff had a shot blocked and Arrants just missed wide on the rebound, Arrants got another chance and with 24:45 to play, Arrants took a long pass from Fitzgerald, raced in on Morrione and beat the keeper with a low blast for a 2-0 lead.
“Once you get momentum on a night like this, it’s easier to keep it and harder for them to come back,” Arrants said. “They pressured hard, so we wanted an insurance goal. Tom sent me the long pass. I just had to go in and finish.”
“We’re a young team, but the seniors are leading us,” Halligan said. “Nate, Ben Wuesthoff, Sam Winkeler, Brendan Hickey. They’re the glue that holds us together.”
Down the stretch, the Rams couldn’t generate an answer and Falmouth had some looks at a third goal, but Morrione denied Arrants in front and sprawled to deny Arrants and Wuesthoff’s rocket bounced off the crossbar.
The Yachtsmen ran out the clock from there and prevailed, 2-0.
Falmouth had an 8-1 advantage in shots on goal and a 3-2 edge in corner kicks. Fuentes-Cantillana saved the only shot he faced. The Yachtsmen’s defensive effort was stellar as usual.
“Our defense locked down,” said Arrants. “A lot of their offense is kicking it far out of the back. We focused on taking that long pass away from them and that was really key.”
“We always play defense first,” Halligan said. “We want to stay close and have a chance to win at the end against good teams, especially in this league.”
Deering never could get its offense going.
“We knew because of the weather that whoever scored early would have momentum,” said Rams coach Joel Costigan. “(Falmouth’s) super-disciplined. They were way more disciplined than us tonight. That’s a hallmark of a Halligan program. They didn’t allow us to feel confident to push forward. Guys were hesitant to do that and it took us out of our game.”
Morrione made six saves.
“Max has been great,” said Costigan. “He’s only a sophomore. He’s steadily improved. He has a bright future.”
Deering posted double digit victories for the fourth time in five years, but was hoping for even more.
“There are a lot of games we’d like back, this being one of them,” Costigan said. “We got momentum toward the end of the season. We got payback against Westbrook. That was a good highlight for us.”
The Rams have to part with 10 seniors who helped the program win a lot of games.
“We have a great group of seniors who have a bright future ahead of them,” Costigan said. “We’ll sorely miss them. All the seniors steadily improved and contributed.”
On the flip side, Deering has some talent returning and hopes to get to the next level in 2018.
“We have a good group coming up as well,” Costigan said. “We have a lot to work on. Every year we get new players and you never know who might come through the pipeline. We have a lot of good players from JV who will make things competitive for us.”
The Yachtsmen don’t have much time to enjoy their victory, knowing a difficult semifinal awaits Saturday night.
Falmouth held off visiting Gorham, 1-0, Oct. 10 on Arrants’ first half goal. Despite spending time together in the Western Maine Conference, the teams have no playoff history.
“It’ll be a really good game,” Arrants said. “It will depend on who wants it more and who comes out harder. It’s nice to have homefield and not to have to play on grass. We like it on our turf.”
“(Gorham’s) a senior-laden team, so they’ll be difficult to play against,” Halligan said. “They’re big and strong and they have tournament experience. They’ll be chomping at the bit. It should be a good game.”
Falmouth junior Kyle Bouchard gets a step on Deering senior Abdeullah Kailayaf.
Falmouth senior Ben Wuesthoff serves up a corner kick.
Deering junior Chris Kombo shields the ball from Falmouth junior Kyle Bouchard.
Deering sophomore goalkeeper Max Morrione leaps to make a save.