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Yarmouth edges NYA in Wounded Warrior benefit

Sports

Yarmouth edges NYA in Wounded Warrior benefit

YARMOUTH—It takes a lot to overshadow an NYA-Yarmouth boys' lacrosse game, especially a regular season opener, but even one of the most intense rivalries in New England took a backseat Saturday afternoon to the Wounded Warrior Project.

For the second year in a row, North Yarmouth Academy hosted a benefit game for that cause, this time with its crosstown rival, and both the pre-game ceremony and the contest itself delivered ample drama.

After taking the field carrying American flags preceded by cannon fire, the Clippers and Panthers put on a show.

The teams combined for just one goal in the first quarter, but Yarmouth, still stinging after being upset on its home field by NYA in last year's regional final, raced to a 5-2 lead late in the second period. 

The Clippers wouldn't score again for over 18 minutes, however, and the Panthers, after pulling within 5-3 at halftime, drew even in the third, then went ahead for the first time with 11 minutes to play when senior Jacob Scammon scored unassisted.

Yarmouth wasn't about to let this one slip away and tied it less than two minutes later on a goal from senior Ethan Cyr. Then, with 44.9 seconds left, senior Ian Edgecomb struck to put the Clippers back on top and they went on to a 7-6 victory in the teams' mutual opener.

Cyr had three goals and sophomore Joe Oliva scored twice as Yarmouth overcame its offensive inconsistency, a lopsided disadvantage in the faceoff circle and too many turnovers, but still found a way to prevail.

"It means a lot to us," said Clippers coach David Pearl. "We felt we'd left a lot of work unfinished last year. The guys have been thinking about it a lot. We proved today we're a good team. We have a long way to go, thank goodness, but I tell you what, a first game of the season, against a crosstown rival, really gave an indication of our heart and soul. We're resilient."

Giving back

Last spring, longtime NYA assistant coach Bruce Myers, a one-time Navy employee, whose son is in that branch of the service, organized the first Wounded Warrior Project fundraiser.

The Wounded Warrior Project raises awareness and enlists the public's aid for the need of injured service members, helps injured service members aid and assist each other and provides unique, direct programs and services to meet the needs of injured service members.

The Panthers lost last year's game, 4-3, to Scarborough, but a tradition was born.

This year, Yarmouth, fittingly, was the foe and both schools sponsored the fundraiser, along with Atlantic Sportswear (which designed special camouflage jerseys for the players to wear), GraphX Signs, TEXTECH, The Mortgage Office and Pat's Pizza.

Last year, over $5,000 was raised (Kristi Belesca, NYA's Director of Marketing and Communications said that this year's total wouldn't be known for several days).

Earlier in the day Saturday, during the junior varsity game, members of the NYA and Yarmouth varsity teams piled into adjacent Travis Roy Arena to listen to a presentation from a representative of the Wounded Warrior Project.

It made a big impact on players and coaches alike.

"It was great to see the military folks who were here, meet them, talk to them," said Edgecomb. "The guy who works with the wounded warriors told us what they're doing is helping support them to get back to a civilian lifestyle. They were saying how they can feel so isolated. In a way, they're helping them get acclimated."

"You can put (the kids) in (camouflage uniforms) and have them run around with a flag, but it's important they understand what the program is like and what they do," said NYA coach Peter Gerrity.

"I was incredibly moved," said Pearl. "When we walked into (Travis Roy Arena) and the NYA players were sitting there, there was a short, awkward moment. That evaporated in a moment when the representative of the U.S. Army Wounded Warrior Project started to speak and he talked about sacrifice and hard work and teamwork. He had rapt attention of the boys. The boys were actively engaged in listening to him. That was very satisfying."

The teams then made their way to the field and ran out carrying American flags, accompanied by a round of cannon fire

A color guard was joined by the NYA Varsity Singers to perform the national anthem and then, it was game time.

Quite a show

The NYA-Yarmouth on-field rivalry needs no introduction. Nowhere else in Maine do you find public and a private school powers in such proximity, knowing that they're going to play two tight regular season games, followed most years by a third in the playoffs, often with a trip to the state final at stake.

Every year since 2002, either NYA or Yarmouth has represented the East in the state championship game. From 2000 through 2010 (and again last spring), the teams squared off in the postseason with the winner going on to capture the state title in 2001, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2008 and 2009.

The Clippers enjoyed a long stretch of dominance, taking 12 in a row between 2002 and 2006 and eight of nine between 2008 and 2011, but NYA split last year's regular season encounters, falling, 11-9, at Yarmouth, then winning at home, 8-6, before stunning the Clippers, 8-7, to win the Eastern B title.

After falling to Falmouth in the state final for the second year in a row, NYA entered this season confident, with plenty of talent returning and one-time standout Peter Gerrity in place as the official coach (he took over on an interim basis late last spring). The Panthers have some question marks on the defensive end and had to replace standout goalie Weston Nolan, but came in feeling they were as good as anyone.

Yarmouth, meanwhile, has stewed over last year's playoff loss and was itching to get another shot at NYA. The Clippers also feature plenty of returning talent and figure to only get better as the season progresses.

Saturday, both squads showed that while there is reason for optimism, they both have work to do as the year progresses.

Offense was at a premium in the first period as the game was scoreless until 1:19 remained, when Yarmouth senior Quinn Hathcock scored unassisted, beating NYA sophomore goalie D.J. Nicholas with a quick shot.

The action picked up in the second stanza.

Just 56 seconds in, the Panthers settled in and got on the board as senior Eliott Wellenbach scored an unassisted goal, beating Clippers senior first-year goalie Sam Landry.

"The kids would have been amped up anyway for an NYA-Yarmouth game, let alone the camo jerseys, cannon fire and all that," said Gerrity.

Undaunted, Yarmouth got the goal back a mere 18 seconds later as junior Brady Neujahr won the faceoff and got the ball to Cyr, who eluded a defender and scored for a 2-1 lead.

With 8:12 to go in the first half, Oliva took a pass from Edgecomb and finished to make it 3-1.

The hosts drew back within a goal with 5:32 remaining, as senior Jeremy Sylvain took a pass from classmate Oliver Silverson and tickled the twine.

The Clippers then got goals from Cyr (firing through a screen) and Oliva (unassisted) in a 21-second span to push their lead to 5-2, but were about to go cold offensively for a long time.

NYA began to come back with 1:39 left in the half as Scammon sent a brilliant pass to Silverson, who shot past Landry to pull the Panthers within 5-3 at halftime.

In the first half, NYA won seven of 10 faceoffs and grabbed 18 ground balls to 14 for Yarmouth, but was on the wrong end of the scoreboard.

In the third period, the Clippers simply couldn't possess the ball, as they committed several turnovers and the Panthers took advantage.

With 6:57 left in the quarter, senior Matt Hawkins scored unassisted.

Then, with 5:30 to go, Wellenbach set up Scammon for a goal and NYA had drawn even.

"We came into the season thinking the defense wasn't going to be quite where we needed it to be, but that the offense would be clicking," Gerrity said. "We tried to hold the ball more. That's what we were able to do in the third quarter."

The hosts almost took the lead late in the third, but Hawkins' high shot hit the crossbar.

At the other end, Yarmouth had its best chance of the stanza, but Oliva was robbed by Nicholas on the doorstep.

The Clippers were struggling mightily, but were still even.

"The third quarter was definitely a lull for us," said Edgecomb. "We weren't clearing (the ball), we weren't winning faceoffs. We were stagnant. We gave them the ball too much. They had too much possession and they came back on us."

"The strength of our team is our defense," Pearl said. "We had a really hard time clearing the ball in the third quarter and when you give guys like Scammon and Wellenbach two or three shots at you, they'll put the ball in the net. We were on our heels, but we played really good defense."

One minute into the fourth period, Scammon scored an unassisted goal and the Panthers had their first lead, 6-5.

With nothing going their way, the Clippers could have rolled over, but instead, they answered.

With 9:08 remaining in regulation, after senior Christian Henry won a contested ground ball, Henry fed Cyr and Cyr ended an 18 minute 5 second drought with a shot to tie the score, 6-6.

The next eight-plus minutes saw both teams with long possessions and near misses, the best opportunities coming when Wellenbach shot just wide and a bid from NYA senior T.J. Daigler, which hit the outside of the net.

Yarmouth got the ball with a little over a minute to go and transitioned to its offensive zone. After passing the ball around the perimeter, junior Isaak Dearden spotted a cutting Edgecomb in front. Edgecomb caught the pass and one-timed a shot that Nicholas couldn't stop and with 44.9 seconds left, the Clippers were back on top, 7-6.

"I just cut through the middle and got a great feed," Edgecomb said. "I was able to finish it."

"Our attack is great," Cyr said. "Ian can score from anywhere. It's nice to have all those scoring options."

"We had some great looks," Pearl added. "I'm really pleased. We had a couple of the prettiest goals in this game. They were prettier than any we scored last year. Guys are learning to share the ball and you see the results."

Wellenbach won yet another faceoff, giving the Panthers one final chance, but with 17.3 seconds to go, Hawkins fired a shot off target and Yarmouth got possession. The Clippers then ran out the clock and celebrated a win 10-plus months in the making.

"We're taught to keep our cool," Edgecomb said. "We don't get angry or upset. We see what's on the scoreboard, but that doesn't bother us. We kept our heads until the end."

"It's a big day," Cyr said. "I was really proud to play for the Wounded Warrior Project. We had to win. It's a great feeling. Wearing this jersey, being a captain, beating our biggest rival in our first game is just amazing. Our defense did a stellar job in the 18 minutes we couldn't score. We kept our heads in it. We stayed focused. We did a simple things. We got passes in. We got it to each other's sticks. We kept our heads up when we dodged. We got rid of it when we needed to. That was the key. We didn't try to do too much."

Pearl raved about the experience of the day and the victory.

"I love the kind of sportsmanship and camaraderie we saw today," Pearl said. "It's a unique rivalry. My assistant, Hans Tobiason (Yarmouth's Spring 2006 Male Athlete of the Year) played against Peter (NYA's Spring 2005 Male Athlete of the Year). I coached against both Peter and his brother. One of the things about the Wounded Warrior program is that Peter and I collaborated on it a lot and I have the utmost respect for him."

Yarmouth got goals from four different players, as Cyr had three, Oliva two and Edgecomb and Hathcock one apiece. Dearden, Edgecomb and Henry all had assists.

Landry made 11 saves in his first varsity start.

"Sam played great," Pearl said. "You have two really hard shooters shooting at you from the top and he saw the ball really well today. He made some great saves."

Senior Nick Ronan had a team-high three ground balls. The Clippers turned the ball over 19 times, but survived.

NYA got two goals from Scammon and one each from Hawkins, Silverson, Sylvain and Wellenbach. Scammon, Silverson and Wellenbach all had one assist. Nicholas made seven saves.

"(D.J.) was an athlete before," Gerrity said. "Now, he's a goalie making saves."

The Panthers won 13 of 16 faceoffs, sparked by Wellenbach's sensational 12 for 12 effort. NYA also won the ground ball battle (36-21), as Wellenbach led the way with five and Hawkins and senior Ben Claytor each collected four. The Panthers had a 36-23 shots advantage (17-14 on cage), but were ultimately doomed by 20 turnovers.

"Eliott did really well today (on faceoffs)," said Gerrity. "We just had way too many turnovers."

See you soon

Both teams have a lot of work to do before their much-anticipated rematch at Yarmouth's turf field, May 15.

NYA looks to get in the win column Monday at Wells. The Panthers then run the gauntlet of hosting powerhouse Cape Elizabeth Wednesday and going to three-time defending Class A champion Scarborough Saturday.

"We have some things we know we need to fix," Gerrity said. "We're excited about the next game with Yarmouth and hopefully a third."

The Clippers don't get any breather, as their home opener is against none other than two-time defending Class B champion Falmouth Wednesday. Yarmouth then visits Western A surprise team South Portland Saturday.

"It's our time," Cyr said. "Our entire defense is back. We have good senior leadership. We can't get cocky. We have to keep our heads. We have just have to work hard."

"(Today) was definitely a statement about the hard work we've put in and to other teams to tell them we're back," Edgecomb said. "We need to keep working hard and keep our family together. We have to keep growing stronger, faster and stronger."

"We need to stick with fundamentals," added Pearl. "We need to be able to carry the ball under pressure. We won't change a lot of things. We won't trick teams. If we execute well, it's going to be really hard to stop us. I know no matter how hard we work, the next (NYA) game's going to be that much tougher."

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

Photo: Courtesy Kristi Belesca

A color guard was on hand for the national anthem, which was sung by the NYA Varsity Singers.

Photo: Courtesy Kristi Belesca

NYA senior Eliott Wellenbach, who was close to invincible in the faceoff circle, runs past Yarmouth senior Ethan Cyr after gaining possession.

Photo: Courtesy Kristi Belesca

NYA senior T.J. Daigler is defended by Yarmouth sophomore Henry Oliva.

Photo: Courtesy Kristi Belesca

Yarmouth junior Matthew Woodbury keeps a close eye on NYA senior Jacob Scammon.