Yarmouth breaks NYA's heart in semifinal thriller
YARMOUTH—There's no rivalry in the state like the Yarmouth-North Yarmouth Academy boys' lacrosse rivalry and after countless memorable moments over the years, the teams produced yet another palpitating and stunning 48 minutes of lacrosse Saturday afternoon in an Eastern Class B semifinal at NYA.
The second-ranked Panthers got off to a fast start and led, 4-1, in the second period, but the No. 3 Clippers came back and the game went back and forth in the second half. Twice Yarmouth went ahead, but twice NYA drew even, the second time on senior standout Jacob Scammon's unassisted goal with 7:40 to play.
With two teams this even, it wasn't a surprise the game was decided by a fluky play and sure enough the Clippers benefited when Panthers sophomore goalie D.J. Nicholas had the ball fall out of his basket into the goal with 3:36 remaining to put Yarmouth ahead, 8-7.
NYA fought tooth and nail to respond and had three great looks in the final minute-plus, but a Scammon bounce shot went high, Clippers senior goalie Sam Landry made a clutch save on a shot by Panthers senior Eliott Wellenbach and after a Yarmouth turnover with time winding down, senior Jeremy Sylvain had a great look in front, but his shot hit the post and Yarmouth survived, 8-7.
Seniors Ian Edgecomb and Christian Henry led a balanced Clippers' attack with two goals apiece and Yarmouth improved to 11-3, ended NYA's fine season at 9-5 and advanced to face top-ranked Gardiner (14-0) in the Eastern B Final Wednesday at 4 p.m.
"We have such a (great rivalry with NYA)," said Clippers senior defenseman and captain Drew Grout. "Every single game we play them, we come out like it's our last. We have a lot of respect for that program. We knew we had to bring everything today. Coming in here, we knew this game wasn't just about us. It was about all the graduates, everyone who's ever been in the program. It was for what the 'Yarmouth' on our chest represents, the coaches and the alumni who didn't get the opportunity. It was a great game both ways."
One round early
Saturday's game was a semifinal with a regional or state final's intensity.
NYA and Yarmouth (along with Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth) were part of one of the most memorable regular seasons in recent years, in which those elite teams seemingly took turns knocking off each other in breathtaking fashion.
NYA suffered a tough loss to start the season, 7-6, at home to Yarmouth, but the Panthers turned things around with a 16-4 win at Wells, then made everyone sit up and take notice by rallying from 5-1 down to defeat visiting Cape Elizabeth, 9-6. Wins at three-time defending Class A champion Scarborough (8-5) and Fryeburg (12-2) followed, before NYA lost at Falmouth, 8-5. After a 15-4 home win over Gorham, the Panthers lost at Yarmouth, 11-6, but bounced back to handle visiting Thornton Academy in a crossover game (11-3), visiting Waynflete (23-11) and host Cape Elizabeth (7-5). NYA closed with an 11-10 loss to Falmouth, a game which wasn't resolved until the final horn.
The Panthers had no trouble with No. 7 Camden Hills in Wednesday's quarterfinals, romping, 20-1.
The Clippers set the tone for their season in the opener, a 7-6 win at NYA in a down-to-the-wire thriller. They then won at home over two-time defending Class B champion Falmouth in overtime, 10-9, then started 3-0 with a 15-4 victory at South Portland. Yarmouth was finally bested, 7-5, at Cape Elizabeth May 4. The Clippers bounced back to defeat host Freeport (15-2), visiting Lake Region (12-0), host Portland (17-5), visiting Fryeburg (21-2) and visiting NYA (11-6), before losing at home to three-time defending Class A state champion Scarborough, 10-7. After a breathtaking, come-from-behind 15-14 overtime win at Falmouth, Yarmouth closed with a 13-7 home loss to Cape Elizabeth.
The Clippers also romped in their quarterfinal Wednesday, dominating visiting No. 6 Oak Hill, 16-1.
NYA and Yarmouth have a rivalry unique in Maine, where two of a sport's elite teams (one private, one public) reside in the same town. The Panthers and Clippers entered Saturday's game having met 13 times in 15 postseasons, with Yarmouth prevailing on eight occasions. The most recent, however, went the way of NYA, 8-7, in last year's regional final, on the Clippers' turf.
Through the years, the teams have played games that came down to last-second shots, games that produced shocking results and even one contest (in 2006) ,where Yarmouth appeared to win at NYA on Zach Caldwell's overtime goal that wasn't allowed, before the Panthers went the other way and Nick Lolar scored a goal that did count (that game was still fresh in at least one spectator's mind Saturday, more on that in a moment).
This time around, two worthy title contenders went toe-to-toe in a superbly played contest that produced 48 minutes of drama and passion, but ultimately the Clippers proved you can beat a good team three times in one season, it's just pretty darn difficult to do so.
It was the hosts who got the jump, taking a 1-0 lead just 59 seconds in, when senior T.J. Daigler struck unassisted after causing a turnover and collecting the loose ball.
NYA pushed its lead to 2-0 with 9:04 to play in the first quarter, when senior Eliott Wellenbach found classmate Matt Hawkins for a rocket that Landry couldn't stop.
Yarmouth broke through with 3:48 to go in the stanza, as junior Isaac Dearden scored an unassisted goal, but with 2:53 remaining, Sylvain scored unassisted and the Panthers were up, 3-1, after 12 minutes of play.
When Scammon scored unassisted with 8:21 to go in the half, NYA had a three-goal lead, but that would prove to be the Panthers' highwater mark.
The Clippers began chipping away 34 seconds later, when, after a turnover, sophomore Joe Oliva fed Henry for his first goal, making it 4-2.
After one of Wellenbach's many faceoff wins, Daigler had a great look, but in a foreshadowing of the agony to come, his shot hit the post and bounced away harmlessly.
With 4:38 remaining before halftime, Yarmouth got back within a goal when Mr. Clutch, senior Ian Edgecomb, who has three game-winners in overtime or at the end of regulation this spring, collected a rebound and beat Nicholas.
"We had to settle down," said Yarmouth coach David Pearl. "That's been a theme for us. We seem to start slow."
The Clippers hit a pipe of their own with 2:17 showing, as senior Ethan Cyr was denied by the always agonizing sound of a shot hitting iron.
In the final minute, Landry preserved the one-goal deficit, robbing Sylvain on the doorstep and NYA clung to a 4-3 advantage at halftime.
In the first 24 minutes, Wellenbach won six of eight faceoffs, but the Panthers committed 13 turnovers, more or less negating their 14-10 shots advantage.
As the second half began, it was clear this one was coming down to the wire, but just how the thriller played out was truly surreal.
With 8:36 to play in the third quarter, Yarmouth drew even, as Oliva scored an unassisted goal.
The deadlock only lasted 58 seconds, however, as Hawkins answered for NYA, putting it back ahead, 5-4.
The Clippers drew even again, 5-5, with 5:46 to go, when, man-up, Edgecomb finished a feed from Dearden.
After Nicholas robbed both Oliva and senior Nick Ronan, Ronan gave Yarmouth its first lead, 6-5, when he finished a pass from Oliva with 43.8 seconds remaining, but with 8 seconds left, Hawkins tied the score with an unassisted strike and fittingly, the game was even heading for the fateful fourth quarter.
There, just 20 seconds in, Scammon hit the post.
The visitors then retook the lead, 7-6, with 9:16 to play, as Edgecomb set up Henry.
Undaunted, the Panthers answered again on a Scammon rocket with 7:40 to go and the game was deadlocked anew, 7-7.
Before Christmas came early for the Clippers, NYA had a couple great looks at taking the lead, but Landry saved a shot from Scammon and a long bid from Wellenbach.
Then, with 3:36 remaining, the improbable happened.
Handling the ball after a turnover, Nicholas turned in the crease, looking to kill a few seconds before trying to pass, but somehow, the ball just dropped out of his stick and to the horror of those in orange and black, it rolled over the goal line and stunningly, Yarmouth was ahead, 8-7.
"One of our focal points for this game was being up on the ride," Henry said. "Me, Joe Oliva and Ian Edgecomb tried to ride the defenders into making a bad decision."
"It's happened to me in the past and you hate to see that, but their goalie made incredible saves all game," Pearl said. "Things like that happen because the tenacity and the pressure of the ride."
"It's too bad it happened, but D.J. bailed us out on so many doorstep shots that karma was coming back for all those saves," NYA coach Peter Gerrity said. "He put us in a position to win."
Back to the theme of long memories in this rivalry, after the goal, former Clippers coach Craig Curry texted a reporter and wrote, "That one was for Zach Caldwell!"
Gerrity wisely called timeout to settle his team and the Panthers had their chances down the stretch.
After a Yarmouth turnover, Scammon had a look about 10 yards out, but instead of zipping one of his patented rockets, he tried to bounce the ball in and it went over the goal.
NYA then turned the ball over and the Clippers called timeout, but Yarmouth couldn't get the ball into its offensive zone, where, ostensibly, it could have run out the clock, instead, turning it over with 53.5 seconds left.
That led to a riveting final minute.
With 39.8 seconds to play, Oliva was caught offsides, giving the Panthers a man-up situation.
NYA turned the ball over, however, but again, the Clippers couldn't keep it and gave the ball right back.
That set up a frenetic and scintillating finish.
First, with 12.9 seconds to play, Wellenbach took a rip, but Landry made the save.
After holding the ball for a few seconds, Landry tried to clear it, but it was turned over and as time wound down, the ball came in front to Sylvain.
With 1.2 seconds showing, Sylvain had a lot of open net to shoot at, but his bid deflected off the post, rolled out of bounds and the horn sounded.
Yarmouth 8 NYA 7.
In the postgame, jubilation and sheer heartbreak resided side-by-side.
"We knew from the start that this would be a great game," Henry said. "We're two of the top programs in Maine. They respect us. We respect them. Both teams came out and played hard, blue collar lacrosse. It was what we expected and we came out on top today. They've got a great team. Our defense kept their heads high and stayed strong. We got some key defensive stops, then we started putting it in the net."
"It was crazy," Grout said. "We just bring intensity to practice every day. I told the boys after the Cape game, 'If you can promise you will play hard every day the rest of the season, that wasn't a bad loss and that we could roll on.' We carried intensity from practice into today."
"It was very nervewracking," Pearl added. "Ethan Cyr said it was the longest minute of his life. They had good looks and got a pipe. I've coached against NYA for many, many years. It's a great rivalry. We knew they'd be up. We knew we'd be up. We knew who their players were. They knew who our players were. Our guys made some adjustments to pressure. They keep pulling themselves off the ground. Once the momentum shifted, it was in favor. This is an extra sweet win. After we lost on our field last year, our goal was to come back and we've met that goal now."
In a touching move, after the postgame handshakes, several Clippers consoled Nicholas and he was praised for his effort.
"You have to hand it to D.J.," Henry said. "He's a great goalie, especially for a first-year goalie."
"To me, he's the player of the game," Pearl said. "He made several saves on balls that were going in."
Yarmouth featured a balanced offense, as Edgecomb and Henry each had two goals and Dearden, Oliva and Ronan tickled the twine once. The eighth goal was credited as a team goal. Oliva added two assists, while Dearden and Edgecomb each had one.
Landry made 10 saves.
"We knew we were prepared well and we had confidence in Sam," Grout said. "He's played really well all year. We knew he'd make the saves on outside shots when it came down to it."
The Clippers had a 32-25 advantage in ground balls, featuring five each from Henry and junior Thomas Lord and four apiece from Edgecomb, Oliva and sophomore Henry Oliva. Yarmouth outshot NYA, 31-26 (but the Panthers put 17 balls on cage to 16 for the Clippers). The visitors also overcame 20 turnovers.
"We made some mental mistakes," Pearl said. "This game comes down to clears and we blew a lot of clears. This game comes down to possessions. If you give a great player like Jacob Scammon an extra possession, or Matt Hawkins an extra possession, they'll score goals."
Conversely, Yarmouth's defense was superb.
"Coming into the game, we had a lot of respect for Scammon and Hawkins," Grout said. "We know they can put the ball in the net whenever they want. We just told our defensive middies to keep going hard. We did what we needed to do on defense. They did what they needed to do on defense. Anytime there's only 15 goals, it's a really good defensive game."
NYA got three goals from Hawkins, two from Scammon and one each from Daigler and Sylvain. Wellenbach had an assist. Wellenbach won 13 of 17 draws (the Panthers had a 13-5 advantage).
"Eliott's faceoffs were superb, but our ride got the ball back," Pearl said.
Senior Aidan McLaughlin led all players with nine ground balls. Nicholas made eight saves. NYA did turn the ball over 21 times.
"It was a crazy game," Gerrity said. "Back and forth the entire time. It was fun. We were dead even. We had great chances at the end. We had a couple pipes over the course of the game. We have good shooters, but it happens. It's even more exciting when the teams are dead even like we are now. Yarmouth got all three matchups, but this one was pretty close."
The Panthers were the only team to beat Cape Elizabeth this year, sweeping the Capers for the first time since 2007, and they also won at three-time defending Class A champion Scarborough, but after successive state game appearances, NYA was hoping its season would last another week.
"These are weird ones because if you win, you keep going like normal, but if you lose, it just stops," Gerrity said. "I thanked the guys for being such a great group. The seniors made two state trips and this year, we had a chance. They have nothing to hang their heads about in their careers. I would've liked to have gone back to Fitzpatrick, but I had a fun season with these guys and couldn't ask for anything more. We had a great year. I'm proud of the guys and the effort they put in and the strides they made. We just needed one more today."
A lot of talent, eight seniors in all, including all of Saturday's offensive production, is graduating, but don't expect the Panthers to be anywhere but right near the top of the heap again in 2014.
"We have players coming back," Gerrity said. "Defense will be good. Offense, there's some holes to fill, but I'm not worried about that right now. We'll be fine."
One more piece of business
Saturday's game was considered by many to be the de facto regional final, but Yarmouth still has to win at Gardiner Wednesday to make it to Fitzpatrick Stadium June 15 for a shot at its first state crown since 2009. The Clippers don't play the Tigers in the regular season, but they're well aware of what Gardiner is capable of.
That's because two years ago, in a semifinal stunner, Yarmouth let a 6-1 lead slip away and was shocked, 7-6, in overtime, by the Tigers.
While the Clippers' ultimate goal is to make it to Fitzy, they'll have no trouble being mentally ready for Gardiner.
"We always take it one game at a time," Grout said. "We won't look past a team. We're just ready to go and prepare for them."
"We're very fortunate to be in this position," said Henry. "This means a lot, especially to the seniors, after being down the past two years. We're back up at our normal standard. Gardiner's a great team. There's a reason they're undefeated. We owe them payback too. We'll practice all week and get ready for them."
"Our work is not done," Pearl added. "We did not play a flawless game. We made a lot of mental mistakes today. The focus now is payback to Gardiner. When these seniors were sophomores, they upset us. They're not going to keep us from getting to our goal, which is states. We know Gardiner has good players. I know I won't need any help motivating the guys for practice. Hopefully we'll have two more wins."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous NYA-Yarmouth playoff results
2012 Eastern B Final
NYA 8 @ Yarmouth 7
2010 Eastern B semifinals
@ Yarmouth 17 NYA 7
2009 Eastern B Final
@ Yarmouth 15 NYA 4
2008 Eastern B Final
@ Yarmouth 12 NYA 7
2007 Eastern B Final
@ NYA 10 Yarmouth 9
2006 Eastern B Final
@ Yarmouth 9 NYA 3
2005 East Region Final
@ Yarmouth 10 NYA 0
2004 East Division Semifinals
@ Yarmouth 11 NYA 3
2003 East Division Final
@ Yarmouth 9 NYA 8
2002 East Quarterfinals
@ Yarmouth 10 NYA 5
2001 North Division Semifinals
@ NYA 15 Yarmouth 6
2000 State Semifinals
NYA 12 @ Yarmouth 11
1998 State Semifinals
@ NYA 15 Yarmouth 14 (OT)