Wells denies Yarmouth in gridiron battle
YARMOUTH—Football coaches will tell you that there are three equal phases of the game.
Offense, defense and special teams.
Friday evening, special teams proved to be the difference in a Western Class C showdown.
Yarmouth hosted Wells in the first-ever meeting between the schools and with playoff positioning and Crabtree Points on the line, the Clippers missed an opportunity for a pivotal victory.
After falling behind, 8-0, just 96 seconds into the game, Yarmouth drew even just before halftime when senior Matthew Woodbury scored from a yard out and the Clippers added a two-point conversion.
Yarmouth then went ahead, 15-8, early in the third period when senior Thomas Lord barrelled in from a yard out. When the Clippers forced a punt moments later, they had a chance to seize control of the game, but a fumble gave the visitors the ball in Clippers' territory. Yarmouth's defense held, forcing a fumble, but the offense was pinned deep and soon had to punt.
Then, a bad snap led to a two-point safety and on the ensuing free kick, Wells junior Chris Carney got free and returned it 55 yards for the go-ahead score. The Warriors pushed their lead to seven on a TD pass from junior Nate Booth to senior Jake Moody.
Late in the game, the Clippers drove to the Wells 4, but couldn't reach paydirt and they suffered an agonizing 22-15 setback, falling to 3-2 on the season, while the Warriors improved to 4-1.
"Anybody who follows the game of football knows how momentum can swing in a second," said Yarmouth coach Chris Pingitore. "The tide swings so much. It's an emotional game. It came down to two special teams mistakes."
Both squads entered 3-1 and knew this contest would be a great barometer as the second half of the regular season began.
Wells, which won the 2011 Class B state championship before losing to Marshwood in last year's semifinals, opened the 2013 campaign with an impressive 44-13 victory over Mountain Valley in Rumford, then held off visiting Spruce Mountain, 20-15. After stumbling at Cape Elizabeth, 26-12, the Warriors got back on track last week, handling visiting Freeport, 40-23.
Yarmouth, the 2010 and 2011 Class C state champion, which fell back to earth last fall only to rally in its finale to extend its postseason streak to four seasons (the Clippers lost at Winslow, 50-22, in the Western C quarterfinals to finish 2-7), has been very impressive this season in a more competitive, new-look region.
The Clippers opened with a 36-6 "home" victory over Gray-New Gloucester (in a game played at Deering High due to turf issues at Yarmouth), impressed in a hard-fought 14-7 home loss to Leavitt, then romped at Lake Region (63-0) and Mountain Valley (34-0).
Entering Friday, the teams had no history.
They promptly went out and made some.
Yarmouth won the opening toss, but deferred possession to the second half.
Wells then promptly scored to take the lead.
It took just three plays and 90 seconds for the Warriors to traverse 66 yards.
After two rushes gained six yards and set up third-and-four, Booth dropped back and threw deep to Moody, who got behind the Clippers' secondary. Moody was tripped up at the goal line by Yarmouth sophomore Jonathan Snyder, but fell into the end zone to complete a 60-yard scoring play. Wells went for two and Moody converted the rush for an 8-0 lead just 1:36 into the game.
The Clippers then had several possessions begin in Warriors' territory, but they kept shooting themselves in the foot.
A 43-yard kickoff return from sophomore Cody Cook set Yarmouth up at the Wells 40, but two rushes lost two yards and on third-and-12, senior quarterback Brady Neujahr was sacked by Warriors senior Charlie Taylor and sophomore Reid Chase to force a punt.
On the third play of the next Wells drive, the visitors fumbled and Yarmouth senior Rhys Eddy pounced on the loose football at the Warriors' 26.
Again, the Clippers were stymied as an apparent 24-yard gain by Lord was negated by a holding penalty and when Neujahr threw incomplete on fourth-and-4 from the 20 (the pass went through the hands of senior Matt Klepinger), Yarmouth turned it over on downs.
Wells quickly went three-and-out and late in the first period, the Clippers started at the Warriors' 39, but three rushes gained just four yards and a fourth down pass by Neujhar, intended for Woodbury, was too long, and Yarmouth gave the ball up on downs again.
In the first 12 minutes, the Clippers didn't gain a single yard of offense, while Wells picked up 75.
That would change in the second quarter.
A Lord sack ended the visitors' next drive and Yarmouth began at the Wells 43, but two incomplete passes, sandwiched around a three-yard Lord run, forced a punt.
The teams then traded punts before the Clippers' defense rose up again and forced a Warriors' three-and-out.
Yarmouth got the ball back at its 39 with 4:16 left before halftime and finally embarked on a scoring drive.
It took the Clippers 11 plays and 3:28 to march 61 yards to tie the score.
Woodbury got it started with a 32-yard dash, but a facemask penalty on Woodbury at the end of the run (the Yarmouth coaching staff adamantly argued that he used a legal straight-arm) moved the ball back to the Wells 42. An eight-yard run from Klepinger and an eight-yard Neujahr to senior Rhys Eddy pass moved the chains. Three plays later, on fourth-and-4 from the 20, the Clippers appeared stymied again when Neujahr threw incomplete, but a pass interference penalty was called, setting up first-and-goal from the 10.
Woodbury ran for five yards, Klepinger picked up three and Lord dove for the goal line, but was stopped just short, setting up fourth-and-goal inside the final minute. Woodbury would get the call and he followed Lord's block into the end zone to get Yarmouth on the board. The Clippers faked an extra point and Neujahr, rolling right, hit Woodbury with a conversion pass to make it an 8-8 contest at halftime.
Halftime stats were almost dead even, as Wells had 73 yards of offense to 71 for Yarmouth.
The Clippers then got the ball first in the second half and drove to take the lead.
Starting at its 39, Yarmouth took just five plays and 2:04 to march 61 yards for the go-ahead score.
The big blow was a 48-yard pass-and-run that featured Neujahr escaping a Chase sack and hitting Woodbury, who rumbled all the way to the Warriors' 13. Three plays later, on fourth-and-7 from the 10, Woodbury ran for nine yards, being stopped just short of paydirt. On the next play, Lord bulled his way across the goal line and an extra point from Andrew Beatty gave the Clippers a 15-8 lead with 9:49 to play in the third period.
When Yarmouth's defense forced another Wells three-and-out, it looked like the Clippers were on the verge of taking control of the game, but a punt from Warriors junior Ryan Marsh deflected off the hand of Yarmouth senior Race Morrison and was recovered by Booth at the Clippers' 19.
The visitors couldn't capitalize, however, as Carney was thrown for a loss and fumbled with Woodbury recovering at the Yarmouth 20, but the Clippers weren't able to gain a first down and on the ensuing punt, disaster struck, as the snap went over the head of senior punter Nathaniel Shields-Auble, who wisely kicked the ball out of the end zone for a safety and Wells was back within five, 15-10, with 5:15 remaining in the third quarter.
Twelve seconds later, the Warriors were on top to stay, as Carney collected Shields-Auble's short free kick at his 45 and raced down the right sideline untouched for a touchdown.
"We got the safety on a bad snap and Chris Carney had the wherewithal to take that kick," said Wells coach Tim Roche. "We don't really practice that."
A two-point conversion pass to Carney was stopped short, but the momentum had turned.
Yarmouth would have chances to answer, but never scored again.
The fired-up Wells defense threw Woodbury for a two-yard loss and Klepinger for a loss of six before forcing a punt.
The Warriors then struck again.
Starting at the Clippers' 34 after a 20-yard punt return from Moody, Booth threw a bomb to the right corner of the end zone, where Moody came down with it between Snyder and Klepinger. A two-point conversion pass was incomplete, but with 1:34 left in the third, the Wells lead was up to seven, 22-15.
As the third quarter gave way to the fourth, Yarmouth drove into Wells territory, but on second-and-4 from the 30, a bad option pitch resulted in a fumble and Booth again fell on the loose ball.
The Warriors drove into Clippers' territory, but a holding penalty short-circuited the drive and a sack from sophomore Noah Colby-George forced a punt.
With 6:24 to go, Yarmouth took over at its 9 and quickly threatened to tie or take the lead.
Neujahr got his team marching with a great individual effort, rolling left and throwing on the run across his body to freshman Grant Tobias, who ran to the 38 for a 29-yard gain, giving the Clippers some breathing room.
Woodbury then broke free, escaping a tackler at the line of scrimmage, running down the right sideline, breaking another tackle, then rumbling all the way to the Wells 9 before finally being tackled.
A bad exchange knocked Yarmouth back a couple yards and Neujahr threw incomplete, setting up third-and-12. Neujahr then found Eddy for seven yards, setting up fourth-and-5 from the 4.
Neujahr rolled to his right and under pressure from Taylor, launched a rainbow back to his left where Eddy leaped for it, but Moody knocked the pass away and the Clippers' last, best chance went by the wayside.
"We were knocking," said Pingitore. "I think Brady just ran out of room."
Wells took over with 4:07 to play and managed to run over three minutes off the clock, driving from its 4 to its 31 before having to punt.
Yarmouth had one final chance, starting at the Wells 47 (after a nice 11-yard punt return from sophomore Ryan Nason) with 55.8 seconds showing.
A 16-yard pass to Klepinger might have set the stage for a dramatic comeback, but an illegal chop block penalty essentially ended all hope, setting up a second-and-28. Neujahr threw an incomplete pass, then Taylor registered a sack. A last Neujahr pass was incomplete and the Warriors got the ball back.
Booth took a knee and that was that.
Wells 22 Yarmouth 15.
"That's what Maine high school football is all about," said Roche. "Class C football is a blast right now. Yarmouth is well coached. They had 26 kids come out and play tough football. I thought both teams played great D. I like that kind of football. It drives you nuts sometimes. I'm the offensive coordinator too and right now, I don't look too good. We've had two tough weeks of practice. We knew what we were in for here. We stepped up and played well. (Assistant) coach (Carmen) Perri, my defensive coordinator, does a great job. He's special. Everything concerned me with Yarmouth. They're athletic. There's nothing they can't do. It comes down to the players, not the coaches. I think we played just a little bit better tonight."
"I thought we had the better of them defensively and played field position, but then we didn't field the punt and gave them field position, right where they wanted to be," Pingitore said. "It's hard to defend a short field. They fired off on defense and made running our offense difficult. It was a really tough game. We know how good we are. In a hard fought game, breaks go one team's way. They got the breaks tonight, but maybe we get the breaks next time. We know we can play with these guys. Defensively, we stand up with anybody. That will carry us. Wells and Leavitt, who I feel are 1 and 2, each game came down to the final seconds. There's nothing discouraging about that at all."
Yarmouth had 185 yards of offense to 159 for the visitors and had the better of the ground game, outgaining Wells, 162-75. Woodbury stole the show with 122 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Lord (10-24-1) and Klepinger (5-7) were held in check.
"Matt (Woodbury) played his heart out," Pingitore said. "He played a hell of a game. Defenisvely, he's averaged 15-20 tackles a game. Offensively, he came alive tonight. He ran really hard. Unfortunately, they had Matt Klepinger's number tonight. Our three back attack was more like one-and-a-half.
The Warriors outpassed the Clippers, 112-97, as Booth completed 3-of-7 attempts, but two of them resulted in scores. Neujahr went 6-of-15 for 97 yards.
Moody had just two receptions, but they went for 91 yards and two TDs. Woodbury was Yarmouth's top receiver, as his two catches went for 45 yards.
Each team turned the ball over twice, but the Clippers had more costly penalties, getting flagged five times for 64 yards to Wells' four for 27.
Wells (now second behind Leavitt in the Western Class C Crabtree Points standings) has two of its final three games at home, sandwiching contests versus Poland and Lake Region around a trip to Leavitt.
The Warriors are still very much in the hunt for a top seed.
"It doesn't get any easier," Roche said.
Yarmouth (fourth in the region) has another big test Friday, when it goes to Cape Elizabeth. After visiting Poland, the Clippers close at home versus Freeport.
Yarmouth expects to bounce back.
"Fortunately the guys are familiar with some of these Cape guys from junior high and youth," Pingitore said. "We haven't had that rivalry in high school until now. We know Cape will come out firing. I think they look good. They might be the toughest team we're going to play. One, because they're good and two, because there's a natural rivalry between Cape and Yarmouth. They'll come out swinging, but we'll be ready."