Cape Elizabeth rallies past Falmouth, 24-21
CAPE ELIZABETH—While the Cape Elizabeth football team might lack the explosive playmakers of a year ago, the Capers still feature a championship heart.
Any doubt about that was erased once and for all Friday night at Hannaford Field when Cape Elizabeth, the defending Western Class B champion, somehow rose off the deck in the second half and rallied for a statement win over the very talented Falmouth Yachtsmen.
The Yachtsmen rode big plays and solid defense to take a 21-7 lead at halftime, but they couldn't build on it and the Capers broke their heart in the final period, going ahead for the first and only time with just 1:28 left to play when senior bruiser Jack McDonald (who didn't even handle the ball in the first 24 minutes) scored on a 1-yard TD run.
Cape Elizabeth held on for one more defensive series and improved to 4-0 on the season, dropping Falmouth to 3-1.
"We never lost confidence," said McDonald. "I had complete confidence in our team. Especially our defense. It was an unbelievable test for us. For our grit and for our character. Obviously, we got an 'A plus.' It was awesome to see it all come together in the second half."
Not over til' it's over
Both teams entered the showdown 3-0 and feeling pretty good about themselves. The Capers had built on last year's first ever regional crown with shutout wins over Poland (25-0), York (21-0) and Fryeburg (34-0) to start the 2010 campaign.
The Yachtsmen, 5-4 a year ago with no postseason, earned a statement-making 34-25 victory at York in their first game, then easily dispatched Fryeburg (44-0) and Lake Region (47-14).
Cape Elizabeth had never lost to Falmouth, winning, 28-0, at the Yachtsmen a year ago.
The Capers would keep that trend alive Friday, but it was anything but easy.
As expected, defense ruled early on as the teams were feeling each other out. Falmouth went three-and-out on each of its first two possessions, gaining a total of one yard. Cape Elizabeth also went quickly the first two times it had the ball, managing only 11 yards. After their second series, the Capers punted and the fun began.
With 3:50 to go in the opening quarter, Falmouth junior Ryan MacDonald fielded the punt at his 37 and was off to the races, running untouched down the left sideline thanks to some stellar blocking en route to a 63-yard touchdown to put the Yachtsmen on top. Senior David Goodrich's extra point made it 7-0.
That lead lasted for all of 11 seconds as Capers junior Derek Roberts received the ensuing kickoff at his 10 and rumbled untouched up the middle of the field 90-yards to paydirt. Senior Patrick Tyler's point-after made it a 7-7 contest with 3:39 to go in the first.
The Yachtsmen's offense then came to life as on second-and-10 from the 31, senior quarterback Zach Alexander dropped back and launched a rainbow down the left sideline for junior Jack Cooleen, who used his size and leaping ability to make a jumping catch over Cape Elizabeth senior Cyrus Wolfinger before breaking a tackle and rumbling 69-yards for the score.
"We had a plan for (Cooleen)," said Capers coach Aaron Filieo. "Cyrus, I thought, had good coverage, but Alexander made a good throw. (Cooleen's) just a big body."
Goodrich's kick made it 14-7 Falmouth with 3:19 to go in the first, capping a run of three touchdowns in 31 seconds.
After the Capers had to punt the next time they had the ball, the Yachtsmen (who outgained the hosts 120 yards to 9 in the first period) moved from their 46 toward another score early in the second stanza.
Just five seconds into the new period, Alexander and Cooleen hooked up for a 4-yard TD, capping a seven-play drive.
"Nobody had scored on them, but we put up 21 points and proved we could move the ball," said Falmouth coach John Fitzsimmons.
Goodrich's extra point made it 21-7 and it appeared as if the hosts were in trouble.
Instead, Cape Elizabeth had the Yachtsmen right where they wanted them.
The hosts' first drive of the second quarter saw them finally get the offense moving. The Capers marched from their 21 deep into Falmouth territory thanks to steady running from senior Jack Barber, but on third-and-10 at the Yachtsmen 24, Roberts was sacked by Falmouth senior Storm McGovern and fumbled and senior Andrew Edwards recovered for the visitors.
The Yachtsmen were unable to build upon their momentum as Alexander was sacked on third down by Cape Elizabeth senior Connor McAleney and after Cooleen intercepted Roberts with just over a minute to play before halftime, Falmouth again failed to deliver a knockout blow after a taunting penalty set it back.
The Capers were bloodied but not beaten as they went to their locker room for halftime and they came out and tweaked the game plan and set the stage for a dramatic rally.
The second half began much as the first did as Cape Elizabeth punted twice and Falmouth once before the hosts got a break.
With 4:29 to go in the third quarter, on a first-and-10 run from the Capers' 44, Alexander gained five yards, but fumbled after being hit and Cape Elizabeth sophomore Kyle Snowdon recovered.
The Capers would march 58 yards on eight plays to get right back in the contest. The drive began innocuously enough when, on his initial carry, McDonald was stopped for no gain on first down, but he would be heard from going forward.
A pass interference penalty on the visitors, followed by a 15-yard Roberts-to-Wolfinger pass play got Cape Elizabeth close. Five plays later, Roberts hit Tyler from 12-yards out for the score, rolling right before finding the receiver in the front right corner of the end zone. Tyler added the extra point and with 2:30 to go in the third, it was suddenly a 21-14 contest.
Falmouth went three-and-out on its next series and the Capers began driving as the fourth period began. They'd get as far as their 46 before an incomplete pass on fourth-and-9 forced a punt. Tyler's punt was a thing of beauty, sailing over the deep man's head, bouncing and rolling all the way to the Yachtsmen 1 before it as downed by senior Kyle Danielson.
Falmouth couldn't gain a first down and had to punt from its 10 and disaster ensued. Goodrich couldn't handle a low snap and had to fall on the ball in the end zone, giving Cape Elizabeth a two-point safety, making the score, 21-16, with 7:56 remaining.
"We've really focused on special teams this year," Filieo said. "We know we have talent there and it paid off."
The Capers got the ball back on a free kick and had a chance to go ahead, but the Yachtsmen defense stiffened and forced a punt. Again, Tyler's leg was superb and after a miscommunication between Falmouth's return men, the visitors had to begin at their 7. The Yachtsmen fell a yard short of a first down and had to punt and Cape Elizabeth appeared primed for great field position, but Roberts fumbled the kick and senior Jack Bagonzi recovered for Falmouth with 4:21 to go.
The Yachtsmen couldn't salt away the win, however, as on second-and-19, Alexander was picked by Wolfinger at the Falmouth 32.
This time, the Capers made the Yachtsmen pay.
After McDonald gained 9 yards on first down, he bulled his way for 2 and a facemask penalty put the ball at the 16. On a scramble, Roberts worked his way to the 7 and McDonald followed by running 5 yards for a first-and-goal at the 2. He got a yard on the next play, then ended all doubt by running over a defender and breaking the plane for a 1-yard TD run with 1:28 to go.
"I knew because we were running it straight up the gut every time that it would be there," McDonald said. "I had to knock over one guy and I did and we scored."
After a false start, Roberts and Wolfinger hooked up on a pretty pass play for the two-point conversion and for the first time all night, Cape Elizabeth was ahead, 24-21.
"We got pinned down and it caused problems for us," Fitzsimmons said. "Getting pinned gave momentum to them. You can't leave your defense out there that long without something going wrong."
Falmouth would get a final chance to respond and with Cooleen on the field anything was possible. After McAleney sacked Alexander on first down, Alexander had Goodrich open, but his throw was just past the receiver's outstretched hands. On third-and-15, Alexander found junior Matt Kingry for 11 yards and on fourth-and-4, Alexander hooked up with Goodrich (who made a sliding catch) for 16 and a first down at the Capers' 49 with 29.5 seconds to go.
After spiking the ball to stop the clock, Alexander twice threw incomplete, setting up a do-or-die fourth-and-10. Under pressure, the quarterback heaved the ball downfield and appeared to have Kingry open, but at the last moment, Roberts swooped in to break up the play and Cape Elizabeth got the ball back long enough for Roberts to take a knee to clinch the palpitating victory.
Capers 24 Yachtsmen 21.
"We had to have confidence and take our shots," said McDonald. "Like (Muhammad) Ali in the 12th round (of the 'Rumble in the Jungle'), he knocked (George) Foreman out. Falmouth was our Foreman. We came back in the fourth quarter and punched it in and we didn't let up any big plays.
"The strength of our team is definitely our defense. It's solid. That's why we win games. The linebackers all know what they're doing. The D line is big and strong and fast. The secondary is great in pass coverage."
"I love these kinds of games," Filieo said. "I just love the way our guys compete. We're young and we'll make mistakes. I tried to tell them going into the game that turnovers and penalties would kill us and we came out and that's all we did, but every kid who made a mistake redeemed himself. We'll just keep getting better. It's good to win these types of games. We made plays when we had to. It's a huge step. Offensively, we're trying to figure out where we're at. Falmouth's very good. They're a big play team."
Roberts only completed 3-of-15 passes for 42 yards and a TD, with an interception, but he did gain 23 yards rushing on five attempts. Tyler (12 yards and a score), Danielson (15 yards) and Wolfinger (15 yards) had the receptions. Barber finished with 74 rushing yards on 22 tries.
McDonald was the story in the end, gaining 38 yards with a TD on 11 second half carries.
"When we were walking back up to the locker room (at halftime), I said, 'Coach, coach, falcon, falcon,'" said McDonald, an offensive lineman by trade. "That's our unit and he said he'd run it."
"Jack begged for the ball last December," Filieo said. "He's a rugby player. I watched him play a game and of course he scored a couple and wanted to play fullback. I gave him a shot and he made good on it."
Cape Elizabeth overcame three turnovers and six penalties for 30 yards.
Falmouth left the field in despair, but knows it made a positive statement and will be a factor going forward.
"That was a magnificent high school football game all the way to the final seconds," Fitzsimmons said. "Cape played really well. I give them credit. I'm proud of my players. It was a wonderful team effort. What we learned is we're ready to be a playoff team."
The Yachtsmen got a solid performance from Alexander, who was 10-of-20 passing for 160 yards and two TDs (along with two interceptions). He also gained 29 yards on five rushes. Cooleen caught three first half balls for 92 yards and two TDs, but was held without a catch in the second half.
"We had to mix up our coverage a little bit and put pressure on and it worked out," said Filieo.
"Jack is such a threat," Fitzsimmons said. "They doubled up on him so we moved over to other players, who stepped up."
Bowden rushed for 48 yards on 11 carries. Kingry had three receptions for 33 yards and rushed 3 times for 3 yards. Goodrich caught a pass for 16 yards and sophomore Alex DerHagopian had 3 receptions for 19 yards. Sophomore Will Sipperly rushed twice for 13 yards.
Defensively, senior Jack Horton had five tackles, McGovern finished with four tackles and a sack and Bowden added four tackles.
The Yachtsmen were hurt by their two turnovers and seven penalties for 64 yards.
The game was so even that each team gained 179 yards.
Falmouth will seek to rebound Saturday, Oct. 2, when it finally opens its new turf field against Wells.
"It will be fun to finally have a home game," Fitzsimmons said. "I think (this loss is) just a speed bump. I feel it's a good lesson. We know we can play with (Cape). We don't feel like we're out of their league."
Cape Elizabeth welcomes Gray-New Gloucester Friday of next week.
Fittingly, McDonald had the last word.
"People now have to recognize that we're back and we're trying to get back to Fitzpatrick Stadium (for the state final),"
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com