Falmouth boys stun Yarmouth with quick knockout blow
YARMOUTH—In the various scenarios soccer fans envisioned prior to Wednesday evening's Western Class B Final between defending state champion Falmouth and top-ranked Yarmouth, all of them featured a script with a game that was tight to the end, one with a decisive goal coming late in regulation or even in overtime.
No one imagined that the Yachtsmen would essentially win the contest in the first 15 minutes.
Not on the Clippers' home turf.
Not after failing to lead against Yarmouth in either regular season meeting.
Not with virtually every one of the rivals' games coming down to the wire in recent years.
Instead of playing to form, Falmouth made sure Halloween Night would belong to them and while the evening proved to be quite a treat for the Yachtsmen, the Clippers wound up looking as if someone stole their bag of candy.
Just 10 minutes, 32 seconds in, after fending off initial Yarmouth pressure, Falmouth produced one of the prettiest postseason goals you'll ever see as senior J.P. White's long free kick, from the Yachtsmen side of midfield, found the head of senior Ian McBrady, who sent the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead.
If that wasn't enough to elate the visitors and their crowd and stun the Clippers and their followers, Falmouth senior Cooper Lycan capped a great individual effort with a second goal exactly four minutes later and the Yachtsmen were in command.
Yarmouth hoped to rally, but just couldn't sustain pressure against the underrated Falmouth defense and the Yachtsmen went on to a 2-0 victory.
Falmouth improved to 12-3-2, ended the Clippers' season at 12-2-3 and advanced to Saturday's Class B state final, where it will seek a mindboggling ninth championship in 13 seasons.
"In the end, we're 1-1-1 against (Yarmouth this year)," said longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. "We got the one that mattered. We're playing really well right now. I think the difference was our seniors. Seniors will take us as far as you're going to go. They didn't want to lose this game."
Nothing else like it
The Falmouth-Yarmouth boys' soccer rivalry is the best around because year after year the games are scintillating, the talent on the pitch is among the best in the state and all of New England and the passion is palpable. It's rare in sports where events live up or exceed the advance hype, but these games consistently do.
Wednesday's game was highly anticipated not just because it was the regional final, but you could make the argument that it was really the de facto state final. The last time a team from Eastern Maine won Class B was 1993. Since 2000, the roster of champions includes two schools: Falmouth (eight times) and Yarmouth (four).
The schools have been battling on the pitch for the better part of a half century and have a long playoff history (please see sidebar), which dates to 1976.
After their three-year streak of meeting in the regional final ended last year, with Yarmouth being upset by Fryeburg in the quarterfinals, while Falmouth went on to capture its 10th championship, a showdown this fall seemed destined from the start.
The Yachtsmen met every challenge early on, but hit some bumps in the road as the season progressed. After holding off visiting Cape Elizabeth, 1-0, in the opener, Falmouth crushed visiting North Yarmouth Academy (8-0) and host Poland (7-0). Then, the Yachtsmen were down 2-1 late at Greely before tying the game in improbable fashion on White's strike with just 3.4 seconds remaining. Falmouth won it, 3-2, in double overtime on a goal from senior Grant Burfeind, last year's playoff hero. Wins at Freeport (3-0) and at home against Gray-New Gloucester (5-0) allowed the Yachtsmen to take a perfect record to Yarmouth Sept. 22 and twice Falmouth rallied to ultimately for a 2-2 draw. After rolling at Traip, 4-1, the Yachtsmen hosted Yarmouth Sept. 29, but despite one more rally, lost in the second overtime, 2-1. Falmouth then settled for a 1-1 tie at York and lost at Cape Elizabeth, 1-0. After a 3-0 home win over Poland, the Yachtsmen stumbled again, 1-0, to visiting Greely. A 4-1 home triumph over York helped Falmouth gain some momentum going into the playoffs.
As the No. 3 seed, the Yachtsmen had little trouble with sixth-ranked Gray-New Gloucester in the quarterfinals, 4-0, but a semifinal round tilt at No. 2 Maranacook Saturday was a mighty scare. Falmouth scored first, but the Black Bears tied it and after 80 minutes of regulation and 30 more of overtime, nothing had been decided, necessitating penalty kicks to determine a winner. The Yachtsmen lost at Maranacook in that very fashion back in the 2004 semifinals, but this time, they refused to go home and won the round, 4-1, to take the game, 2-1.
The Clippers came into the 2012 season stinging from last year's playoff upset, but many felt Yarmouth might be a year away from serious championship contention. After some key graduation losses, the Clippers had to welcome several new players and fit several others into new positions. Even with all that transition, Yarmouth was close to unbeatable.
After rallying from an early 2-0 deficit to tie host NYA in the opener, 2-2, the Clippers defeated visiting Lake Region (4-0), visiting Cape Elizabeth (4-1), host York (1-0), host Cape Elizabeth (2-1) and visiting Poland (4-0). Twice, Yarmouth appeared to have visiting Falmouth beat in the first meeting, but both times the Yachtsmen answered and the teams settled for a tie. Following a 1-0 win at Greely, the Clippers went to Falmouth and eked out a win in double OT. After settling for a scoreless home tie with Freeport, Yarmouth edged host Gray-New Gloucester (2-1) and host Fryeburg (1-0, in double overtime). The Clippers fell from the unbeaten ranks Oct. 11 at home against Greely, 2-0, but closed with a 2-1 home win over York to earn the top seed.
Yarmouth drew No. 8 Fryeburg in the quarterfinals and dug an early hole, but rallied to win, 3-1, to avenge last year's ouster. Saturday, in the semifinals, the Clippers held off No. 4 York, 2-0.
The recent Falmouth-Yarmouth regional finals were all memorable. In 2008, the Clippers tied the game on a Johnny Murphy penalty kick and won it late on a header by Luke Pierce off a corner kick. The following year, the teams were deadlocked at halftime, but two goals from Michael Bloom and another from Gabe Hoffman-Johnson gave the Yachtsmen a 3-0 victory. The 2010 game was scoreless into overtime when Cotter Jackson won it for Yarmouth.
Wednesday, in front of a throng of over 1,000 people, Falmouth ensured there would be no late game drama nor little to cheer about for the partisan crowd.
As expected, the Clippers, building off the energy from the fans, controlled the ball in the early moments, but despite a couple chances set up by the throws of junior David Murphy, couldn't generate a threat.
The Yachtsmen's first chance came in the ninth minute, but Lycan fired a blast high and wide.
After Yarmouth went back on the attack, Falmouth regained possession on a Clippers' foul. With the ball some 60 yards from the Clippers' goal, White swung his powerful right leg through the ball and sailed it all the way to the Yarmouth box.
Waiting for it was the unheralded McBrady, who soared to not only get his head on the ball, but he managed to steer it right back to the vacated spot where Clippers' senior goalkeeper Andrew Fochler loomed seconds earlier, the open net inside the far post.
The ball rolled toward the goal and a diving Fochler couldn't stop it from going into the net for a 1-0 Falmouth lead with 29:28 to play in the first half.
"It was just a long kick, I got lucky," McBrady said. "Coach always says to put it back where the goalie came from. It felt good. It gave us a big boost in morale. It gave us energy to keep it going. We carried it through. It was a big weight off our shoulders. We've been a second half team. It was good to get that first goal."
"(Yarmouth) pressed us the first 10 minutes and I was a little concerned," said Halligan. "I thought if we weathered the first 10 minutes, we'd be fine. Not only did we do that, but we got a goal and we got confidence. It was a great serve and a terrific finish. We play a lot better with confidence. When you play from behind, you play desperate. I'm was pleased with how the kids played. We tried to play well at the beginning, set the tempo and dictate the pace. I thought we did that well."
Yarmouth, meanwhile, was staggered, facing its first deficit against the Yachtsmen in three games this season.
"Ironically, we went in knowing the exact kind of ball they scored their first goal on was one we needed to prevent," lamented Clippers coach Mike Hagerty. "J.P. does such a nice job putting balls in the right place. He froze Andrew. We practice taking balls like that out of the air. Probably the one thing we struggled the most with all year were long balls over the top because they put you in such a bad position. Our backs have done so well all year winning those balls. They beat us to one."
Falmouth kept the pressure on and seconds after Fochler punted away a White free kick, Lycan ran down a long pass from senior Jack Pike at the left edge of the box, made a nice move around a defender to gain a little breathing room, then fired a low shot toward the near post that beat Fochler, who dove to his right in vain.
Less than 15 minutes in, the Yachtsmen had a stunning 2-0 advantage.
"We knew before the game we had to get ahead," Lycan said. "We had to get momentum. It sucked the life out of them being down 2-0. That's what we wanted to do and we did it. I beat the defender outside. We'd scouted their goalie. We knew he kind of liked to cheat up off his line. I just heard, 'Shoot it.' I put it near post and it was open and it went in."
"The second goal was the heartbreaker," said Hagerty. "We talked about not letting any of our guys get isolated, since they're so good one-on-one. Our defense didn't shift and help like we practiced and talked about. When someone as good as Cooper is open in the box, he doesn't want to get by you, he just wants to get open to shoot. It was a great finish. He got Andrew cheating off his inside post and he put it in the right spot. The plays that led up to that were the mistakes that we hadn't been making all year. To make mistakes against a great team like that, they made us pay. "
After struggling to finish for much of the season, Falmouth made the most of its chances Wednesday.
"We had some games where we didn't finish well, but tonight we finished our chances early," Halligan said. "That took some of the pressure off. During the season, we weren't playing badly, we just didn't finish. We had losses where we outshot the opponent, 2-1. I'd like to have finished more, but that's soccer."
As expected, Yarmouth looked to answer before halftime, but junior Wyatt Jackson shot just wide in the 27th minute and junior Max Watson managed a weak shot in the box that was saved by Yachtsmen junior goalkeeper Will D'Agostino in the 36th minute.
The Yachtsmen almost struck again before halftime, but Fochler punched away a White shot and seconds later, made a save on a White header to keep it a 2-0 game at halftime.
Falmouth took the pitch for the second half as if the game was deadlocked and as a result, never let the Clippers get into a steady rhythm on offense.
"We played in the second half like it was 0-0," said Halligan. "I said, 'Don't look at the score, just play the game to the best of your ability.'"
Early on, D'Agostino made easy saves on a Murphy cross and a flick from sophomore Brendan Dioli.
With 17:27 to go, the Yachtsmen almost iced it when Burfeind sent a shot past Fochler, but Yarmouth senior defender Michael Smith cleared the ball at the last second.
Late in the game, D'Agostino made an easy save on a free kick from Clippers junior Ben Decker and senior Ethan Cyr shot wide after a corner kick.
From there, Falmouth slammed the door and celebrated its decisive 2-0 win, which snapped a seven-game streak (and a run of 15 out of 16 encounters) in this series of games ending in ties or with a one-goal difference.
"It's a great feeling," said McBrady. "We came out and played really well. Most important, we played aggressive. That was the key, I think. We knew there was still a lot of game left, but we felt pretty confident. We kept pushing for a third one to put them away."
"(Yarmouth's) a great team," said Lycan. "They battle. They're very physical. They come and hit you in the mouth. They're direct. We had to prepare ourselves for that. We were focused on getting the next goal and putting the game away. We felt it was a 0-0 game at all times. We couldn't get complacent. Eventually we packed it in and played long balls in the corner. That's what we had to do and we did. We've lost a couple games, but we've battled through adversity, corrected our mistakes and came out on top. It feels great. We felt we played well in the losses, despite the results. We studied film and corrected what we did wrong."
"It feels good to beat a good team," Halligan added. "It makes it extra special."
The Yachtsmen finished with an 18-7 shots advantage (10-3 on frame). Fochler made seven saves to three for D'Agostino. Falmouth had a 6-3 edge in corner kicks.
Yarmouth couldn't generate its usual attack and as a result, saw its season come to a close.
"Falmouth's just a great team with a lot of kids who can put the ball in the back of the net," said Clippers senior defender and captain Drew Grout. "There were just a couple mental mistakes tonight. It's hard starting the game and being on your heels. Tonight just wasn't the night for us to come back. A lot of us were shellshocked."
"(Falmouth was) better tonight," Hagerty said. "It was clear. We didn't lose on a fluke. They were just better and proved it. We thought it would be a one-goal game. They were cleaner and better in both thirds. We didn't have many chances. The stats don't lie. I have to give them credit. They outplayed us and deserved to win. Their seniors played exceptionally well. They were clean. We couldn't get into the rhythm we wanted to get into and they got into the rhythm they wanted early and often."
With only eight seniors on the roster, Yarmouth didn't know what to expect coming into 2012, but the Clippers had a sensational run.
"We came together and played for ourselves and for the guy to our right and the guy to our left," said Grout. "That carried us through the season. It's great to get to the Western Maine game. There were so many good teams. York was a great contender. Falmouth, obviously was strong. Today was just Falmouth's day."
"It doesn't feel that way now, but it was so special for us to put together a season like this when no one expected it," Hagerty said. "It was a great season. Winning the 'Brady Cup (for posting the best results in head-to-head games among Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Greely and Yarmouth)' is a great testament for how well we played all year. We didn't know what to expect. Our seniors have always been the class that no one expected much out of. They're a terrific group of athletes who showed their character. They had a great run. I didn't think it would end. They did a great job. The sting of losing is there, it will be there a long time and the sting will be motivation for next year."
Speaking of which, Yarmouth figures to be a powerhouse in 2013. While there will be some holes to fill, the senior class will feature the likes of captains Decker and Chandler Smith, Jackson, Murphy, Watson, David Clemmer, Wes Crawford and Travis Hamre. Dioli, Adam LaBrie and Ben Vigue will be juniors and Walter Conrad will enter his sophomore campaign.
If all goes well, look for the Clippers to make it even further next fall.
"Don't think Yarmouth's going anywhere," warned Grout. "We haven't had one kid score 16 goals this year. We had six or seven kids score four and most of them are underclassmen."
"Our underclassmen played well this year," said Hagerty. "We have a lot of kids coming back. Our youth program's in the best shape it's ever been in. I'm excited about the future."
Sportsmanship and goodbyes?
While this rivalry has been as heated as any at times over the years, in recent seasons the two programs have taken it to a new level of sportsmanship, enhancing the play on the field with respect for each other once the final horn sounds.
Wednesday, after the teams had their postgame handshakes and after Yarmouth received its runner-up medals and plaque, Hagerty had the Clippers walk through and shake the victors' hands once more. Following Falmouth being given its medals and championship plaque, the Yachtsmen's captains went over to congratulate the Yarmouth coaches on their season.
"They beat us and we needed to look them in the eye one more time and wish them luck Saturday," said Hagerty. "Going through the first handshake there's still a little shock. I think (doing it again was) a nice gesture. I'm trying to teach the kids that's how you respond. The rivalry's always been there. There's not quite the edge to it there used to be. When the game's over, it's respectful. They have a lot of classy kids. I like to think we have classy kids too."
It's possible Wednesday's game will be the last time the rivals meet in the postseason. Falmouth will move up to Class A soon and it's conceivable going forward that if the Yachtsmen leave the Western Maine Conference for the Southern Maine Activities Association, the state's best rivalry will cease altogether.
"It could be the last time we play in the playoffs," Hagerty said. "The rivalry might only last another year. The days are numbered, which is too bad. They've had the upper hand. We call them the Yankees for that. It doesn't feel right when we don't play them in the playoffs. You want to play the best teams and beat the best teams to be the best. It's sad. I don't want to see it end."
Saturday at 3 p.m., at Scarborough High School, Falmouth will look to cap the season with its 11th state title when it faces Ellsworth (15-1) or Camden Hills (14-2). The Eagles and Windjammers' Eastern B Final was pushed to Thursday due to poor field conditions.
Falmouth beat Ellsworth by 3-0 scores in both the 2007 and 2009 state games and held off Camden Hills last year, 2-1, to win its record 10th championship.
The Yachtsmen know there's just one more hill to climb before they can raise another Gold Ball to the sky and say mission accomplished again.
"(Beating Yarmouth) feels awesome, but we have to prepare for the state game and make sure we put them away early just like we did in this game," said Lycan.
"We don't give up," said McBrady. "We're looking forward to it."
"Every high school player coming into a season, (states is) the goal," Halligan added. "We're lucky to be there. We'll give it our best shot."