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Yarmouth bounces back in a big way

Sports

Yarmouth bounces back in a big way

YARMOUTH—After the program's first loss in nearly three calendar years, members of the Yarmouth football team couldn't wait to return to action this weekend.

Clipper Pride runs hot and the visiting Poland Knights learned that the hard way in Yarmouth's home opener Friday evening.

Six days after a stunning setback at Oak Hill snapped a 24-game win streak, the two-time defending Class C state champions returned to form behind a four-pronged offensive juggernaut and an opportunistic defense.

Clippers junior quarterback Brady Neujahr, coming off his first loss at any level in five years, rushed for a pair of scores, classmates Matt Klepinger, Thomas Lord and Matt Woodbury also ran wild and Yarmouth, which marched down the field in over six minutes for a score to start the game, never looked back en route to a 38-18 triumph.

The talented, up-and-coming Knights did cut a 31-8 deficit to 31-18 in the fourth period, but Neujahr iced it with a 34-yard TD scamper as the Clippers evened their record at 1-1, dropping Poland to 0-2 in the process.

"It was devastating last week," said Neujahr. "I hadn't lost since sixth grade. It was tough. This week, we came out strong, changed the tone in practice and worked hard."

New beginnings

Yarmouth has been as good as any program in the state the past two seasons, winning 24 straight games and a pair of Class C championships, including a 41-14 romp over Bucksport last November.

The Clippers underwent a lot of changes in the offseason as several top players graduated and coach Jim Hartman moved on to take the job at Portland High and was replaced by assistant and program co-founder Chris Pingitore.

Yarmouth still opened the 2012 campaign as a favorite, but had its win streak end in stunning fashion last Saturday, 33-7, at Oak Hill. It was the program's first loss since a 41-7 setback at Dirigo in the Western C Final way back on Nov. 14, 2009.

Poland's program aspires to get to the lofty heights at which the Clippers have resided and it appears the Knights are on their way. Poland went 4-4 a year ago and gave top contender Winslow fits in the opener before falling at home, 27-26.

Prior to Friday night, the teams had no history.

The Clippers immediately set the tone with a 13-play, 64-yard drive which consumed 6 minutes, 31 seconds.

Lord, Klepinger, Woodbury and Neujahr took turns running the ball down the field and just to mix things up, Neujahr found Lord for an 11-yard pass as well. The drive appeared in jeopardy on fourth-and-3 at the Poland 9, but on a sweep to the right, Neujahr found a seam and burst into the end zone to break the ice. Junior Ben Still's extra point was blocked, but Yarmouth had made a statement.

The Knights moved into Clippers' territory on their first possession, getting all the way down to the Yarmouth 18, but a bad option pitch short-circuited their drive and on fourth-and-11 from the 19, senior quarterback Tony Whelan's pass fell incomplete, giving the ball over on downs to the hosts.

As the first period gave way to the second, the Clippers (who outgained Poland, 89 yards to 38 in the first 12 minutes) drove again. A 17-yard pass play from Neujahr to junior Nate Shields-Auble set up a first-and-10 at the Knights' 23, but on the next play, Woodbury was stopped for no gain and fumbled and Poland senior Isaac Stone pounced on the loose pigskin.

Yarmouth's defense held, forcing a punt, but disaster struck again as the kick was muffed and Knights senior Brandon Drottar fell on the free ball at the Clippers' 37.

Poland then moved to the Yarmouth 7 looking to take the lead, but another bad pitch on an option lost seven yards and two ensuing runs only gained six yards. On fourth-and-goal from the 8, Whelan threw into the end zone, but the pass was incomplete and the underrated Clippers' defense had held.

The offense took advantage and doubled the lead.

After Neujahr broke free for 18 yards to give the unit some breathing room, a five yard run by Woodbury, combined with a late hit, moved the ball to the 40. Woodbury carried for 14 more and another first down in Poland territory. After Klepinger was thrown for a loss of three, Lord took a handoff, burst up the gut, cut back and outran the Knights' pursuit to the end zone to complete a 43-yard scoring run. A two-point conversion pass fell incomplete, but Yarmouth had a 12-0 advantage.

The Clippers defense got the ball right back for the offense as Shields-Auble intercepted Whelan, returned the ball 30 yards and a horsecollar penalty was tacked on for good measure, setting up the hosts first-and-goal at the Poland 9.

It took three plays, but Woodbury found the end zone on a 5-yard scamper on a sweep left and Yarmouth had an 18-0 lead at halftime.

The Clippers had a 223-88 advantage in yardage in the first half and could have had a bigger lead were it not for the two turnovers.

To Poland's credit, it came right out to the start the second half and demonstrated that the game was far from over.

A 55-yard kickoff return by senior Tyler Sturtevant set the Knights up at the  Yarmouth 25. It looked like the Clippers might hold again as Poland faced a fourth-and-7 at the 22, but Whelan lofted a pass into the end zone where Drottar leaped, snared the ball and came down with it to complete a 22-yard scoring play. Junior Everett Bertrand then ran in a two-point conversion and just like that, the Knights were back within 10, 18-8, with 9:55 remaining in the third quarter.

Yarmouth promptly seized momentum back.

After a holding penalty, the Clippers were pinned at their 20, but Klepinger took a handoff, found room down the right sideline, turned it up a notch and blew past the defense, not stopping until he crossed the goal line for an 80-yard score. The two-point conversion pass was incomplete, but Yarmouth had pushed its lead back to 24-8.

Poland roared right back and earned a first-and-goal at the Clippers' 5, but after sophomore Nick Cote lost two yards on a handoff, he fumbled and Yarmouth recovered.

The Clippers fumbled the ball right back on a bad exchange and the Knights had the ball in great field position, but after driving to the Yarmouth 9, a false start penalty backed them up and on fourth-and-9 from the 14, sophomore Adam Mocciola was thrown for a three yard loss, giving the ball back to the Clippers.

Again, Yarmouth would embark on a long drive (89 yards) in just three plays to take its biggest lead of the night.

First, Neujahr flipped a short pass to Lord, who turned it into a 45-yard gain.

"I just roll out and it looks like I'll run, we get the defense to come up and I dump the ball off," said Neujahr.

After Neujahr rushed for 16, the Clippers were backed up five yards due to a false start.

That only delayed the inevitable.

On first-and-15 from the Poland 33, Pingitore dipped into his bag of tricks, had Neujahr hand off to freshman Ryan Nason and Nason lofted a deep pass to the end zone. When the ball came down it was cradled by junior Rhys Eddy and Yarmouth had another touchdown.

"That was a blast," Pingitore said. "I'm running Hartman's playbook, but there are some things that weren't in there before."

This time, Still added the extra point and with 2:04 to play in the third, the Clippers were up, 31-8.

Again, the Knights didn't buckle.

After a Poland punt pinned Yarmouth at its 6 and a holding penalty moved the ball back to the 3, on the first play of the fourth period, Woodbury was tackled by Sturtevant in the end zone for a two-point safety, making it a 31-10 contest.

The Clippers had to free kick the ball to the Knights, who took over at their 42. Three plays later they were in the end zone.

An 11-yard Sturtevant run moved the ball into Yarmouth territory. After Whalen found Cote for a 39-yard pass play, Bertrand finished the march with an 8-yard TD run. Bertrand then found the end zone as well on a two-point conversion rush and with 10:47 still to play, Poland found itself down only 31-18.

The Clippers looked to answer, moving all the way from their 35 to the Knights' 19, but gave the ball up on downs and Poland had a chance to make things very interesting.

It never happened, thanks again to the Yarmouth defense.

After gaining a first down at their 31, the Knights tried to go to the air, but Whalen's pass was intercepted by junior Race Morrison at the Clippers' 49 with just over six minutes to play.

Yarmouth then put the game away, driving 51 yards in five plays.

After Lord avoided disaster by recovering his own fumble for a five yard gain on first down, Woodbury ran for three and Lord carried twice for nine yards. On second-and-9 at the Poland 34, Neujahr broke free again and outran the defense to the pylon for a 34-yard TD.

"We had run belly plays three or four plays in a row, so I said to coach, 'Let me option this one,'" Neujahr said. "That was kind of deflating."

Still's extra point made it 38-18 with 3:45 to go.

"(Poland) played a hell of a game, but we knew how important it was to come back," said Lord. "When they got momentum, we stopped it and got it back in our direction. I think the biggest difference tonight was the offensive line. They opened up huge holes."

Yarmouth sophomore Ned Pennoyer recovered the ensuing kickoff when Sturtevant couldn't handle it and the Clippers drove down to the Knights' 1, but on fourth-and-goal from the 5, Pingitore instructed Neujahr to take a knee and that sportsmanlike gesture kept the score 38-18, which is how it ended seconds later.

The Yarmouth Clippers had returned to form.

"Last Saturday was a huge wakeup call," Lord said. "I think we needed it, to be honest. We knew we had to turn it around."

"A lot of kids are stepping up," Neujahr said. "We have a young line, but they played awesome today. It is definitely more fun to have close games. Last year, I'd just hand it to Anders (Overhaug) and come out after halftime. I have to keep my head in the game and play a full game. I play defense too. It's how football should be."

"It's a lot better than last week," Pingitore said. "That was a life lesson. You'll fail sometimes, but what you do to follow up makes your character. I told the guys that the first loss would take a lot of pressure off them. We had a good week of practice. The kids pulled through and dug down deep. Tonight, as opposed to last week, we had an answer every time (Poland) got in the end zone. I think that's the true character of this team. They worked hard and they wanted it. They paid attention to detail and did the little things. That adds up to where we've been the past couple years and where we could be this year if we keep it up. Tremendous effort."

Yarmouth finished with 500 yards of offense.

Klepinger gained 110 yards with a score on nine carries. Lord had 106 yards and a touchdown on 15 carries and caught three passes for 85 yards. Woodbury gained 29 yards and scored one TD on 11 attempts. Neujahr wound up gaining 90 yards and scoring twice on eight rushes. He completed 4-of-9 passes for 102 yards. Shields-Auble had one catch for 17 yards. Eddy's one reception (from Nason) was good for 33 yards and a touchdown. Freshman Lucas Uhl rushed twice for 8 yards, Freshman Jack Snyder once for negative-1.

"We have a balanced offense," said Pingitore. "We have some of the most talented guys you'll see. Everyone of them pulled through."

The Clippers did turn the ball over three times and committed five penalties for 31 yards.

Defensively, Morrison and Shields-Auble had interceptions and Pennoyer a fumble recovery.

Poland had 298 yards of offense, as Yarmouth's defense held firm against the option.

"Defensively, the game plan to go down the line, gap by gap, and make sure we honored their option," Lord said. "It was the toughest offense we've played. They have a good quarterback and running backs."

"I thought a key tonight was the play of our linebackers, staying off the ball, reading the option, keeping them within the sticks," Pingitore said. "It's difficult when we haven't seen a team before. We have to scout and pay attention to what they're doing all the time. It's easier because they haven't seen you. Especially offensively. Our coaching staff is extremely detailed. It helped they run an offense that's part of our offense. That team can run the option."

The Knights were paced by 73 yards on nine carries by Whelan, who finished 4-of-12 for 69 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions through the air. Sturtevant had 72 yards on 18 carries. Bertrand carried five times for 52 yards and a TD and had one reception for 2. Cote rushed four times for 12 yards and had a reception for 39. Mocciola threw two incomplete passes and had three rushes for 13 yards. Drottar had the 22 yard TD reception. Junior Will Bernier caught one pass for 6 yards. Sophomore Robbie Porter rushed twice for 19 yards and freshman Patrick Jacques ran two times for 13 yards. Defensively, Bernier, Drottar and Stone all recovered fumbles. Poland turned the ball over four times and committed five penalties for 44 yards.

Another test

Poland returns home Friday to meet Dirigo.

Yarmouth, meanwhile, hopes to get over the .500 mark when it visits Maranacook Friday. The teams last met in the 2010 Western C quarterfinals (a 54-6 Clippers victory).

"None of these teams are slouches," said Pingitore. "We have our work cut out for us. I think everybody's gunning for us. We're definitely a target. It's a challenge, but that challenge makes it fun. We have to work hard as coaches and players work harder."

The Clippers appear on their way back.

"A new season started tonight," Lord said. "We still need to work on the little things. Work on hitting the holes hard, working on defense, tackling, taking care of the ball.

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

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth junior Matt Klepinger, who rushed for over 100 yards in the win, finds daylight.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth junior Nate Shields-Auble heads the other way after an interception.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth junior Matt Woodbury drags a Poland tackler on this one.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth senior Brandon Moody sizes up Poland senior quarterback Tony Whalen and makes a tackle.

Photo: Mike Strout / For The Forecaster

Yarmouth junior Thomas Lord, who also eclipsed the 100-yard mark in the game, bulls over a tackler.