Falmouth stifles Messalonskee for another key victory

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Falmouth sophomore Brady Douglas (25) and senior Griffin Aube celebrate after Douglas’ touchdown reception in the first quarter.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

BOX SCORE

Falmouth 42 Messalonskee 14

M- 6 8 0 0- 14
F- 7 14 7 14- 42

First quarter
M- Balboni 7 run (kick blocked)
F- Douglas 47 pass from Bryant (Walker kick)

Second quarter
F- Micucci 8 pass from Bryant (Walker kick)
M- Lewis 3 run (Pelletier rush)
F- Ga. Aube 2 run (Walker kick)

Third quarter
F- Bryant 4 run (Walker kick)

Fourth quarter
F- Micucci 18 pass from Bryant (Walker kick)
F- Kidder 29 run (Walker kick)

FALMOUTH—Falmouth’s offensive brilliance needs no introduction.

The Yachtsmen’s defense, meanwhile, often gets overlooked or maligned, but when that unit is clicking as well, Falmouth has what it takes to be one of the best teams in Class B.

Friday evening on their home field, the Yachtsmen hosted Messalonskee in a crossover battle of 3-1 teams and while the offense was once again potent, with the game hanging in the balance, it was the defense that stole the show.

The Eagles marched 70 yards to start the game and took a 6-0 lead on a 7-yard touchdown run by senior Alden Balboni, but the extra point was blocked.

Falmouth’s first drive then produced a beautiful 47-yard TD pass from standout senior quarterback Jack Bryant to sophomore Brady Douglas and a 7-6 lead after one quarter.

When Bryant hit senior Emilio Micucci from 8-yards out early in the second period, the advantage was 14-6, but Messalonskee rallied and pulled even on a 3-yard run from senior Tyler Lewis and a two-point conversion rush by senior Austin Pelletier.

The Yachtsmen’s defense then rose up and blanked the Eagles the rest of the way, while Falmouth’s offense still had four touchdowns to score.

With 3:17 to play before halftime, a 2-yard run from senior Garret Aube put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay and they took a 21-14 advantage to the break.

Messalonskee then recovered a fumble in Falmouth’s territory to start the second half, but gained just one yard. The Eagles got another chance to pull even, but again went three-and-out and later in the third quarter, Bryant scored on a 4-yard run for a little breathing room.

The Yachtsmen then ended all doubt in the fourth period, as Bryant and Micucci hooked up again, this time from 18 yards, and freshman Sam Kidder broke free for a 29-yard score, and went on to prevail, 42-14.

Falmouth improved to 4-1 and dropped Messalonskee to 3-2 in the process.

“I was really pleased to see our defense get better as the game went on,” Yachtsmen coach John Fitzsimmons said. “I didn’t like the slow start. We made adjustments at halftime and that’s the team I expected to see on the field. 

On the rise

Falmouth, which was ousted by rival Greely in last year’s quarterfinal round, wasn’t viewed as a top contender this fall, but the Yachtsmen have a lot of talent on both sides of the ball and with one exception, have done very well.

After a 41-19 win at Cony in the opener, Falmouth blanked visiting Mt. Ararat (37-0). A 51-34 loss at defending regional champion Kennebunk was followed last week by a pivotal, confidence-boosting 42-30 victory at Biddeford.

“We were just figuring out our team and Kennebunk’s really good, so we didn’t play our best in that game,” Bryant said. “You have to play your best when you play the best teams. Last week was good to get that rebound win. Going 3-1 was much better than 2-2, especially in this league with so many good teams.”

“We wanted to make the best of it against Biddeford,” said Falmouth senior defensive stalwart Josh Allen. “That will help lead us to more victories.”

“Biddeford proved we’re for real,” Fitzsimmons added. “When our backs are to the wall, we step up.”

Messalonskee was a .500 squad in 2016, but won three of its first four this autumn: blanking host Brunswick, the defending state champion (23-0), and after falling at home to Kennebunk (32-7), outslugging visiting Skowhegan (57-42) and rolling to a 65-14 win at Hampden Academy.

The teams hadn’t met prior to Friday night and the Yachtsmen made sure that the first encounter went their way.

Messalonskee won the opening coin toss and bucking the recent trend, elected to take the ball. The Eagles then drove 70 yards on eight plays in 3 minutes, 32 seconds to grab an early lead.

After Pelletier ran for three yards, Lewis picked up a dozen on a quick counter. Lewis then gained seven more yards and a late hit penalty moved the ball to the Falmouth 33. After Pelletier ran for seven yards, the visitors were backed up by a holding penalty and a fumbled exchange set up third-and-15 from the 38. Sophomore quarterback Deklan Thurston then hit Lewis with a quick pass and Lewis broke a tackle and ran for 30 yards to set up first-and-goal at the 8. After Pelletier was held to one yard, Balboni did the rest, running to the right, cutting back and as he was being tackled, stretching the ball over the goal line. With 8:22 on the first quarter clock, sophomore Kyle Burger-Roy attempted the extra point, but it was blocked, keeping the score 6-0.

The Yachtsmen started their first drive at the Eagles’ 43 after a 36-yard kickoff return by junior Evan Lovley and needed just three plays and 53 seconds to answer.

Garret Aube ran for a yard on first down and a false start penalty and an incomplete pass set up third-and-14, where Bryant dropped a rainbow down the left sideline into the arms of Douglas behind the defense and Douglas took the ball in for a 47-yard score with 7:21 to play in the quarter. Senior John Walker’s PAT put Falmouth on top, 7-6.

Messalonskee hoped to answer, but after Pelletier was held to no gain by Allen and Lewis ran for 10-yards, then 16, Pelletier was held to one yard, Thurston threw incomplete, Balboni ran for a yard and on fourth-and-8, Lewis was held to five yards, giving Falmouth the ball back at its 24.

This time, in a drive which spanned the end of the first quarter and the start of the second, the Yachtsmen needed 13 plays and 6:01 to march 76 yards to extend their lead.

Junior Riley Reed got things started with a nine-yard run and Bryant moved the chains with a six-yard pass to senior Griffin Aube. After Reed ran for three yards, Bryant kept it for three more and on the tackle, a facemask penalty was called, giving Falmouth a first down at the Eagles’ 40. After Bryant ran for three yards, Garret Aube caught a pass for one more and on third-and-six, Griffin Aube caught a pass for 10 yards and a first down at the 26. After Griffin Aube caught a pass for no yardage, Bryant ran for eight  yards and Garret Aube picked up seven more for a first down at the 11. On the final play of the opening stanza, Garret Aube caught a pass, but lost a yard.

The second quarter started with a four-yard pass from Bryant to Griffin Aube. Then, on third-and-7, Bryant waited for Micucci to break open in the back left corner of the end zone before hitting him in stride for the touchdown. Walker added the extra point and with 11:14 to go in the half, Falmouth led, 14-6.

Messalonskee would answer, as it drove 61 yards in 12 plays and 5:12.

Starting at their 39, the Eagles started with Balboni losing a yard and Pelletier being held to no gain, but after picking up three yards on a scramble, Thurston was hit in the helmet on the tackle and the personal foul penalty set up first down at the Yachtsmen’s 44. After Balboni ran for four yards, Pelletier picked up nine to move the chains to the 31. Pelletier then twice ran for three yards and Lewis gained four to set up fourth-and-inches, where Pelletier bulled forward for a first down at the 19. After Balboni broke free to the 5, Pelletier picked up two and on a pitch to the left, Lewis raced in from the 3 with 5:54 to play in the half. The ensuing two-point conversion saw Pelletier run in untouched and the game was tied, 14-14.

That would be Messalonskee’s highwater mark as Falmouth’s defense slammed the door the rest of the way.

The next Yachtsmen scoring drive needed 2:32 and seven plays to traverse 56 yards.

A squib kick set Falmouth up at its 44 and Garret Aube ran for four-yards, then 10 more for a first down at the Eagles’ 42. After Bryant kept the ball for three yards, he hit Griffin Aube for 23 yards down the left sideline for a first down at the 16. Reed gained two yards, then Bryant kept it and appeared to be stopped around the 7, but he backed up and kept his legs churning until he was finally stopped at the 2. Garret Aube then put the hosts ahead to stay with a 2-yard run with 3:17 on the clock. Walker’s PAT made it 21-14.

Messalonskee hoped to answer before halftime and got off to a good start as Balboni broke several tackles on a short pass and wound up gaining 32 yards to the Yachtsmen 38. Pelletier ran for two and junior Cameron Goff gained eight more for a first down at the 28. Pelletier then lost a yard and after Balboni gained seven, Reed and junior Coleman Allen threw Balboni for a two-yard loss. The Eagles then tried to kick a 41-yard field goal, but sophomore Sean Rodrigue’s attempt was blocked.

Falmouth got the ball back at its 27 with 42 seconds left, but after Bryant ran for six yards, he threw incomplete. Bryant hit Douglas for seven yards to move the chains, but after a 20-yard strike to Douglas, the clock ran out and the Yachtsmen took a 21-14 lead to the break.

Falmouth had a 208-205 advantage in yardage over the first 24 minutes, as Bryant completed 11-of-13 passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. Douglas caught three balls for 74 yards and one TD.

The Yachtsmen got the ball first in the second half, but after Griffin Aube caught a pass for one yard, a fumbled exchange put the ball on the turf and Eagles senior Nick Poulliot fell on it at the Falmouth 33.

Messalonskee had a great chance to pull even, but junior Coleman Allen held Pelletier to no gain on first down, Pelletier only picked up three on second down and on third-and-7, Josh Allen sacked Thurston for a two-yard loss.

“We made some adjustments to where they were motioning and that made a big difference,” Josh Allen said. “I like our run protection and when we force teams to pass, we make a difference downfield.”

“I love how our defense rose to the occasion,” Fitzsimmons said. “They clearly did. Normally, after a turnover, that’s when kids’ heads drop and think they’re in trouble, but we stepped up. Coleman Allen is a great linebacker who hits with authority.”

The Eagles went for it on fourth down, but Thurston threw incomplete and the Yachtsmen held, getting the ball back at their 32.

Falmouth went three-and-out, as Bryant threw three incomplete passes.

Messalonskee then took over at its 35 and again had a chance to tie, but after Pelletier gained three yards and Balboni ran for two. Thurston threw incomplete and the Yachtsmen held once again.

With 7:05 to play in the third period, Falmouth started at its 23 and 11 plays and 2:53 later, a 77-yard touchdown drive extended the lead.

Bryant started with consecutive incomplete passes, but on third-and-10, he waited for Micucci to get open, then hit him for 27 yards to midfield. After another incomplete pass, Garret Aube ran for five yards. Bryant threw incomplete to set up fourth-and-5, but the Eagles jumped offsides and on fourth-and-inches, Bryant kept the ball and raced to the Messalonskee 15 for a 25-yard pickup. Garret Aube then ran for four-yards and Bryant picked up six more. A one-yard run by Garret Aube set up first-and-goal from the 4 and Bryant did the rest, keeping the ball and crossing the goal line for a 4-yard score with 4:12 to go in the frame. Walker’s PAT made the score 28-14.

The visitors again couldn’t answer, as after a holding penalty, Balboni ran for 16 yards and Pelletier gained seven more for a first down at the Falmouth 47. After a fumbled exchange lost four yards, Balboni was held to no yards and Griffin Aube sacked Thurston for seven yards, forcing a punt.

With 22.3 seconds left in the third, the Yachtsmen got the ball back at their 30 and after Bryant kept the ball for a yard on the final play of the quarter, he hit sophomore Michael Simonds for five yards and Micucci for 16 more for a first down at the Messalonskee 48. After Garret Aube ran for five yards, Bryant scrambled for six and a first down at the 37. Reed gained seven and Griffin Aube caught a pass for 13 more, setting up a first down at the 17. After Pelletier tackled Reed for a one-yard loss and Bryant’s pass to the end zone slipped through Simonds’ hands, Falmouth called the same play and this time, Bryant dropped the ball into Micucci’s hands for an 18-yard touchdown with 8:22 remaining. Walker added the extra point to make it 35-14.

The Eagles again went three-and-out and with 6:10 on the clock, the Yachtsmen took over at midfield. This time, it took two plays to hit paydirt, as Kidder broke free for 21 yards before getting the ball again and scoring on a 29-yard dash with 5:41 to play. Walker’s PAT extended the lead to 42-14.

Facing Falmouth’s reserves, Messalonskee began to drive, riding an 18-yard burst from Burger-Roy to a first down in Yachtsmen territory, but Thurston would be intercepted at the 4 by junior Antonio Pardi with 3:22 to go and Pardi returned the ball to the 14.

From there, Falmouth ran out the clock, as Lovley ran three times for 23 yards, Kidder picked up three more and reserve quarterback Sean Dilworth took a knee to make the 42-14 victory official.

“We didn’t know what to expect, but (Messalonskee) played hard and hit hard,” Bryant said. “That was a reason we started slow. They’re a good football team. We still have some new guys on defense and this is the point in the year when they’re figuring it out. We’re good at making adjustments.”

“Messalonskee was a good team, one of the best in the North,” Fitzsimmons said. “We weren’t surprised. Pelletier is a very good back and he got our attention. Once we made adjustments, we were solid.”

Bryant completed 17-of-27 passes for 205 yards with three touchdowns. He also ran 11 times for 77 yards and a score.

“Jack is the real deal,” said Fitzsimmons. “His football IQ is exceptional. He truly understands what’s happening. Our offense is about his reads. He executes our offense well. He’s a true student of the game. He’ll play someplace in college and whoever gets him will be lucky.”

Griffin Aube had seven receptions for 57 yards, Douglas caught three passes for 74 yards and a touchdown and Micucci had four catches for 69 yards and two scores.

Garret Aube had nine rushes for 40 yards and a TD and caught two passes for 0 yards.

Simonds had one reception for five yards.

Kidder had three rushes for 53 yards and a touchdown and Reed gained 20 yards on five carries for the Yachtsmen, who mustered 414 yards, only turned the ball over once and were only flagged four times for 40 yards.

“This offense is a lot of fun,” Bryant said. “We spread the ball around, get everyone involved and score a lot of points. It makes it hard on the defense. For us, it’s great. It’s boring for one guy to get the ball 40 times. Everybody gets a few touches every game. Every game, it’s a different guy. We know we’re playing up-tempo and other teams get tired. We know if we keep at it, we’ll put up points.”

“Jack’s surrounded by talent,” Fitzsimmons said. “Most teams, you can zero in on one or two people, but we have too many skill guys which is a blessing for us.”

Messalonskee ended up with 252 yards (just 47 in the second half), turned the ball over once and was penalized five times for 46 yards.

Balboni had 48 yards and a TD on 10 carries and caught one pass for 32 yards. Pelletier was held to 45 yards on 17 rushes. Lewis had 57 yards and a touchdown on seven attempts and caught a pass for 30 yards. Thurston ended up 2-of-4 through the air for 62 yards. 

Brutal stretch concludes

Messalonskee (now third in the Class B North Heal Points standings) returns home next weekend to host Brewer (2-3). The Eagles then then host Cony and close the regular season at Lawrence.

Falmouth (third in Class B South) plays at top-ranked, 5-0 Marshwood next weekend as it concludes its gauntlet.

The Yachtsmen then close at home versus Gorham and Greely.

“I think we can beat anybody, but we could also lose to anybody,” Bryant said. “Every week, we have to play a good game from start to finish.”

“It’s a bear of a schedule and all the big ones are away,” said Fitzsimmons. “This was a treat to be home for this one. Marshwood is playing at a high level. Our tackling needs to be better. We need to stop trying to strip the ball instead of tackling.”

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

Falmouth senior quarterback Jack Bryant throws a pass as juniors Jake Ricker, left, and Chase Kelley block.

Falmouth senior Noah Barney tracks down Messalonskee sophomore Deklan Thurston.

Falmouth junior Evan Lovley races up the field with a kickoff return.

Falmouth junior Riley Reed gets a step on Messalonskee senior Alden Balboni.

Falmouth senior Garret Aube tries to get past Messalonskee senior Noah Tuttle.

Falmouth senior Griffin Aube makes a move on Messalonskee senior Austin Pelletier.

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