Falmouth does it all in key win at Yarmouth
How many goals would it take?
Eleven, 12, 15?
Long before halftime of Tuesday evening's boys' lacrosse showdown between Falmouth and Yarmouth, it was clear that defense would be at a disadvantage.
Eventually, however, the Yachtsmen would find just enough to turn the tide.
Not before both teams put on a dazzling offensive display, however.
In the lone regular season meeting between the rivals, on the turf at Yarmouth High School, the first quarter produced nine goals, while the second featured a dozen.
The teams were tied six times in the first half and the lead changed hands on five occasions, the last with 2.3 seconds to go, when Clippers junior Brendan Dioli scored unassisted to put the hosts up, 11-10.
Then, Falmouth was a vastly different team, especially on the defensive end, in the second half and that turned the tide.
The Yachtsmen allowed just one second half goal, none in the final 18 minutes, 40 seconds and when senior Tyler Jordan scored unassisted with 1:05 left in the third period, Falmouth had the lead for good, 13-12.
In the fourth quarter, with their defense stymieing the Clippers, Jordan scored again and senior standout I.V. Stucker added a goal to make it 15-12.
Late in the game, Stucker scored again and senior Joe Dancoes tickled the twine as well and the Yachtsmen put the finishing touches on a very entertaining and confidence-building 17-12 victory.
Stucker scored four times, Jordan added three goals, five other players scored and unheralded seniors Marshall Kirk (who helped turn the game in Falmouth's favor in the faceoff circle) and Angus Ferrell (who keyed the defense in the second half) played pivotal roles as the Yachtsmen improved to 7-1 and dropped the Clippers to 5-3 in the process.
"Last year, we lost four overtime games and this is the same group," Stucker said. "We've learned to be relentless. We came out firing in the first half and we managed to keep it going in the second half."
Last year, Yarmouth beat Falmouth in two of the most palpitating games of the season: 10-9 at home and 15-14 away, as both contests needed more than 48 minutes to decide. The first snapped the Yachtsmen's four-game win streak against the Clippers and the second gave Yarmouth a 10-4 series advantage dating to 2003 (see sidebar, below).
Both teams went on to have their seasons ended at the hands of eventual Class B champion Cape Elizabeth, as Falmouth was ousted (in OT) in the regional final and the Clippers were denied in the state game.
This season, both teams are once again on the short list of title hopefuls.
Falmouth crushed visiting Kennebunk (15-2), host North Yarmouth Academy (12-4), visiting Fryeburg (16-2) and host Freeport (17-4), then was finally tested at Cheverus, where it managed to prevail, 12-10. The Yachtsmen fell from the undefeated ranks last Tuesday, 12-8, at reigning Class B champion Cape Elizabeth, but bounced back Saturday to handle visiting, four-time defending Class A champion Scarborough, 15-11 (in a game Falmouth led at one point, 10-0).
Yarmouth opened by knocking off host York, 16-6, then lost at home to Cape Elizabeth, 10-6, before winning at Greely (9-5), at home over Lake Region (21-1), at Brunswick (in a 7-6 thriller) and at North Yarmouth Academy (10-0). Friday, the Clippers were staggered by visiting South Portland (10-7), which produced 10 straight goals at one juncture, as Yarmouth was held scoreless for nearly 29 minutes.
Tuesday's game was all about offense until suddenly, it wasn't.
Falmouth appeared to open the scoring a mere 19 seconds in, when Dancoes finished a feed from Stucker, but Dancoes was ruled to be in the crease, negating the goal.
After Yarmouth junior goalie Connor Hoehle denied a shot by Jordan, the visitors broke through with 10:10 left in the first period, as junior Bryce Kuhn eluded the defense and beat Hoehle.
The Clippers roared right back to tie 12 seconds later.
Sophomore faceoff specialist Walter Conrad, who had a stellar night, won possession, raced in and beat Falmouth senior goalie Nick Beaulieu, making the score 1-1.
When Dioli scored unassisted with 9:29 left in the first, Yarmouth had its first lead, but 26 seconds later, Yachtsmen senior Brad Gilbert answered unassisted.
The battle was joined.
With 7:52 to play in the first, Kuhn set up junior C.J. Leighton for a 3-2 Falmouth lead, but 42 seconds later, senior Brady Neujahr collected a rebound and fired it past Beaulieu to pull Yarmouth even.
Senior Max Watson scored after firing through a screen to put the Clippers up, 4-3, at the quarter's midway point, but the offense wasn't finished.
After Hoehle denied Stucker with Falmouth enjoying a 90-second man advantage, Watson fed Neujahr for a goal and a 5-3 lead.
After Hoehle robbed Brad Gilbert and Beaulieu got just enough of a Dioli shot at the other end to prevent it from going across the goal line, the Yachtsmen transitioned to offense and with under a second to go in a frenetic first period, sophomore George Gilbert scored unassisted to pull Falmouth within a goal, 5-4.
And that wasn't even the high-scoring period.
It took all of 44 seconds for the first goal of the second to be scored, as Watson scored unassisted.
Back came the visitors, as Stucker scored for the first time, unassisted, but with 10:05 to play in the half, after scooping up a ground ball in front, Clippers junior Joe Oliva beat Beaulieu for a 7-5 lead.
Yarmouth then went cold and the Yachtsmen responded, in large part because coach Mike LeBel replaced Jordan in the faceoff circle with Kirk, who immediately won possession on four successive opportunities.
After Stucker scored unassisted, Hoehle denied Leighton, but Leighton got another chance and tied the game, 7-7, with an unassisted tally with 7:47 to go in the half.
Two minutes later, George Gilbert gave Falmouth the lead with an unassisted tally.
"To start, I was cleanly beating (Conrad) on the clamp and popping it out," said Kirk, of his faceoff prowess. "Then, they put their wing guy right on (senior Brandon Boehm's) hip, so I couldn't cleanly put it out to him. I had to pull them forward and backward and scrap for the ball. (Conrad's) pretty solid."
"I told the guys at the beginning that Yarmouth would come out with a lot of intensity, heart and fire, so we'd have to try and withstand that initial surge that they displayed against South Portland, when they took a 3-0 lead against a top team in the state," LeBel said. "We had to hang in there and play our game."
Clippers coach David Pearl called timeout, but Jordan added an unassisted goal to make it 9-7.
Finally, with 2:56 left before halftime, Yarmouth ended the Yachtsmen's 4-0 run and a 7 minute, 9 second drought, as freshman Bobby Murray took a pass from Conrad and finished. Dioli, from senior Isaak Dearden, in transition, then beat Beaulieu to tie the score 29 seconds later.
The visitors went back on top wen Brad Gilbert scored unassisted, but after a Falmouth turnover, Oliva tied the game with 58 seconds remaining.
It looked as if 10-10 would be the score at the break, but nearly a minute was an eternity not to score and the Clippers would tickle the twine one final time.
With just 2.3 seconds showing, Dioli beat a defender, then went one-on-one with the goalie before finishing to make it 11-10 Yarmouth after a first half which featured nearly a goal per minute.
"We haven't scored like this all year," Pearl said. "The guys worked hard and responded to what we're trying to do."
While the Clippers were winning 13 of 21 faceoffs, ground balls were even (26-26) and the Yachtsmen enjoyed a shots advantage (23-14).
It was clear at that point that whichever team's defense stepped up in the second half would spell the difference.
It didn't take long to see that Falmouth made the key adjustment, as Ferrell was assigned to Dioli and came up huge.
The Yachtsmen tied the score 75 seconds into the third quarter, as Kuhn managed to collect a deflected pass before beating Hoehle.
After George Gilbert hit the post, Falmouth went on top with 8:09 to go in the third, as Leighton spotted a wide open Dancoes in front and Dancoes finished.
Yarmouth drew even, 12-12, when Dioli fed Oliva for a goal with 6:40 to play in the stanza, but that would be the end of the Clippers' offensive production.
First, Beaulieu preserved the tie by denying Dioli twice.
Then, with 1:05 left in the third, Jordan scored unassisted and Falmouth had the lead for good, 13-12, an advantage it took the final quarter.
There, the Yachtsmen gradually pulled away.
After a Neujahr bid to tie hit the post, Jordan scored another unassisted goal for a little breathing room with 9:53 to play.
"You know from hockey that Tyler steps up at big moments and puts it in the back of the net," Stucker said.
"Our midfield defense had a difficult time with (Brad) Gilbert and (Jordan)," Pearl said. "When you have so many weapons, you have a dynamic offense."
Forty-five seconds later, in an exhibition of gorgeous passing, the ball came to Dancoes, who fed Stucker for a shot Hoehle had no chance to stop and suddenly, Falmouth had a little breathing room and a 15-12 lead.
After Kuhn hit the post and Brad Gilbert had a shot saved, Neujahr had one final great scoring chance for the Clippers, but with 5:39 to play, Beaulieu made the save.
The visitors then put it away, as Stucker (from Leighton) scored with 3:44 left and with 2:28 showing, Kuhn set up Dancoes for the dagger.
The Yachtsmen ran out the clock from there and brought the curtain down on their 17-12 triumph.
"This is my first time winning here," said Kirk. "It feels really good to beat them. They always coming out firing at home. They're a very good team with great offensive players."
"At halftime, I couldn't really complain about the offense, but to let up 11, when the most we've scored is 12, I called out the defense and I even called out Nick," LeBel said. "I said, 'Please try and make a save.' He could have gone in the tank, or he could have responded and he was outstanding in the second half. We packed it in defensively and the kids refused to lose. They worked hard and that's how we're built. We wear down a team because they don't have the numbers we do.
"Scarborough and Yarmouth are top five teams in my estimation. Good, quality, flagship programs in the state. Anytime you can beat teams like that, it's impressive. It helps with our confidence. I just wish we could play South Portland and see where we stood with that top team. I see Cape and South Portland as the top two teams in the state.
"I really wasn't overly anxious about today because in the long run, it really didn't matter (for Heal Points). We just had to execute aspects we've been focusing on."
In a dizzying display of balanced offense, Falmouth not only had seven goal scorers, but all seven had more than one.
Stucker led the way with four, Jordan added three and Dancoes, Brad Gilbert, George Gilbert, Kuhn and Leighton each finished with a pair. Kuhn and Leighton both added two assists, while Dancoes had one.
"Nobody's unstoppable, but when we move the ball, we're close to unstoppable," said Stucker. "Anybody on our offense can score. We have like seven, eight, nine guys who can put it in the cage. It's just next man up."
"I never try to design my offense around anyone one person, because then it's too easy to shut it down," said LeBel. "Like tonight, we finally shut off Dioli and they didn't have an answer. Our offense is designed to go to many different guys. It's similar to Cape. You can't shut off one or two guys. C.J. Leighton responded. They put a short stick on him and he responded great and went to goal. When they really started to pressure us, I feel good about how the kids responded moving the ball. We're finally understanding how to handle pressure. The guys kept their heads up and when there was a slide, we found the open guy and converted."
Kirk won just seven of his 16 ground balls, but there's no overstating his impact.
"The key was definitely Kirk winning those faceoffs," said Stucker. "Our defense and our (longstick middies) stepped up and blocked shots and Nicky B played great."
"Earlier on this year, I took for granted Tyler's past (faceoff) success," said Lebel. "We didn't practice faceoffs as much and then, he got hurt. His thumb's hurt and that's kept him from being as effective as he's been. Marshall's probably one of the toughest kids on the team. I knew he'd respond. He gave us a shot. (Conrad) is stellar on ground balls. Even if we popped it out, he'd be there. He was just phenomenal. Marshall really helped us out a lot. I'm really proud of him. He's a tough kid."
Jordan had a team-high six ground balls, while Kuhn collected five.
Beaulieu came up big in the second half, stopping eight shots total.
As strange as it sounds, in a game in which it gave up a dozen goals, Falmouth's defense was the difference in the second half.
"Defense is always an issue," Kirk said. "Our offense can put up numbers, but our defense doesn't always step up. Coach told us at halftime the defense had to step up and get gritty. We pulled one of our starting poles and put (Angus) in, who's a little more athletic, to shut off Dioli. He matched his speed."
"Dioli was killing us from behind," Stucker said. "He's a quick attackman. He got to the cage and finished. We weren't taking the body. Angus came and played on him and we started playing team defense. We sacrificed for each other."
"Angus just started playing lacrosse last year," added LeBel. "His stick skills aren't as refined, but he's a good athlete. He's very muscular. He's tough as nails. I noticed in one-on-one drills in practice he responded and shut down our top attackmen, so I put him in and he responded. He was fantastic."
Falmouth ousthot Yarmouth, 43-32 (27-20 on cage) and committed only 16 turnovers.
The Clippers got three goals apiece from Dioli and Oliva, two each from Neujahr and Watson and one from both Conrad and Murray. Dearden, Dioli and Watson all had assists. Hoehle had 10 saves.
"I think the back-and-forth of the game shows what we're capable of," Pearl said. "I'm really proud that guys played like a team. This was a game of possessions. We had to have more thoughtful possessions. We had some great shots on goal which just didn't fall."
Yarmouth won 20 of 31 faceoffs, as Conrad was an impressive 19 of 30.
"Walter Conrad not only won faceoffs, but he won ground balls and he got the ball safely to other players," Pearl said. "He did it all game. He's an outstanding player. He plays like he practices."
Pearl also praised senior Matt Woodbury for his defensive effort.
"Stucker's a great player, but he didn't go crazy on us because Matt Woodbury is an unsung hero," Pearl said. "We ask him week in, week out, to play the best in the state. He didn't get beaten (by Stucker) on dodges."
The Clippers had a 43-39 edge in ground balls and Conrad set the pace there as well, collecting a game-high 14.
Yarmouth gave the ball away 24 times. Those miscues and not scoring over the final quarter-and-a-half proved too much to overcome.
"I think (the drought was) inflated by about seven minutes, because Falmouth took the air out and went into a stall, which is exactly what I'd do," Pearl said. "Once they got a three- or a four-goal lead, it was really hard."
See you again, perhaps
The rivals only play once this regular season, so for a rematch to be necessary, it will have to come June 21 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in the state final.
Both squads have plenty of work to do before even thinking about winning a championship, however.
Yarmouth (second to Maranacook/Winthrop in the Eastern Class B Heal Points standings as of press time) looks to snap its skid Friday, when it goes to Waynflete. The Clippers then host Kennebunk, play at Cape Elizabeth and close at home versus NYA.
"I'm not worried about this group," Pearl said. "The positive is we traded punches with (Falmouth) for three quarters. It was anyone's game. We'll come back to work tomorrow. We have to win some games. I like what we have going forward. We've played every great team and we've had moments. This team doesn't give up."
Falmouth still hopes it can catch the Capers for the top spot in the Western B standings (it's second currently), but for the Yachtsmen to do so, they'll have to beat Cape Elizabeth at home June 4. That might be Falmouth's next stern test, as the next three games consist of visits from Wells and Greely and a trip to Kennebunk.
Tuesday's win provides plenty of confidence.
"(This win) gets me going," Kirk said. "Foot on the gas for the rest of the season. I think we're peaking at the right time."
"The next team on our schedule is the best team," said Stucker. "We won't overlook anyone."
"We should be able to score double digit goals against almost every team, if not every team," added LeBel. "Defensively, we're working at it. We know what we need to improve. We tweak things every day in practice."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
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