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CAPE ELIZABETH—With playoff positioning solidified, this game wasn’t supposed to mean much.
But someone forgot to tell that to the Falmouth boys’ lacrosse team.
Tuesday evening, in an unforgettable and contentious chapter of one of the state’s premier rivalries, the Yachtsmen went to Hannaford Field and pulled off a stunning victory over the state’s top program, Cape Elizabeth, the two-time defending Class B state champion.
Falmouth, which had lost seven straight to the Capers and surrendered 19 goals in the last meeting, was stymied early by Cape Elizabeth junior goalie Alex Narvaez and fell behind, 4-0, before trailing, 6-3, at halftime.
When the Capers took a 7-3 lead early in the second half on sophomore Owen Thoreck’s goal, they appeared en route to yet another win on their Senior Night, but the Yachtsmen, in a microcosm of their season, only got better as things progressed.
With senior Jack Mainella dominating the faceoff circle, an improved defense limiting Cape Elizabeth’s scoring chances and sophomore goalie Liam Tucker denying the few shots he saw, the door was left open for Falmouth’s offense to answer and that offense is nothing if not opportunistic.
Midway through the third period, Yachtsmen senior Bryce Kuhn started heating up and by quarter’s end, Falmouth was only down two, 8-6.
In the first 51 seconds of the fourth, Kuhn scored twice and just like that, the visitors were even.
Junior George Gilbert then scored one of the most impressive goals of his career to give the Yachtsmen their first lead over the Capers since last June 4, but Cape Elizabeth drew even with 4:48 to go when senior Ben Shea beat Tucker.
After coming so far, Falmouth wasn’t about to fall short and a mere 29 seconds later, Kuhn struck for the sixth time and the Yachtsmen had the lead for good. With 3:11 to play, senior C.J. Leighton, who along with Kuhn was the only player on the roster who knew what it was like to beat the Capers, scored to push the lead to two.
One final tremendous Tucker save and a fabulous defensive play from freshman Brendan Hickey helped slam the door and Falmouth finished off a thoroughly unexpected 11-9 victory.
Kuhn paced the offense with six goals, Tucker made a dozen saves and the Yachtsmen finished the regular season 9-3, dropping Cape Elizabeth to 10-2 in the process.
“When two teams of this caliber face off, it just comes down to who wants it more and we wanted it more,” Kuhn said. “Winning here, on their Senior Night, it’s just makes me so happy. I’m on top of the world.”
In every season since 2009, Falmouth and Cape Elizabeth have played twice in the regular season, then met again in the Western B Final and based one what we’ve seen this spring, 2015 will likely follow suit.
Falmouth routed Freeport in the opener, 22-2, then held off host Scarborough, 11-10. A 14-13 loss at Kennebunk followed, but the Yachtsmen bounced back and beat visiting North Yarmouth Academy, 7-3, host Fryeburg Academy, 15-2, and visiting Cheverus, 16-10, before losing at home to Cape Elizabeth, 19-11, and to Yarmouth (8-6). Falmouth got back on track with a 15-2 victory at Wells, then rolled at Greely, 17-4, and at home against Kennebunk Saturday, 16-4.
Cape Elizabeth romped at Waynflete in its opener, 18-6, then held off visiting Yarmouth, 6-3, in a state game rematch. Wins at Kennebunk (16-8) and at home over Wells (21-0) and Scarborough (10-4) were followed by a 19-11 victory at Falmouth, but on May 16, the Capers dropped a thrilling 15-14 overtime decision at Brunswick for their first loss in two years. They bounced back with a vengeance, defeating visiting Greely (13-1) and York (20-2), rolling at North Yarmouth Academy, 18-2, then making a powerful statement Friday, riding eight fourth quarter goals to a 14-5 win at Yarmouth.
The Capers had beaten the Yachtsmen on seven straight occasions (see sidebar, below) and hadn’t lost at home since May 24, 2013 (7-5 to NYA, which was also the last time they were beaten on Senior Night), but they met their match on a chilly Tuesday evening.
The first period saw defense and the goalies carry play, as only two goals were scored.
Cape Elizabeth jumped into the lead just 80 seconds in, when senior Griffin Thoreck scored unassisted.
Falmouth was then flustered by Narvaez, who denied Kuhn, sophomore Jack Scribner, sophomore Devin Russell and sophomore Henry Norris to preserve the lead.
With 1:57 to play in the first, junior R.J. Sarka scored unassisted for a 2-0 lead.
When Narvaez denied Leighton early in the second quarter and Thoreck and Shea followed with unassisted goals to make it 4-0, the Capers threatened to run away and hide, but the Yachtsmen were able to respond.
With 5:27 to go before the half, Falmouth finally got on the scoreboard, as Russell set up Scribner to break the ice.
Just 26 seconds later, Gilbert scored unassisted and just like that, the deficit was cut in half.
Thoreck restored a three-goal bulge with an unassisted tally with 3:48 to go before halftime and Sarka scored unassisted with 2:35 left, but with 34.7 seconds remaining, in transition, Russell set up Kuhn for his first goal, making it 6-3.
“We tried to take it play-by-play and possession-by-possession and we knew the shots would begin to fall,” Kuhn said. “We’re not playing hockey here. Goalies don’t pitch shutouts.”
“It’s been a season-long process,” Falmouth coach Mike LeBel said. “I just told them to be patient. We were getting good looks. We just weren’t getting them to fall. What killed us in the first half was that we didn’t have the ball. That put a lot of pressure on our defense. They played very well. They communicated and collapsed. We had some breakdowns, which will happen with a young defense, but it was a great learning experience.”
With everyone expecting to go the halftime without further incident, the game took a troubling turn when Cape Elizabeth senior defensive standout Noah Wolfinger leveled Scribner on the far sideline and while he was called for an illegal body check and was given an additional penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct, Leighton took offense and retaliated, earning an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty of his own.
Even with the fireworks, the Capers were seemingly in control at the break.
Cape Elizabeth got off to a fast start in the second half as well, as Owen Thoreck scored unassisted just 32 seconds in for a 7-3 lead.
With 10:41 left in the period, Capers senior Cole Caswell delivered a crushing blow to Falmouth freshman Emmitt Zinn and was given an unnecessary roughness penalty. Hickey responded and was also sent to the sidelines.
From that point on, the Yachtsmen outscored the defending champions, 8-2.
“That ignited us,” Gilbert said. “That made us want to play harder.”
With 7:32 to play in the third, Leighton set up Gilbert for a goal which made it 7-4.
After Tucker robbed Shea, Kuhn scored unassisted with 5:49 left and 40 seconds later, Leighton set up Kuhn for a goal which made it 7-6.
After Narvaez preserved the lead by denying Gilbert, Falmouth appeared primed to pull even when Cape Elizabeth sophomore Connor Thoreck was sent to the sidelines for a minute after an illegal body check, but playing man-down, Griffin Thoreck scored unassisted to give the Capers an 8-6 lead heading for the final stanza.
There, the Yachtsmen completed their improbable comeback.
Just 31 seconds into the fourth, Kuhn pounced on a loose ball and in one motion, shot past Narvaez to again cut the deficit to one.
Then, with 11:09 to go, after Mainella won the faceoff, Scribner set up Kuhn to tie the score, 8-8.
Mainella won another faceoff and Scribner had a great look at the lead, but Narvaez made the save.
Falmouth kept pressing and with 10:33 to play in regulation, the ball came up top to Gilbert, who somehow launched a rocket past Narvaez and into the corner of the net for a 9-8 lead.
“I closed my eyes and just shot it, but it turned out well,” Gilbert said.
Tucker kept the Yachtsmen on top, denying both Owen Thoreck and Caswell, but with 4:48 to play, in transition, Cape Elizabeth drew even as senior defenseman Noah Haversat passed to Shea, who beat Tucker to make it 9-9.
Momentum was momentarily back in the Capers’ corner, but Kuhn made sure Falmouth got out of town with a win.
With 4:30 left, Kuhn shot just wide, but 11 seconds later, he got the ball again, from Scribner, and this time beat Narvaez to put the Yachtsmen on top for good.
“Jack drove to his right, I got through traffic and got the ball,” Kuhn said. “I didn’t even think about it. I just had to trust my instincts. I took some shots early in the game and he made nice saves. He’s a good goalie. We were just able to crack him. I just started shooting more. You have to shoot to score.”
Kuhn, as is his wont, wasn’t shy about exulting after scoring.
“Celebrating can be overdone, but at the time, I can’t help it,” he said. “It’s an emotional game.”
With 3:11 left, Scribner threw a high pass which Leighton caught before shooting past Narvaez for a little breathing room.
Late in the game, Tucker had to deny Owen Thoreck and after Griffin Thoreck made a nice move around a defender and appeared to have a wide open lane to the goal, Hickey swatted the ball away.
Falmouth ran out the clock from there and after a tremendous 48-minute effort, which encompassed 104 minutes of real time, the Yachtsmen celebrated their 11-9 victory, just their second ever at Cape Elizabeth (a win in the 2010 season opener was the other).
“Emotions were running high for both teams,” Kuhn said. “Me, C.J. and Coach LeBel were the only three people in the Falmouth program that remembered what it was like to beat them. We’d lost seven straight to our bitter rival. They’d been questioning us. I’m glad to give them some answers.”
“It was a great win for our team, a real confidence-booster,” Tucker said. “One thing that kept us in it was our teammate (injured senior) Jack Zinn, who told us we had to get it together. Me and my defensemen, especially Brendan Hickey, tried to stay positive and move on to the next play. I can really count on him. I can count on all the defensemen.”‘
“In the big picture, it doesn’t really mean anything,” LeBel added. “It doesn’t give us a higher seed. We knew that going into the game and I think that helped us. It allowed us to play a little looser. We just went into it trying to learn some things and become better players and maybe gain some confidence.
“We can compete with a team like that. They’re outstanding. They have multiple options on offense. Their defense is athletic and aggressive. They’re well coached. They’ve got as close to a perfect team as I’ve seen since maybe our 2011 and 2012 teams. It’s been so long since we’ve beaten them. We’ve had good players. We’ve had IV Stucker, we’ve had Charlie Fay, but we couldn’t figure out how to beat Cape. We have only two players, C.J. and Bryce, who know what it’s like to beat them.”
Falmouth’s celebration rankled Cape Elizabeth, especially a postgame cheer which the Capers felt was theirs and was a demonstration of disrespect. While no one would comment on the back-and-forth, rest assured that Cape Elizabeth has taken note and that its bulletin board will feature this postgame prominently.
For the second game in a row, Kuhn (who scored eight times against Kennebunk) put on a shooting clinic, scoring six times.
“Bryce ignites all of us,” Gilbert said. “He’s a great player. When he plays well, we play well.”
“(Bryce) had a very impressive, good shooting night tonight,” LeBel said. “They neutralized Jack Scribner, but Bryce found some seams and shooting opportunities. It took him a little while to get going, but he was really big for us. This meant a lot to him.”
Gilbert added three big goals, while Leighton and Scribner both tickled the twine once. Scribner also had three assists, while Leighton and Russell both set up two goals.
Tucker continued to play bigger than he really is, as he made 12 saves.
“Our defense has played really well,” Tucker said. “They gave me shots I could see. I have to give them credit.”
“Liam was amazing,” said Kuhn. “He really stepped up and made saves. Our defense got tired the first game. Tonight, they were fresh and focused.”
“I think shooters maybe think it’s a lot easier to get the ball around (Liam) than it is,” LeBel added. “He’s technically as sound as any goalie I’ve seen. You have T-Moe (Hellier) at South Portland and D.J. Nicholas at NYA, but his is a kid who gets a lot of private coaching and really works at his craft. He’s not getting lucky out there. He has a plan. He knows where shooters are looking to expose him.”
Mainella won 15 of 24 faceoffs.
“It started with faceoffs,” Gilbert said. “(Jack) kept it in his stick and got it to our wingers and that led to offense.”
“Jack was incredible in the second half,” Kuhn said. “They put a long-pole on him just to take the ball away when he won.”
Falmouth had a 47-36 ground balls advantage, as Mainella had a game-high 15 and Hickey collected five. The Yachtsmen overcame 23 turnovers.
Cape Elizabeth got four goals from Griffin Thoreck, two apiece from Sarka and Shea and one from Owen Thoreck. Haversat had the Capers’ lone assist. Narvaez made seven saves. Haversat, Sarka and senior Jack Drinan all had five ground balls. The Capers outshot Falmouth, 35-28 (21-18 on cage) and had 18 turnovers.
“We took some penalties and we didn’t do a very good job on ground balls,” Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond said. “The attitude crept in that they couldn’t catch us and we’d be number one no matter what. We were up and down. Defense played well in the first half, not so well in the second. A lot of that had to do with penalties, but we didn’t slide as well. On the offensive end, we stalled a little bit. The ball got stuck on guys’ stick a little bit too much. Their goalie made a bunch of good saves and we missed a couple. They did a great job on faceoffs. There were a lot of things we didn’t do that well. Up until today, we’d played really well. We were moving in the right direction. We did a good job moving the ball, looking for the extra pass. Falmouth kept fighting. They made good defensive stops when they needed to. Offensively, their shooters got looks.”
Cape Elizabeth is ranked first in Western B for the third year in a row and will play Greely, Kennebunk or Waynflete in the semifinals, Saturday, June 13. The Capers have never lost a home playoff game.
“We’ll start figuring things out tomorrow,” Raymond said. “We’ll get back to work on little things like ground balls. We know who we are. We just all need to show up on the right day.”
Falmouth will be the number two seed and will host the third-ranked team, either Greely or Kennebunk, in the semifinals.
“The main thing this gives us is confidence,”Kuhn said. “We came in here and beat them on the biggest stage of the regular season.”
“I think this means we’re a legit team, but we won’t get ahead of ourselves,” Tucker said. “We just want to play our game and try to make it to states.”
“We’ve got to keep it in perspective and move on,”LeBel added. “We’re happy about it, sure, not many teams beat Cape. It was just a fun nigh, but let’s just take tonight for what it was. Two great teams battling it out and the fans saw a nice, well-played game. It was exciting. The kids at Falmouth have a great deal of respect for that program. Ben and I get along very well. We have a nice relationship. There’s a lot of respect back and forth.”
On June 17, it’s quite likely we’ll see the Capers and Yachtsmen meeting for the seventh year in a row with the right to play for a state title going to the victor.
“This is a confidence booster, but we won’t write Cape off at all,” Gilbert said. “We’ll have to come back here humble.”
“We play the entire season for the Western Maine Final,” Kuhn said. “It will be a great game. I can’t wait. It will be electric. We don’t like them and they don’t like us. It’s a rivalry.”
“This is good for morale,” LeBel added. “I knew the potential was there. I just wasn’t sure if it would come together like this. In no way am I saying we’re perfect. There’s room to improve. We don’t play a lot of games in the playoffs. There’s a maximum of three games. We’ve got a lot of time to get ready. We’ll go back at it tomorrow and we’ll try to get better and better and better and prepare ourselves. This will only fire them up and make them even more determined next time. We’re not looking to Cape. We won’t look past our first opponent.
Falmouth sophomore goalie Liam Tucker runs up the field after making a save.
Cape Elizabeth senior Noah Haversat checks Falmouth junior George Gilbert.
Falmouth freshman Brendan Hickey, who had another terrific defensive night, stymies Cape Elizabeth sophomore Owen Thoreck.
Cape Elizabeth senior Griffin Thoreck winds up and shoots for one of his four goals.
Falmouth junior George Gilbert possesses the ball under the wary eye of Cape Elizabeth senior Noah Wolfinger.
Things turned testy late in the first hit after Cape Elizabeth senior Noah Wolfinger (right) took a penalty for an illegal body check, an infraction that Falmouth senior C.J. Leighton took exception to.
Falmouth senior Kohl Valle defends Cape Elizabeth sophomore Owen Thoreck.
Cape Elizabeth junior R.J. Sarka possesses the ball. Sarka scored twice Tuesday.
Cape Elizabeth senior Ben Shea is robbed on the doorstep by Falmouth sophomore goalie Liam Tucker.
Falmouth senior Bryce Kuhn jumps into the arms of junior George Gilbert after Gilbert gives the Yachtsmen a 9-8 fourth quarter lead.
@ Cape Elizabeth 6 Falmouth 3
Western B Final
@ Cape Elizabeth 11 Falmouth 7
Cape Elizabeth 12 @ Falmouth 5
Cape Elizabeth 8 @ Falmouth 4
Cape Elizabeth 10 @ Falmouth 3
@ Cape Elizabeth 8 Falmouth 3
Cape Elizabeth 12 @ Falmouth 2
@ Cape Elizabeth 13 Falmouth 4
Cape Elizabeth 13 @ Falmouth 2
Falmouth’s boys’ lacrosse team erupts in celebration following Tuesday’s shocking 11-9 win at Cape Elizabeth.
Ben McCanna photos.
More photos below.
F- 0 3 3 5- 11
CE- 2 4 2 1- 9
10:40 CE G. Thoreck (unassisted)
1:57 CE Sarka (unasisted)
8:26 CE G. Thoreck (unassisted)
6:37 CE Shea (unassisted)
5:27 F Scribner (Russell)
5:01 F Gilbert (unassisted)
3:48 CE G. Thoreck (unassisted)
2:35 CE Sarka (unassisted)
34.7 F Kuhn (Russell)
11:28 CE O. Thoreck (unassisted)
7:32 F Gilbert (Leighton)
5:49 F Kuhn (unassisted)
5:09 F Kuhn (Leighton)
3:26 CE G. Thoreck (unassisted) (MAN-DOWN)
11:29 F Kuhn (unassisted)
11:09 F Kuhn (Scribner)
10:33 F Gilbert (unassisted)
4:48 CE Shea (Haversat)
4:19 F Kuhn (Scribner)
3:11 F Leighton (Scribner)
F- Kuhn 6, Gilbert 3, Leighton, Scribner 1
CE- G. Thoreck 4, Sarka, Shea 2, O. Thoreck 1
F- Scribner 3, Leighton, Russell 2
CE- Haversat 1
Faceoffs (Falmouth, 15-9)
F- Mainella 15 of 24
CE- Raymond 4 of 12, Drinan 3 of 9, Spencer 2 of 3
Ground balls (Falmouth, 47-36)
F- Mainella 15, Hickey 5, Scribner, Wheeler 4, Leighton, Masciangelo, Norris 3, Gilbert, Kuhn, Russell, E. Zinn 2, Hanson, Tucker 1
CE- Drinan, Haversat, Sarka 5, Caswell, Narvaez, Shea, G. Thoreck 3, O. Thoreck, Weatherbie 2, Ekedahl, Kelly, Raymond, C. Thoreck, Wolfinger 1
Shots on cage:
F (Tucker) 12
CE (Narvaez) 7