Falmouth boys leave no doubt, erupt for 3-0 win over Yarmouth in Western B Final
FALMOUTH—Instead of heightened emotions, palpitating drama and an epic finish, the Falmouth and Yarmouth boys' soccer teams produced a relatively tame and extremely sportsmanlike Western Class B Final Wednesday night.
After an even and scoreless first half, the Yachtsmen took the lead for good in the 46th minute on a great individual effort from junior Michael Bloom, then tacked on two transition goals in the waning moments to win the region for the seventh time since 2000, 3-0 over the defending state champion Clippers on the final game played on the stadium field before construction will dramatically alter the look of the Falmouth High School complex.
"It was a great game," said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. "Two good teams going at it. This is the way it should be. We were on the other end last year. What makes this so special is that it's a good team that we beat. We have a lot of respect for them and I think they have a lot of respect for us."
All eyes on this one
There's a good chance Falmouth and Yarmouth are the two best boys' teams in the state this autumn. They're certainly two of the flagship programs in the state. The Clippers and Yachtsmen are well-coached, produce championship and college-caliber talent year after year and are always worth watching when they come together.
This fall, in the regular season, the teams twice battled to 1-1 draws (Sept. 17 in Yarmouth and Oct. 8 in Falmouth). Both games featured physical play and penalty kicks and when all was said and done, nothing was settled and both teams were eager to meet the other one more time for high stakes.
The Clippers and Yachtsmen played seven previous times in the playoffs. The first came in 1976 (a 2-1, double-OT win for Falmouth in the Western B semifinals). Two years later, Yarmouth got a measure of revenge with a 1-0 overtime victory in the quarterfinals. The next meeting didn't come until the 2000 semifinals (a 3-0 Yachtsmen triumph). Falmouth eliminated the Clippers in the 2002 semifinals (1-0), 2006 semis (2-0) and 2007 semifinal round (1-0). Yarmouth then shocked the host Yachtsmen 2-1 in last year's regional championship game, erasing a 1-0 deficit behind goals from Johnny Murphy and Luke Pierce.
Wednesday night, the teams spent much of the first half feeling each other out, then Falmouth struck in the second half.
In the 16th minute, the Yachtsmen's first chance saw senior Michael Gardner fire a high shot that Clippers standout senior goalkeeper A.J. Oliver snared. With 18:18 to play in the first half, Yarmouth earned its first corner kick. The Clippers have been as effective as any team in the state on set pieces and hoped to take advantage, but senior Eb Fazeli's serve was punched away by Falmouth junior goalkeeper Ben Goffin, setting up a second corner that went for naught.
With 10:34 remaining in the half, the hosts appeared to take the lead after a throw from the side found its way to the net, but no Yachtsmen touched it and it was waved off. In the 38th minute, a Fazeli serve intended for Pierce was snared by Goffin at the last minute sending the game to the break 0-0.
"We had a game plan for the first half and it worked quite well," said Yarmouth coach Mike Hagerty. "We didn't get as many offensive chances as we wanted, but they didn't get many either. It was very even. As well as we know each other, I think both teams were checking out the adjustments each other were making. It was kind of a subtle first half."
Falmouth ramped up the pressure in the second half and it soon resulted in the only goal the Yachtsmen would need.
With 34:40 to play in regulation, Yachtsmen senior Dixon Pike played a long ball ahead to Bloom, but Oliver came out to play it, while Yarmouth senior defender Colby Shields also closed in. Somehow, Bloom fought his way through the two Clippers and found himself with the ball and daylight. He took a touch, then buried the shot to put Falmouth on top, 1-0.
"The ball was played in and the goalie and the defender had a chance to get it," Bloom said. "I went for the ball and it came out at my feet and I just put it in. They were both on it and I ran right through them and the ball squirted out. We were really excited. We just wanted it."
"I couldn't tell what happened from this angle," Hagerty said. "I don't know if they slipped a little bit. Those two have been so outstanding all year. They saved us a number of times. It's a backbreaker, but they outplayed us in the second half."
Instead of sitting on the lead, the Yachtsmen kept the pressure on.
With 28:42 to go, a cross from senior Alec Dunn landed on the head of Gardner, but his shot just missed. Then, with 26:03 remaining, Hoffman-Johnson broke in alone on Oliver, but for the umpteenth time this fall, Oliver made a sensational save to deny Falmouth a sure goal, keeping it a 1-0 contest.
Yarmouth then had a couple chances to deadlock the game as Pierce shot wide and a Fazeli free kick was headed away.
The Yachtsmen then sealed the deal.
Just moments after a Bloom bid hit the crossbar, Hoffman-Johnson was finally able to finish against Oliver, taking a long pass from junior Sam White, racing in and shooting the ball into the net for a 2-0 lead with just 9:46 to play.
"Both teams were playing hard," said Hoffman-Johnson, who battled injury most of the 2009 campaign and truly returned to form in the playoffs. "After that first goal, they tried to go forward and that opened up the back. A.J.'s a very aggressive goalie. It's tough to get around him a lot of times. It felt good to get one in after the first few games."
With 6:53 left, Bloom delivered the knockout punch, taking a long pass from Hoffman-Johnson, racing in and shooting on Oliver, then, after the goalie made the save, banging home the rebound to make it 3-0.
"That first goal was huge, but we knew we couldn't rest," Halligan said. "We finished it off which was nice to see. We've worked hard all season. This is why we work so hard. The kids have been on both sides of it now so they appreciate it more."
"When (Falmouth) got that first goal, we had to send people forward," Hagerty said. "I'd rather lose 3-0 trying to tie it, then settle in and lose 1-0. We knew we were gambling. Our kids want to fight and want to win. We got aggressive. We knew what we're risking."
The curtain soon came down and the Yachtsmen were able to advance.
"It feels great," Hoffman-Johnson said. "The feeling last year was something we didn't want to feel again. We said all year, we'd only go as far as our seniors took us. This means a lot to me and the rest of the seniors after losing in this game last year. It's been our goal all year."
"I think the difference was that we lost last year on this field and tonight was the last game ever on this field," Bloom added. "We really wanted it."
Unlike the regular season matchups, Falmouth remained cool under pressure and let its game do the talking. That paid off big-time.
"The regular season games we let the physical part of the game go to our heads which didn't allow us to play our best," Hoffman-Johnson said. "One of our goals this game was to not have a card or talk to the referees. We did and wound up where we wanted."
"We kept our composure," added Halligan. "We just played the game. I reminded them that soccer's a fun game to play and to go out and enjoy the moment. I think the seniors stepped up in this game. To win something like this, the seniors have to do this and they did it tonight."
Sportsmanship went above and beyond after the game. The teams had the traditional postgame handshake, then, after Yarmouth was awarded its medals and runner-up plaque, Hagerty walked the Clippers through the Yachtsmen's line again for a second round of congratulations.
Yarmouth wound up 13-1-3. The Clippers excelled all year, finished the regular season unbeaten for just the third time ever (1971 and 1973 were the others) and simply ran into a better team Wednesday night. Afterwards, Hagerty had plenty of praise for the Yachtsmen.
"They outplayed us tonight," he said. "They did a good job with Luke. We tried to move him around to free him up. We wanted to get the ball wide to Eb's feet and let him find Luke. They were just better than us and they deserved it. Congratulations to them. They're certainly a wonderful team. We wish them luck on Saturday.
"I'm very proud of my kids. We had a terrific year. There's no shame in losing to a terrific team. Any high school team struggles to put two halves together. We played a great first half. In the second half, we got outplayed. That sports."
Yarmouth graduates 15 seniors, but will, as always, be a factor again next season.
"The seniors are a terrific group," Hagerty said. "A lot of multi-sport athletes who got better as the year went along. They all played significant roles. They have a lot to be proud of. We'll miss them.
"We hope to reload. We have 10 or 11 kids coming back who had significant experience this year. I wish we could start next year tomorrow."
One win remaining
Falmouth (now 15-0-2) still has business to take care of. The Yachtsmen will face a stern test in Ellsworth (16-0-1) in Saturday's state final. The teams met in the state game two years ago and Falmouth won 3-0. This time around, the Yachtsmen expect a battle, but enter the game confident.
"We'll keep our heads," Hoffman-Johnson said. "The next game is the most important one. You can't underestimate any team. We'll be ready."
"I think we just have to work hard the next couple days and hopefully we'll come out and play a great game on Saturday," Bloom said.
"We'll come out prepared," Halligan added. "We'll be ready to play and I'm sure it'll be another good game."
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com