Greely ousted in agonizing fashion on late field goal
CUMBERLAND—The finest season in the history of Greely football culminated with the most agonizing loss in program annals Friday evening.
The Rangers were closer than ever to a first playoff triumph when defending state champion Wells snatched victory from defeat and left Greely in utter despair.
The fourth-seeded Rangers and fifth-ranked Warriors played the down-to-the-wire, taut Western B quarterfinal that so many anticipated, but Greely appeared in good shape when it took the opening drive and marched to take the lead on junior James Ferrar's short touchdown run.
The Rangers, despite being bogged down in their territory, held on to a 7-0 advantage until late in the first half when Wells got a short TD run from junior Jake Moody. The Warriors couldn't convert the point after, however, and Greely's 7-6 lead lasted until deep in the fourth quarter.
Wells got one final shot on offense and after senior quarterback Gavin Snapp completed just his second pass of the evening, a 39-yard strike to senior Dylan Stevens to get the Warriors into Rangers' territory, the drive stalled and Wells brought on senior Joey Spinelli to attempt a seemingly impossible 45-yard field.
It proved possible.
Spinelli's boot barely sneaked inside the left goalpost, just over the crossbar, and with 1:34 to play, Wells was on top for the first time.
Greely had a final chance and after the drive stayed alive on a tipped completion, the Rangers got as close as the Warriors' 23, but dreams of playing into November were dashed when senior quarterback Drew Hodge's pass to the end zone, intended for senior Pat Finnegan, was instead intercepted by who else but Spinelli.
Wells ran out the clock and prevailed, 9-7, improving to 7-2, ending Greely's year at 7-2 and advancing to meet top-ranked Marshwood in next week's semifinals.
"We did everything but win," said Rangers coach David Higgins. "The only thing I can tell (my players) is they played hard against the defending state champs, they did a great job, they have nothing to hang their heads about. I have a great bunch of kids."
Prior to Friday, Greely had played three playoff games, but all were on the road and all resulted in losses, by a composite 90-15 margin (please see sidebar).
Last fall, the Rangers lost at Cape Elizabeth, 21-9, in the quarterfinals. This season, they caught a lot of people by surprise with their excellence.
Greely opened by handling host Spruce Mountain, 33-7, and visiting Lake Region, 54-0, then really turned heads with a decisive 33-12 triumph at at Westbrook squad which was coming off consecutive victories over Mountain Valley and Wells. The Rangers finally stumbled, 24-21, at York, on a late field goal, but closed the year by downing visiting Fryeburg (47-6) and host Gray-New Gloucester (41-0), beating visiting Mountain Valley for the first time in program history (35-0) and handling host Falmouth, 28-6, for the first time since 2007, in the "Battle of Route Nine."
Wells' title defense hasn't been without potholes.
After handling host Cape Elizabeth in the opener, 21-7, the Warriors fell at home to Westbrook, 28-20. They bounced back with victories over visiting Gray-New Gloucester (43-0), host Spruce Mountain (50-0), visiting Marshwood (36-6), host Mountain Valley (28-0) and visiting Lake Region (49-7) before closing with a 19-14 setback at York last weekend.
Entering the game, Wells led the all-time series, 5-3, taking the most recent meeting, 21-14, at home two years ago (please see sidebar).
Friday, on a beautiful night for football with the temperature 53 degrees at kickoff, the Warriors found a way to prevail, but along the way, reminded everyone that this sport is a game of inches.
Greely couldn't have asked for a better start to the game, driving 67 yards in 11 plays to score, chewing up 4 minutes, 49 seconds along the way. The drive featured a pair of third down conversions and one on fourth down as well.
The tone was set on the first series, when, on third-and-8, Hodge hit freshman Matt Pisini for 20 yards and a first down in Wells territory. Hodge ran for five on the next play, was hit by Warriors senior Dante Fanning and fumbled, but the Rangers maintained possession thanks to senior Svenn Jacobson diving on the loose pigskin.
Two plays later, on fourth-and-5 from the 40, Hodge, who bobbled the snap, yet had the presence of mind to pick up the loose ball to keep the play alive, and Pisini hooked up again, this time for 17 yards and a first down at the 23.
Three plays later, on third-and-7 from the 20, Hodge went to the air once more, this time finding Ferrar for 15 yards, setting up a first-and-goal at the 5. The next snap featured a handoff to Ferrar and he bulled into the end zone to break the ice. Finnegan added the extra point and with 7:04 to play in the opening stanza, Greely appeared on its way to great things, up 7-0.
Unfortunately for the Rangers, that would be their highwater mark.
Wells got great field position for its first drive thanks to a 22-yard return from Moody and a 15-yard penalty tacked on, but after gaining one first down, Moody was held to a seven-yard gain on a fourth-and-8 reception and Greely took over at its 25.
The Rangers went backwards thanks to a holding penalty and nearly gave the ball away when Jacobson fumbled after catching a nine-yard pass, but luckily for Greely, sophomore Ryan Pomeroy fell on the ball to keep possession. Back-to-back Hodge incompletions forced a punt and the Warriors, after a 28-yard return from Spinelli, again started deep in Rangers' territory, at the 29.
As the first period wound down, Wells got a first-and-goal at the 8 on a 12-yard scamper from Fanning, but after Spinelli ran for three yards, Fanning was thrown for a loss and Moody gained two, setting up fourth-and-goal from the 4. On the final play of the quarter, Snapp rolled right, but was forced out of bounds by Jacobson for a three-yard loss, giving the ball back to Greely on downs.
The good news for the Rangers was that they avoided giving up a score. The bad was that they began their drive at their 7 and after two short runs, Hodge was sacked by Warriors senior Jason Chase, forcing Finnegan to punt from his end zone. He got a good kick away, but the ball was returned to the Greely 30 and once again, the visitors were knocking on the door.
This time, Fanning ran for 11 yards, sophomore Chris Carney gained nine and Fanning picked up six more to set up first-and-goal again, this time from the 4.
Again, the Rangers' defense rose to the occasion.
After Fanning gained two yards, he got the ball again and this time was thrown for a loss of a yard. Then, on third-and-goal, Snapp couldn't handle the exchange, the ball hit the turf and Ferrar came up with it at the 7.
Greely again couldn't generate any offense and this time set Wells up for its first score.
After Ferrar ran for two yards and Hodge threw incomplete, the Rangers earned a first down on a pass interference penalty. Two Jacobson runs lost three yards, however, and Hodge attempted to throw for the first down, but his pass had too much air under it and resulted in an easy Stevens interception. Stevens returned the ball to the Greely 19 and this time, the Warriors finished their opportunity.
Carney gained 11 yards to set up a first-and-goal from the 8. After Moody ran for three yards and Fanning for two, the ball came to Moody and he managed to barrel into the end zone for the TD. A bad snap short-circuited Spinelli's extra point attempt and with 2:47 to play before halftime, Wells was within a point, down just 7-6.
The Rangers took over at their 35, but couldn't do anything with the ball and the game went to the half with Greely clinging to a one-point lead.
The first half stats reinforced the tightness of the score as in the first 16 minutes, Wells generated 84 yards of offense to 83 for the hosts.
The third period would be one of offensive futility as a Ferrar sack forced the Warriors to punt on their first possession, but after gaining one first down, the Rangers had to give the ball right back after a combined sack by Chase and senior Colin Harrington sent Greely backwards.
Wells' second possession of the second half was no better than its first and after Spinelli slipped on third-and-9 and lost 10 yards, the Warriors kicked the ball back to the Rangers.
Greely took over at its 37, good field position for a change, but three plays gained three yards and another Finnegan punt boomed.
The teams then traded punts and as the third quarter gave way to the fourth, Wells faced second-and-9 at the Rangers' 45. Fanning gained eight yards, but a fumbled exchange pushed the Warriors backwards and again, they had to kick, pinning Greely at its 3.
The Rangers promptly went three-and-out and Finnegan avoided disaster by handling a high snap before his 27-yard punt gave Wells great field position at the Greely 33 with 9:34 to go.
Carney was thrown for a two-yard loss on first down, but Fanning rushed for five, setting up a makeable third-and-7 from the 30. Instead of converting, however, Snapp threw the ball right into the hands of Jacobson at the Rangers' 33. Jacobson took off down the field, eluded Snapp with a juke and appeared headed for the end zone for perhaps the backbreaking touchdown when Moody caught him from behind at the Warriors' 9.
Even though the turnover didn't result in a TD, it appeared as if it was just a matter of time until Greely delivered the coup de grace.
Jacobson got the handoff on first down and got to the 6. After Hodge threw incomplete, the quarterback dropped back and when he couldn't find an open receiver, scrambled to the 4, setting up fourth-and-goal.
Higgins sent Finnegan on to attempt a 22-yard field goal to give the Rangers a little breathing room, but Finnegan never got the kick off the ground and it was blocked with 6:38 to play.
Wells then embarked on a drive that would culminate in a most improbable field goal of its own.
Beginning at their 20, the Warriors gained an initial first down on a seven-yard run from Fanning on third-and-2. Wells appeared in trouble three plays later, facing third-and-9, but Snapp dropped back and threw a perfect rainbow to Stevens, who was open behind the defense on the left sideline. By the time Stevens was run down, he'd reached the Greely 25 and the Warriors were in business.
Or so it seemed.
After a three-yard loss by Fanning, Wells was flagged for illegal motion, then committed the same transgression again. Moody ran for nine yards to put the ball at the 29, but when Snapp threw incomplete with 1:40 to go, the Warriors looked like they'd have to go for it on fourth-and-14.
Wells called timeout to discuss the possibility of a field goal, but decided to go for it. When the Warriors set up, Higgins called timeout. That got the wheels spinning on the Wells sideline and after using another timeout (one that would have been sorely lamented had the Warriors not scored), the decision was made by coach Tim Roche, or more accurately, the decision was made for Roche by Spinelli to go for three.
Most on hand were stunned that Wells was going for the field goal and few, if anyone, believed Spinelli would actually make the kick.
The snap was good, the ball was placed at the 35 and Spinelli swung his right foot into motion. He made good contact, but as the ball soared into the air, while it appeared to have the distance, it also looked as if it would hook left. Then, the ball veered right, slipping inside the upright and dropping just over the crossbar.
The officials standing under the uprights looked at each other in momentary disbelief, nodded their heads, then simultaneously threw their arms in the air.
"We called a timeout and coach asked if I could make it," Spinelli said. "I was like, 'I don't know.' We decided to pass it. Then, after the pass, I said, 'I want the ball, coach.' I had faith in myself, but I was worried. It started out way to the left. It started curling to the right. I was like, 'no, no, no, yes!' I wasn't sure if it went through. I could tell it did by everyone's reactions. The farthest I've ever kicked is 52 yards in practice. In a game was 26. This was the biggest one."
"Tell me the last time you saw a 45-yard field goal in Maine?" Roche said. "There haven't been many. He made me decide to go for it. At first, he wasn't sure. We went into that formation and I think we had them and they called timeout. Credit to Dave. He's a good coach. Coming out of the huddle, Joey said he changed his mind. That he could make the kick. I said, 'Go make it.' When a kid says he can do something, I trust it."
"It was a great kick," Higgins said. "I thought it would be something different."
Despite the stunning turn of events, the game wasn't over.
Greely had one last chance and an 18-yard kickoff return by Jacobson gave the hosts the ball at their 35 with 88 seconds still to play.
Hodge twice threw incomplete, then found Finnegan for five yards, setting up fourth-and-5.
The Rangers seemed doomed when the ball was tipped by a Wells defender, but luck (for one play at least) was on Greely's side and the ball came to Jacobson, who caught it on the right sideline and wound up gaining 17 yards before being pushed out at the Warriors' 43 with 58.4 seconds still to play.
Hodge ran for nine yards on a scramble, threw incomplete (Fanning dropped a game-ending interception), then scrambled for 11 more to set up first-and-10 at Wells' 23.
The Rangers had the option of running or throwing a short pass to ostensibly set up a potential game-winning kick of their own, but instead, Hodge dropped back, rolled right and threw a deep pass for Ferrar down the right sideline. Ferrar was momentarily open behind two defenders, but as the ball hung in the night sky, Spinelli raced into position, soared and plucked the pigskin out of the sky. Spinelli landed with the ball firmly in his grasp and with just 29.9 seconds remaining, dashed any last Greely comeback hopes with his interception.
"I had a feeling they were going deep that time," said Spinelli. "They had to get the ball in the end zone. I wasn't going to let anyone behind me. I jumped it and got it. I was so pumped when I came down with it. "
"I was scared to death, but 'Revis Island' comes through again," Roche said. "He's that type of kid. I knew if they threw that way, he'd come up with the pick. I was like, 'Please throw it that way.'"
All that was left was for Snapp to take a knee and the win was in the books.
Wells 9 Greely 7.
"It was unreal," said Spinelli. "Early in the game, we should've been in the end zone at least three times. We knew we could drive the ball, we just didn't finish. In the second half, we knew what we had to do and we came out and did it. We played great D. We all did our jobs.
"Our goal is to come back and get another ring. Right now, I'm pretty confident. I was excited to play Greely since we didn't get to play them in the regular season. Their quarterback threw some great balls. Their defense was great. They held Dante on the line, but he fought through."
Neither team was able to do much statistically as combined offense weighed in at less than 300 yards.
For the Warriors, who outrushed the Rangers, 110-80, Fanning had 68 yards on 20 carries, Moody rushed eight times for 37 yards and a touchdown, Carney gained 14 yards on seven tries and both Snapp (-3 on one attempt) and Spinelli (-6 on three rushes) lost yardage. Snapp was 2-of-6 passing for 46 yards and an interception. Stevens had one reception for 39 and Fanning made the other catch, good for seven yards. Defensively, Spinelli and Stevens had interceptions, Chase had a 1.5 sacks, Stevens 1 and Harrington 0.5. Wells was flagged four times for 30 yards and committed two turnovers.
"They knew we didn't throw the ball much," Roche said. "So they packed it in. Give our kids credit for driving down the field. We settled down after they scored. (Coach) Carmen (Perri is) a defensive coordinator like you wouldn't believe. He coached me when I was in high school. He deserves serious credit. I just stand here. I'm proud of these guys. Last year's kids taught us a lot about winning a championship. Hopefully this gets us on a roll through the playoffs."
For Greely, Hodge gained 34 yards on nine rushes, Ferrar picked up 30 yards and scored a TD on nine attempts, Jacobson was held to eight on eight tries and senior Alex Moore gained eight yards on two rushes. Hodge finished 7-of-23 through the air, good for 84 yards, but he was intercepted twice. Jacobson caught three passes for 27 yards, Pisini a pair for 32, Hanley one for 20 and Finnegan one for five. The Rangers had 84 passing yards to 46 for the Warriors and finished with a 147-144 edge in total offense. Greely was penalized five times for 46 yards and had two costly turnovers. The Rangers got a fumble recovery and a sack from Ferrar and an interception from Jacobson.
"(Wells) made tremendous adjustments," Higgins said. "Their coaching staff has been together forever. I only have the highest regard for those guys. They stuck with their adjustments. It would've been a storybook ending. We just didn't convert. We just lost to a better team tonight. "
Beginnings and endings
While Wells advances and goes to top-ranked Marshwood (8-1) for the semifinals next weekend to play a game the Warriors will feel good about, since they were the only team to beat Marshwood in the regular season, the Rangers will face a long offseason full of what-ifs.
Greely won't find much immediate solace in its regular season accomplishments, but seven victories and turning the heads of the area's fans and pundits is something to hail.
The 2012 Rangers will ultimately be remembered as a great story, one which didn't have the hoped for ending.
"My kids played hard," Higgins said. "I hope Wells feels we gave them a great game. We were just a little short."
Wells certainly left town keeping Greely in high regard.
"Somebody had to lose," Roche said. "When you have the 4-5 game, no one wants to be in that game. Give Greely credit. I give them credit defensively. They were unbelievable. I think they did a great job. They had a great season. It's not easy to get over that hump. I've been there. Before I ever won a championship, I lost a lot of games like this. Maybe (Dave will) get over the hump now. He's just a great guy. I think he does a great job with the program."