Greely shocks Yarmouth in Western B Final
YARMOUTH—Prior to Wednesday evening's Western Class B boys' soccer final, not many people outside of Cumberland and North Yarmouth gave the Greely Rangers much of a shot against powerhouse Yarmouth.
Truth be told, there weren't many inside of Cumberland and North Yarmouth either who thought the Rangers could win.
But they play the games for a reason and the proud Greely program produced one of its signature victories against all odds.
A mere three weeks after being humbled, 4-1, on the same Yarmouth turf and facing a Clippers juggernaut that had only grown stronger in the interim, the Rangers found themselves down, 1-0, just 97 seconds in, as Yarmouth senior Max Watson continued his blistering play with a goal and it appeared the Clippers, led by a storied senior class, were on their way to their seemingly destined trip to the state final.
Instead, Greely turned momentum for good seven minutes later, when a seemingly innocent play led to a superb individual goal from sophomore Jacob Nason and the game was tied, 1-1.
The Rangers dodged a few bullets later in the first half and got to the break still deadlocked and as time dwindled in the second half, Greely's chances grew exponentially.
Then, with 8:09 to play, senior Matt Crowley etched his name into program lore, splitting two defenders before launching a rocket into the goal and suddenly, upset dreams were about to become reality.
The Rangers still had to survive a few anxious moments, but the defense and senior goalkeeper Alex McAdoo held firm and Greely shocked the local sports world with a 2-1 victory.
The Rangers improved to 13-2-2, ended Yarmouth's fine season at 13-1-3 and advanced to face Eastern Maine champion Camden Hills (16-0-1) in the Class B state final Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Hampden Academy.
"It was nice," said longtime Greely coach Mike Andreasen. "We played well enough to win. I do think on the field, that team was a better side in terms of possession, but we did what we needed to do. It's hard, because they might be the best team in the state. They're solid, they're clean, they're fast. God, are they fast. I'm still kind of wondering how we came out on top."
The two tops
Preseason projections had Yarmouth first and Greely second, or vice versa, so the fact that the Clippers and Rangers were the last teams standing in the region didn't exactly come as a surprise.
Yarmouth opened 2013 with a 4-0 home win over Poland. After rallying for a 2-2 tie at Greely, the Clippers handled host Freeport, 5-1. A scoreless tie at York was followed by a 2-0 win at Kennebunk, a 3-0 victory at Waynflete and a palpitating 1-0 overtime victory at Cape Elizabeth. After beating visiting Falmouth, 1-0, Yarmouth had its way with visiting York, 4-1, then rallied to tie visiting Cape Elizabeth in a shootout, 3-3. The Clippers then went to Falmouth and earned a stunningly decisive 6-1 victory, held off visiting Kennebunk, 1-0, handled visiting Greely, 4-1, and closed the regular year with a 6-0 home win over Gray-New Gloucester.
After earning the top seed, Yarmouth went out and showed why it was the team to beat by dominating No. 8 Fryeburg, 7-0, in the quarterfinals and even more impressively, making quick work of No. 4 Cape Elizabeth in Saturday's semifinals, 5-0.
The Rangers dominated visiting Fryeburg, 7-0, in their opener, then let a 2-0 lead slip away in a frustrating 2-2 home draw versus Yarmouth. Greely then beat visiting Gray-New Gloucester, 1-0, but slipped up at Kennebunk, falling, 2-1. The Rangers then came to life with wins at Cape Elizabeth (2-1), at home against Freeport (4-0), at Falmouth (3-0), at a York team which hadn't given up a goal to that point all season (3-0), at home against Kennebunk (1-0) and at home against Falmouth (2-1) before settling for a scoreless home tie versus York. After the Rangers returned to their winning ways with a 2-0 home victory over Cape Elizabeth, they fell at Yarmouth, 4-1, to finish 10-2-2 and second in Western B.
After blanking No. 7 Gray-New Gloucester, 3-0, in the quarterfinals, Greely got a late goal from Nason to edge No. 3 York, 1-0, in Saturday's semifinals.
The teams last met in a playoff game during the Ford Administration. The Rangers edged the Clippers, 1-0, in the 1974 Western B Final and a year later, Greely did it again, 3-0, in the semifinals. The Rangers then moved to Class A for the playoffs (before moving back down this fall), while Yarmouth spent some time in Class C before returning to Class B for good.
Wednesday, the Clippers entered as the prohibitive favorite based on their recent play, but the Rangers (who are without senior defensive standout and team leader Sam Porter for the playoffs due to injury) went to Yarmouth believing they had a chance to spring an upset, even though many others did not.
"As I was leaving today, my mother-in-law came over and said, 'At least tomorrow Mike you can get on to something new,'" said Andreasen, who privately expressed concerns before the game that a 21-year streak of not losing a playoff game by more than a goal could be in jeopardy.
The Clippers, as they did against Cape Elizabeth four days prior, pressed from the get-go and were immediately rewarded.
The goal, like so many this fall, came off a set piece, as senior David Murphy, whose powerful arms are as effective as any booming kick, threw the ball toward the goal where it eventually wound up on the head of Watson, who directed it past McAdoo for a 1-0 lead.
"We worked in practice on the Murphy throw-ins," said Greely senior defender Patrick O'Sheal. "I forgot to get back post on that one. I'll take the blame for that goal. We just had to stay with it. We knew that once they got one, they were relentless and would go for more."
Greely could have crumbled then and there, but instead, that goal proved to be Yarmouth's final tally of the season, something no one would have dared believe at the time.
The tide turned with 32:26 left in the first half.
Crowley won the ball at midfield, one-touched the ball to senior Aidan Black and Black sent a long feed up the right sideline to a streaking Nason. Nason went one-on-one with a defender, crossed into the box, then unleashed a tough angle shot that somehow squeezed between Clippers junior goalkeeper Alex Lyon and the near post to make it 1-1.
And change what everyone thought of the Rangers' chances.
"We just gave up after the first goal the last time," Nason said. "We had to keep going this time. I got a through ball, I faked a turn in, kept going and ripped a shot near post. It felt great."
"I feel like that woke us up," Crowley said. "It was really important that he scored. I feel like if we went another 10 minutes without a goal, or fell behind, 2-0, we would have been in trouble."
"We knew if we could hold them to one goal, we thought we'd get two," Andreasen said. "When they scored a minute in, we were in trouble. Nason's goal was big. It at least gave us a chance."
"We talked about limiting their midfield and we did a good job on Nason because only had one shot, but it went in," lamented longtime Yarmouth coach Mike Hagerty.
Greely would get to the half tied, but not before a few anxious moments.
First, off another Murphy throw, the ball landed in the box and McAdoo couldn't reach it. It again found the head of Watson who put it on target, but a defender was there to clear it out. The ball got sent back in, again sat free and this time, junior Adam LaBrie got a foot on it and sent it toward the goal, but again, a quick-thinking defender was there to clear it.
As time wound down, Clippers senior Travis Hamre crossed the ball to LaBrie, who headed it just off the mark. The ball came back to Hamre, who had a great look, but his bid rang off the left post and the game remained deadlocked.
"They almost had us right before halftime," said Andreasen. "We lost our discipline. We were behind the ball all night. Yarmouth beats you with aggression, numbers and with counters. We did a good job until then. It should have been 2-1 Yarmouth at half. If that happened, it would have been a whole different ballgame."
The Clippers had an 8-2 edge in shots in the first half, but had nothing to show for it.
"In the first half, statistically speaking, we had eight shots and seven were inside the box," Hagerty said. "When you don't capitalize on those early chances, you're in trouble. We played well enough in the first half to get another goal and that might have made the difference."
While Yarmouth still believed it had the game in hand, Greely came out for the second half loose and confident and as the game dragged on, the Rangers' upset chances grew greater and greater.
Just a minute into the second half, Greely earned a free kick just outside the box, but the Clippers defense blocked Crowley's blast.
With 35:35 to play, a rush by Murphy was broken up by Rangers junior Harry Shain, but it resulted in a corner kick, which was cleared from harm's way.
Two minutes later, Yarmouth got another corner kick opportunity, tried a short corner and Murphy had a shot blocked.
Greely got a corner kick with 32:50 remaining, but Watson headed the ball away.
Two minutes later, at the other end, the Clippers had a corner kick which was punched away by McAdoo.
Yarmouth's next good chance came with 19:32 to go, as LaBrie crossed the ball into the box where McAdoo got to it, but momentarily bobbled it before he tucked it away.
A minute later, the Rangers got a good look, but sophomore Austin Nowinski shot just wide.
After each team had another corner kick to no avail, Greely struck.
The winning sequence began innocuously, as Crowley won a 50-50 ball at midfield and instead of passing, saw empty turf in front of him. He wound up dribbling 35 yards, eluding two defenders, then, with a third closing in, he fired and his low blast got past a diving Lyon to put the Rangers ahead for good, 2-1.
"I got the ball, dribbled past a defender, took a touch, looked up, saw I was in shooting range, took a shot, it wound up going through a defender's legs and slipped into the net," Crowley said. "I was just trying to get a shot off and get it on net. It felt good, but I knew the game wasn't over and that we'd have to be solid in the back."
"I'm proud of him," Nason said. "I know he wanted to have a big impact on the game and he really did."
"It took big plays by big players," Andreasen added. "Matt Crowley and Jacob Nason have been two of our biggest players all year. Aidan Black assisted on Nason's goal. We almost didn't want to score too early in the second half because Yarmouth has the true heart of a champion and always comes back."
The Clippers were shell-shocked.
"You have to give Greely credit," Hagerty said. "They played fast. They moved the ball. They did a nice job pushing the ball forward to feet. They played north-south and took us a little out of rhythm. They played well in the second half. They had fresh legs in the second half. Crowley did a nice job in the first half sitting in and holding their shape. Then, in the second half, he did a nice job being more offensive. He's one of the best players in the state for a reason. He was the difference winning 50-50 balls. He beat at least two people on the goal. A great individual player made the difference."
Still, ample time remained for a squad which twice this fall quickly wiped out two-goal second half deficits.
Just 24 seconds after the goal, senior Wyatt Jackson had a good look, but his left-footed bender sailed just wide of the far post.
With 4:25 left, LaBrie sent a shot wide.
With 2:31 showing, McAdoo had to come out to corral a loose ball.
Then, in the final 75 seconds, Greely was under constant pressure, but didn't break.
With 1:15 left, Murphy's cross was cleared, but it went out of bounds, giving the Clippers one final corner kick, which was cleared out of bounds. After a stoppage to reset the clock (eight seconds were added, much to Andreasen's dismay), Murphy threw the ball in from the side. It would up back on his foot in the corner, he tried to send it in, but the ball was cleared. As the seconds counted down, sophomore Patrick Grant played the ball back in, where Jackson headed it toward the goal, but a Rangers defender blocked it and at 8:38 p.m., the final horn sounded.
Greely 2 Yarmouth 1.
The Rangers, who were outshot, 13-4, had pulled the stunner.
"It feels good," Crowley said. "It still hasn't sunk in completely. It's always nice to beat Yarmouth. I feel like we focused on defense more since they exploited our defense last time. We made sure we focused on not letting up goals.We worked in practice on getting balls out of the box. I feel like we did a good job of that late in the game."
"I think it shows how persevering we are," O'Shea said. "We just came in and had the goal of competing. They kind of embarrassed a little bit last time. We were a little too excited and it showed that we weren't tactically ready. This time, we just wanted to play a little more defensive so they couldn't turn their backs in the box. We needed to put more pressure on them and not let guys like LaBrie and Wyatt Jackson get easy shots."
"We realized in the first game we had them, but they came back, and in the second game, they really gave it to us, so we decided we had to come out harder than ever tonight," Nason said. "Not having Porter gave us motivation. We came in as underdogs and we came back. It means a lot."
"The defense bent, but never broke," Andreasen added. "My kids gave it their all. I think a lot of people looked at the 4-1 game and saw us as inferior and them being clearly better. We knew they weren't 4-1 better than us. We could have lost to York the other night just as easily as we won tonight and that wouldn't have been as big an upset because people will look at this game and say, 'Wow! What happened?'"
Andreasen made a point of paying tribute to his counterpart.
"Michael's a class act," he said. "He's a dear friend, if not my dearest friend among coaches. Every year we battled in the regular season, then went our separate ways, but not this year."
Even until the final horn, Yarmouth believed victory was attainable.
"I did feel like we'd pull through," Murphy said. "I was hoping. They just played solid in the back. Greely plays great, hard defense in the box."
"Obviously, we were feeling pretty good, but Nason got the equalizer and it started to turn and they got momentum," Watson said. "The game was back-and-forth and in the end, they got the second finish and we couldn't. It could have gone either way, but it went their way."
"They were very solid in the back," said senior Ben Decker. "I could tell the minute the whistle blew, they had nothing to lose. They played an incredible game. It's just one of those things in sports. They came out on top. Sports is humanizing. We have to look them in the eye and congratulate them on winning tonight."
"We played really well, but you have to look at it from the other perspective," said senior defensive and set piece specialist Chandler Smith. "Greely had an unbelievable season and they played great tonight. They played out of their minds. I really hope they represent us well Saturday, as I know they will."
"I'm not sure we were outplayed today, but we were certainly outscored," added Hagerty. "I think in the first half, even though we outplayed them statistically, I felt like we were tense. Give Greely credit, they kept us under pressure. We got a little unorganized in the back, which we haven't done all year. Greely's a good team and a good team can win on any night."
Playoff losses are also difficult to handle, especially at home and most of all when you expect to win a championship.
While the Clippers won't bring home the Gold Ball, the postgame composure, poise and class from their senior captains elevated them to the status of champions nonetheless.
Following the postgame handshakes and after receiving the runner-up trophy, Decker, Murphy, Watson and Smith went over to Andreasen to congratulate him and his team and wish them luck.
The four then reflected on how much it meant to be a part of the Yarmouth program.
"We have a great coaching staff and great kids around us," said Murphy, who was named to the Western B all-regional team. "We always enjoyed coming to practice. There wasn't one 6 a.m. preseason practice we didn't want to come to."
"We have the camaraderie of teammates, classmates, the community," said Watson, who battled back from injury to become an almost unstoppable goal scorer. "It's been a real joy to be part of this program the past four years. The coaching staff is the heart of the program. They've made this program such a big part of the community."
"We have the best teammates in the world," said Smith, who also made the all-regional team. "There's nothing we wouldn't do for each other. I've learned so many more things about life, so much more than just soccer, from this team. I couldn't ask for a better team. This is a hard lesson to swallow, but it's another lesson we've learned."
"We have this tradition every year before the playoffs where we have a senior walk and the underclassmen come and talk to the seniors, so I had some time to reflect then," added Decker. "I realized this team has been part of my identity as a community member and a person. I couldn't have grown more through this. I look around and I know I'd do anything for the guys next to me and they'd do anything for me. I can't say enough about our coaching staff. Regardless of tonight's result, I won't look back on my experience as a Yarmouth soccer player with anything but positivity."
Hagerty raved about the season and his seniors.
"(Winning the Brady Cup, the annual round robin between Yarmouth, Greely, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth, for the fourth year in a row) will certainly take the sting out a little bit," he said. "I thought we consistently had a fabulous year with the toughest schedule we've had in years.
"Our seniors just had great careers. Soccer's a cruel sport sometimes. They deserved more. They had one state title in four years, which they had a little to do with, but in the past three years, what they've put together was amazing. We didn't play poorly today. We just didn't play well enough to win. That's a hard pill to swallow. Especially for these seniors."
It's safe to say that hunger won't be an issue for those returning in 2014. Players like Conrad, Grant, the explosive LaBrie (an all-regional selection), Lyon and (junior all-regional selection Ben) Vigue played huge roles this fall and will team leaders next season. Several others will see more playing time and some new faces will certainly pitch in.
"I think the guys below us know exactly what they need to do and what roles they need to fill," Smith said. "I have absolute faith they'll do that. We have incredible players and leaders stepping up. Adam and Ben will be terrific. You'll have experience all around. You'll have Walter, you'll have Patrick, you'll have all these great guys stepping up. If you look at our program below that, I think our JV team was undefeated, our first team was unbelievable. The program keeps growing and growing. Every year, people come to this program because the game and the team shape people into who they are."
"I'm pleased with how the program will stay in good shape," Hagerty said. "We'll continue to be competitive. This year had all the makings of a special year. It was special, but it didn't end the way we hoped. It's disappointing, but soccer's like life."
A trip north
Saturday in Hampden, the last thing standing between Greely and its eighth state title is Camden Hills.
The Rangers have no history with the Windjammers.
Greely will be going in on a high note, but knows it still hasn't accomplished its ultimate goal of winning the Gold Ball and that highly touted Camden Hills will be extremely fired up, seeking to become the first team from Eastern B to win a championship in 20 seasons.
"We have to keep playing the same way," O'Shea said. "This means nothing if we don't win Saturday."
"I feel like we might want it a little bit more this year," Crowley said. "We have to keep working hard in practice and focus on small things."
"If Camden Hills is better than Yarmouth, then maybe I need to quit coaching," Andreasen said. "A big thing for us is climbing the mountain again. I've seen it so many times in sports when a team beats a rival, then falls back. In some years, you can take the day off and win the game, but not anymore. At some point, the East will be sick of losing that game. They might look at it and think they're getting a bit of break seeing us instead of Yarmouth, but hopefully we won't give them too much of a break."