Midnight strikes for Yarmouth football; Clippers fall 41-7 to Dirigo in Western C Final
In the early going Saturday afternoon, Cinderella was alive and well.
The Yarmouth football team, stealing victories and hearts in this, just its third varsity season, took an improbable 7-0 lead at top-ranked, undefeated and heavy favorite Dirigo in the Western Class C Final, but then, midnight finally struck.
On the ensuing kickoff, senior standout Eric Estabrook aggravated an injury and left the game. From there, the Cougars took over, scoring 41 unanswered points to end the Clippers' fantasy run.
"We kept it close until halftime," said Yarmouth coach Jim Hartman. They had to keep their starters in until the end. I'm proud of my kids and the people from Yarmouth. I think the boys set the town on its ears."
The Clippers became a varsity program in 2007 and went 0-9, consistently getting pounded (to the tune of 442 points against to just 49 scored) by bigger, stronger and more established programs. Last season, Yarmouth was much better equipped to compete and earned its first varsity win, but lost eight other contests.
The Clippers entered 2009 full of confidence, but after agonizing losses to Old Orchard Beach and Oak Hill, Yarmouth caught fire, winning its final six games of the regular year, beating up on the opposition time after time. The Clippers earned the No. 7 seed for the Western C playoffs, then edged No. 2 Livermore Falls (35-28) and No. 3 Old Orchard Beach (34-28, in overtime) to gain the attention and admiration of football fans across the state.
Dirigo had barely broken a sweat in 2009 and eventually had its way with Yarmouth, but first, the Clippers gave their followers reason to believe that the magic carpet ride would continue.
Yarmouth got the ball first and drove 75 yards on 15 plays, eating up 6 minutes, 37 seconds to go up 7-0 when Estabrook found Andrew Gabrielson for an 11-yard scoring strike on fourth-and-7.
Trailing for only the second time this season, Dirigo dominated every phase for the duration, holding Yarmouth to just 74 yards the rest of the way.
Bryan Blackman's 45-yard kickoff return was a double-whammy when Estabrook injured his shoulder on the play. Quarterback Nic Crutchfield overcame two sacks on the ensuing drive and tied the game with a 12-yard TD run.
"Eric had a sprained AC joint in his shoulder all playoffs," Hartman
said. "He made a tackle on the kickoff and was out for the day. Without
the passing game, Dirigo put 11 in the box and shut us down. We really
missed Eric at strong safety too."
Two holding penalties and a pair of tackles for losses forced a short Yarmouth punt. Four different Dirigo backs carried the ball on the ensuing five-play drive, with Tyler Chiasson claiming the lead for good from 9 yards out.
Even Yarmouth's flickers of hope backfired. Junior Nate Pingitore dragged down Spencer Ross inside the 1 at the end of an option play. When Dirigo botched the next exchange, Tommy O'Toole pounced and recovered the fumble for the Clippers.
But David Dietz was tackled shy of the chalk on the next play for two points and a 16-7 Dirigo lead.
Following the free kick, Crutchfield (7-for-11, 138 yards) ran for a 7-yard TD and a 23-7 advantage.
"They're just a really good team, all the way around," Dietz said. "Nobody expected us to be here. We expected to be here from the start of the season."
So did Dirigo, which kept up the pressure with a three-and-out and used its timeouts to snag another possession. Eric Bolduc ended the half with a 37-yard field goal to make it 26-7 at the break.
Kyle Hutchinson's 17-yard grab in traffic set up Ross' 3-yard TD rush to keep the Cougars clicking through the third quarter. In the fourth, Ross responded to his second disallowed score of the day by cashing in on the next play, a 25-yard strike from Crutchfield, accounting for a 41-7 victory, sending Dirigo (11-0) to Saturday's Class C Final against Foxcroft, while ending Yarmouth's season at 8-3.
"It was a great season for the boys," Hartman said. "They accomplished a lot. They put us a couple years ahead of where I thought we'd be. I thought we'd be better than anticipated, maybe four or five wins and make the playoffs. The win streak was an added bonus."
Try again in 2010
Yarmouth returns several key players, but will really miss a special group of seniors, who persevered through the lean times and formed the backbone of a team that got to within a victory of the state final.
"The seniors really got hammered a couple years ago as sophomores and could have quit, but they didn't," Hartman said. "It's an extraordinary, gifted group of tough athletes. Very mentally tough kids. They never doubted themselves. They certainly put us on the map. They gave little boys a chance to dream of being Yarmouth football players.
"We'll reload for next year. We have some guys back, a ton of starters. I think we'll surprise again. Replacing Eric is the key."
Sun Journal staff writer Kalle Oakes contributed to this story
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org