Falmouth repeats after holding off NYA
PORTLAND—If the Falmouth boys' lacrosse team thought it had won the state championship Wednesday night when it held off rival Cape Elizabeth in a stirring regional final, the Yachtsmen got quite the wakeup call Saturday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium.
Facing a North Yarmouth Academy squad that wasn't expected to advance past its regional final and one Falmouth had beaten by a dozen goals just 17 days prior, the Yachtsmen discovered that you still have to come out and play the game and that tenacity, desire and an us-against-the-world mentality are pretty tough to overcome.
Falmouth's prolific offense was effective early, but the Yachtsmen, due in large part to superb goalie play from Panthers sophomore Weston Nolan, were held scoreless for nearly 23 minutes and with just under 11 minutes to play, clung to a 5-4 lead.
Then, finally, with the season and their legacy on the line, Falmouth's seniors dug deep and got help from their talented teammates to gain the small separation necessary.
With 10:52 to play, Yachtsmen senior Mitch Tapley, one of the most deadly finishers in recent memory, managed to sneak a shot past Nolan that barely cleared the goal line to break the spell and with 5:23 to go, junior Charlie Fay added a spectacular unassisted goal, converting while falling down.
That did the trick as Falmouth's defense held NYA at bay the rest of the way and the Yachtsmen finally were able to celebrate title No. 2, 7-4.
Falmouth finished the year with a 14-1 mark and ended the Panthers' stirring playoff run and their season at 9-7.
"I think really all the credit goes to NYA and their gameplan," said Yachtsmen coach Mike LeBel. "They did a heck of a job. They performed and executed a lot better today than we thought they would. I'll tell you, heart and determination go a long way and NYA had a lot of it today. They have no reason to hang their heads. They played outstanding. My guys did just enough to win the game. It wasn't our best game. It wasn't the prettiest game to watch, but we got the job done."
After losing in last year's state final to Falmouth, 15-4, NYA was far from a sure thing this spring, but the Panthers came together as the season progressed and were at their best at the end (see sidebar for season recap).
A 6-6 record left NYA fourth in Eastern B and it handled No. 5 Maranacook/Winthrop (16-5), St. Dom's (7-6) and Yarmouth (8-7), the latter two on the road, to capture the regional title.
Falmouth was clearly an elite team from the get-go and the biggest question surrounding the Yachtsmen was could they outlast Cape Elizabeth at the end.
Falmouth lost at Cape Elizabeth in its opener, then won its final 11 games, including a 14-12 home victory over the Capers, to earn the top spot in Western B. The Yachtsmen had no trouble with York in the semifinals (13-1), then edged Cape Elizabeth, 10-9, in the regional final Wednesday to punch their ticket to the state final.
The lone prior playoff meeting between the squads came in last year's state game. While Falmouth was seeking a second championship, NYA was going for its third.
In the end, the Yachtsmen were pushed, but wouldn't be denied.
It took all of 42 seconds for Falmouth to break the ice as Fay scored unassisted, but any thoughts of a Yachtsmen runaway were soon dispelled as the Panthers maintained long possessions and Nolan began turning away shots at the other end.
Exactly nine minutes after Fay struck, NYA tied the score on an unassisted tally from junior Oliver Silverson.
Falmouth went back on top, 2-1, when senior faceoff specialist Abyn Reabe-Gerwig gained control, stared a fastbreak and fed senior Hunter LaFond for a goal with 2:06 left in the first quarter.
Again, the Panthers responded as junior Jacob Scammon scored unassisted with 28.6 seconds to go, but with only 4.5 seconds showing, Yachtsmen junior Willy Sipperly, despite losing his balance, managed to shoot past Nolan to make it 3-2 Falmouth heading for quarter number two.
There, it looked like Falmouth was going to open it up as Tapley scored unassisted man-up with 10:31 left in the half and Fay added an unassisted goal with 9:51 to go to make it 5-2, but the Yachtsmen wouldn't score again for a long, long time.
NYA crawled back within 5-3 at halftime thanks to an unassisted goal from senior Forrest Milburn with 2:36 left.
The third period belonged to Nolan, who frustrated Falmouth time and again and kept the game very much in the balance.
The tone was set with10:41 to play in the third period, when Sipperly's shot was turned aside. Bids by Tapley and senior Jack Cooleen (who saw limited action due to a hamstring injury) were also saved.
Then, with 7:42 to go, Milburn scored an unassisted goal and suddenly, the Panthers only trailed by a single point, 5-4.
The Yachtsmen kept trying to extend the lead, but sophomore Brad Gilbert and Tapley were both denied.
With 31.1 seconds remaining in the quarter, LaFond drew a penalty and NYA went man-up with a chance to tie, but Falmouth's defense prevented it from happening and the score remained 5-4 with 12 minutes left.
When the period ended, Yachtsmen scorekeeper Joe Tapley announced that Falmouth didn't score a single goal in the third period, ending a streak of 57 quarters that the Yachtsmen managed at least one tally, dating back to the first period of the season opening loss at Cape Elizabeth.
The defending and presumed champions were on the ropes, but dug deep one final time and prevailed.
"Our off-ball guys weren't moving effectively and that allowed NYA to have the first slide, second slide," said LeBel. "I told them (in-between periods) this is the last quarter most of the seniors will ever play. I wanted to remind them of that. That all we had to do was win the quarter and we'd win the game."
It took a minute and eight seconds, but Mitch Tapley, not surprisingly, ended the drought.
The All-American shook a defender and fired a shot that Nolan managed to slow, but the ball trickled over the goal line, hit the net and bounced back out. After a quick discussion, the officials correctly ruled it a goal and after 22 minutes and 59 seconds, the Yachtsmen had a score and a 6-4 lead.
Nolan continued to keep his team alive by denying both Fay and Sipperly.
Falmouth senior goalie Cam Bell then got in on the act, making a key save on a Scammon bid with 7:33 to play. Seconds later, Milburn shot wide.
After two more Nolan stops, on Cooleen and Tapley, respectively, the Yachtsmen got some breathing room.
With 5:23 to play, Fay slipped past a defender, but lost his balance in the process. While falling to the ground, Fay managed to shoot and get the ball past Nolan for a 7-4 advantage.
"The middies were mixed up a little bit," Fay said. "We were trying to figure things out. We wanted to get the crease higher than it was so we could get dodges from behind without slides coming in. They did a great job of recognizing our threats. We don't want to be concerned. If you are concerned and they score one more goal, then you're really scared. You have to keep packing a punch and just get more goals than they do. "
After Tapley hit the post and had a shot saved by Nolan, NYA looked to get closer, but Milburn's shot was saved by Bell with 3:04 remaining and that proved to be the Panthers' last, best chance.
After an NYA penalty with 1:18 to go, Falmouth took possession and never gave the ball back.
"Once we got up by three, we just wanted to chew time off the clock," said LeBel. "Playing Cape being up by a goal under pressure really gave us a lot of practice to handle that pressure and keep the ball in the box and drain the clock."
The Yachtsmen then ran out the clock on its 7-4 win, setting the stage for another celebration.
"It feels very good to repeat," said Reabe-Gerwig. "It wasn't easy. We didn't play as well as we could have. They put up a really good fight. We knew coming in, it would probably be a little closer than last year. It's very similar to last year. It's nice to have two years in a row. Everyone's happy. Our class has led us to both state championships Falmouth has. We're losing almost everyone, but this program is awesome. John Fay has cultivated us since an early age. There's a lot of talent in one town. Falmouth has a bright future."
This championship required hard work.
"I think we went into it thinking it was going to be an easier game," Fay said. "They definitely came out with a punch. We were the one seed going in, so we had more to lose. They could play loose, try things and go at us. It's pretty similar to last year. It's huge for all the seniors. A lot of them, it's the last game they'll ever play."
"I think my guys thought we won the last game 14-2 and all we had to do is eventually kick it in and we'd be OK," LeBel said. "I think it was a bit of a hangover from Cape. It's hard to get up for a game when you think you have a chance to win easily. Their goalie played outstanding. (Senior defender C.J. Davis) was outstanding on Mitch all day. It's kind of anticlimactic, but not as bad as last year, since it was a tight game."
The Yachtsmen got three goals from Fay, two from Tapley and one each from LaFond and Sipperly. Reabe-Gerwig had the lone assist. Bell made five saves.
Reabe-Gerwig has been one of the state's premier faceoff men during his high school career and he certainly bowed out in style, beating Panthers sophomore Austin Kidder on 12 of 15 opportunities and also collecting a game-high six ground balls.
"I started the game trying to go to myself and start fastbreaks," said Reabe-Gerwig, who will attend West Point next year. "Once they started adjusting and tying me up, I went back to (senior) Mike (Ryan) on the wings. I utilized everything I had in my arsenal."
Reabe-Gerwig had been battling an injury and was questionable during the playoffs, but gutted his way through.
"I feel a lot better now," he said. "I had a bit of a hip problem. I did (physical therapy). I was nervous and debated whether I'd even play, but I felt good."
Falmouth only turned the ball over six times, an amazing number considering the stakes. The Yachtsmen had a 32-21 shots advantage, including 21-9 on cage.
For NYA, Milburn had two goals in his swan song, while Scammon and Silverson each scored once.
Then there was Nolan, who dazzled all with his 14 saves.
"In the end, we played pretty well," said Nolan, who is leaving NYA to go to Brewster Academy in New Hampshire next school year. "A lot better than what we thought. Our defense really broke down their offense. We had our heads up this game compared to last game. We came out with positive energy. I was seeing the ball in the second half. The first half, I was working more on defensive positioning. For us, it was a win. We're going home with our heads up."
"Weston's been the backbone of our defense," said NYA coach Peter Gerrity. "Our defense is really good, but anything that gets through, he'll probably stop. He's been doing that for us. He's only in 10th grade, but he's a really good goalie."
The Panthers had a 28-19 edge in ground balls as juniors T.J. Daigler and Jeremy Sylvain both grabbed four.
NYA only turned the ball over eight times and did everything necessary to hang tough for 48 minutes.
"We executed our gameplan well," Gerrity said. "I was really happy with how well we played today. I would've liked to win, but I told the guys we played really well. On paper, this isn't what the score should have been. They're a super-good team and we had to figure out how to stop them. We had to maintain very, very long possessions and keep them outside. Our goalie's good. They can shoot, but the further out they shot from, the better off we'd be. Our idea was if the ball's in our stick, they can't score and we'll hold on to it as long as we can. We executed really well today and we had to do that to be competitive today.
"The first game (this season), we hung with them. We had a bad taste from last year's state championship. The second game, we didn't play well. We wanted to come into this game and make sure it didn't look like that second game and I think we did a good job with that. The playoffs for us proved to be a perfect ramp. If I could've drawn up the rankings, that's how I would've done it. We didn't have a playoff win (at Yarmouth). The kids seemed to get really excited playing on that field. We continued our playoff run by executing and running the gameplan."
After coach Chris Carpentier stepped down midseason, NYA could have struggled, but Gerrity, with help from longtime fixture Bruce Myers, kept the ship afloat and the Panthers did what all teams aspire to, play their best in the biggest games.
"The leadership of the older kids took ownership of things," Gerrity said. "They were out there 30 minutes before practice working on things. I'd get there and they were already moving."
"Both Peter and Bruce Myers stepped in and didn't miss a beat," said outgoing NYA athletic director Mike Dutton. "The kids had confidence in them. We actually changed things a little bit from the way Chris was doing it, so I think that added to the credibility of the coaching staff. To get back to the state championship game, I think the boys had a lot of confidence in their coaching staff, as did I."
NYA could be even better in 2013.
"We're returning a lot of offense," said Gerrity, who added that he plans to return as coach. "The defense will have big holes to fill. We're losing all three starting defenders. Weston's not coming back. That's a huge hole. Offensively, we lose Ben Randall and Forrest Milburn, but other that, we'll be OK. We might just have to win, 25-20."
New team in 2013
Falmouth will have a very different look next spring. Not only does an accomplished senior class numbering 15 players (including the likes of Bell, Cooleen, Reabe-Gerwig, Ryan and Tapley) graduate, but Sipperly won't be returning for his senior season as he plans to attend school out-of-state.
"We'll return enough to be productive and competitive," LeBel said. "We'll just have to work harder. The kids will have to be more committed during practice to learn."
The Yachtsmen's top returner will be Fay, who thinks his team will still have what it takes to compete for a third successive championship.
"It's nice to have two (championships) going into my senior year," he said. "Hopefully I can get one more. I'll be up for the challenge."