YARMOUTH—It was certainly worth the wait.
Despite being separated by roughly the distance of a Kallie Hutchinson long hit, the North Yarmouth Academy and Yarmouth field hockey teams have been virtual strangers this century.
That’s no longer true and local fans are the biggest beneficiaries.
Friday afternoon, amid brutal conditions, the Clippers and Panthers produced over 73 minutes of beautiful field hockey as they met for the first of two (perhaps three) times this season.
NYA, the most accomplished team in Class C over the past six years, and Yarmouth, a squad just returning to prominence at the same time it’s moving down in class, were simply so even that 60 minutes wasn’t nearly enough to decide matters.
After a scoreless first half which saw both squads earn great scoring chances only to be left frustrated, largely because Clippers sophomore Tori Messina and Panthers junior Elizabeth Coughlin were stellar in goal, Yarmouth finally got the jump when senior Emma Peterson scored with 11:02 to play.
NYA wasn’t about to let the Clippers go back across Route 1 with a victory, however, and roared back to tie when sophomore Juju Tardif scored on a rebound with 6:47 to go.
Neither squad scored again in regulation and it was on to overtime, where, in the first session, Yarmouth dominated play, earning three penalty corners and getting good several looks at the goal, but Coughlin simply wouldn’t let the ball beat her, twice denying Hutchinson, the Clippers’ junior standout, with the game on the line.
Yarmouth kept up the pressure in the second and final OT, but simply couldn’t finish. Then, Panthers senior Olivia Madore, who, like Hutchinson, had multiple great chances all day with nothing to show for it, collected the ball, eluded a pair of defenders, then roared in on goal. Madore reared back, shot and this time, Messina couldn’t make the save, as NYA escaped with a 2-1 double-overtime victory in what can rightly be called an instant classic.
“It was super exciting,” Coughlin said. “We welcomed them to Class C. It was awesome winning. We love beating them. This motivates us so much and makes us so much more excited.”
Once upon a time, the Yarmouth-NYA field hockey rivalry was every bit as fierce as lacrosse has become in recent years.
The teams met four times in the Western C playoffs between 1985 and 1995, with the Panthers winning on three occasions. In the first encounter, a semifinal, the teams played through six overtimes (there were no “sudden victory” penalty corners in those days) with the score remaining, 1-1, and the game had to be replayed, where NYA finally prevailed, 1-0.
The Panthers ousted the Clippers again in the 1993 semifinals, 1-0, en route to the state final and the next year, beat Yarmouth, 1-0, in the regional final, then went on to win their first championship.
The Clippers finally returned the favor in the 1995 quarterfinals, beating NYA, 1-0, in overtime, en route to the program’s lone state title.
Yarmouth moved up to Class B for the 1999 season and the rivalry waned. Entering Friday, the teams hadn’t met since Sept. 19, 2006, (a 3-2 overtime win for the Panthers).
This fall, with the Clippers moving down to Class C and on the rise, you had to believe they were circling the NYA dates on the schedule with the Panthers doing the same.
Even better, both teams were off to strong starts coming into the game.
Yarmouth, a playoff team in Western B in 2012, dominated host Waynflete (6-0) in its opener Monday, then handled Sacopee Valley (4-0) in its home opener Wednesday.
The Panthers, whose two-year reign as Class C state champion ended last fall with a regional final loss to Lisbon, blanked visiting Traip in their lidlifter, 5-0, then eked out a 2-1 win at Wells.
Friday, amid a steady rainfall, the long-awaited showdown produced drama galore.
It took less than five minutes for Madore’s first good chance. It came on an NYA penalty corner and she deflected a shot just wide.
Coughlin first made her presence felt eight minutes in, making a kick save on a Peterson bid.
With 17:42 to go before halftime, Tardif set up Madore, but her shot was saved in expert fashion by Messina, who seconds later, denied Madore on a corner.
“(Tori) just started playing goalie four weeks ago,” said Yarmouth coach Mandy Lewis. “We’re seeing great stuff from her.”
With 12:57 to play in the first half, Madore made a long run through the defense, then set up senior Emma Randall at the far post, but Randall couldn’t get her stick on the ball.
The Panthers kept the pressure on, as a Madore back-handed shot was saved, senior Kayla Rose shot just wide on a corner and Madore fired a high shot that Messina had to knock away with her glove.
After a Clippers’ timeout, Madore had a rush broken up by Yarmouth senior Gemma Shay (who stood tall all day on defense, along with senior Taylor Morrison), then fired just wide moments later.
Finally, just before halftime, Yarmouth got its offense going, earning its first penalty corner with 1:35 to go.
Not surprisingly, the ball came to Hutchinson, who scored five times in the first two games. Hutchinson (who drove the ball into the cage on several occasions in the first half from behind the circle, resulting in nothing more than an impressive exhibition of her shooting acumen and a loud thwack) unleashed a rocket from the top of the circle, but Coughlin made a kick save and the game went to halftime scoreless.
“I play on a (premier) team with (Kallie) and I know her shot’s really hard,” Coughlin said. “I just had to try my best. I just watched the ball.”
The chances (and frustration, at least for awhile) continued in the second half.
Just 67 seconds in, Hutchinson fired a shot that appeared ticketed for the goal, but NYA senior defender Abby McKelvy swept the ball away.
After Messina made another glove save on Madore, the Clippers had a great chance in front of the Panthers goal with Coughlin down, but couldn’t finish.
With 19:26 to go in regulation, Hutchinson fired a shot from the side, but it was saved.
Finally, with 11:02 left, Yarmouth appeared to get the goal it would need to win.
It began on a corner and senior Katie Overhaug’s shot was saved by Coughlin, but the Clippers kept possession, got the ball in front and Peterson was there to bang it home to break the ice.
NYA coach Tracy Quimby called timeout and it wound up working like a charm.
“Right before they scored, I wanted a timeout and unfortunately, they scored and I couldn’t get the timeout,” Quimby said. “I could feel the tide turn. I told them, ‘OK ladies, now we’re down. We have to play with everything we’ve got.’ We came out 100 percent from the get-go. We got tired. They have a much deeper bench. We only have 17 kids. That’s part of our challenge.”
Sure enough, the Panthers put the pressure on and after a pair of corners failed to result in a goal, Rose sent a long feed into the goal area and out of a scrum, Tardif came up with the ball, found space to her right and beat Messina to make it 1-1 with 6:47 remaining.
Yarmouth would have a great chance to go back on top with 3:02 left, but a Hutchinson blast was turned aside by Coughlin and the game would go to overtime.
In Maine high school field hockey, teams play two eight-minute, “sudden victory” sessions and if the score remains deadlocked, the game goes in the books as a tie.
That almost happened Friday, but after the Clippers appeared on the verge of winning it on several occasions, NYA again showed its championship heart.
In the first OT, Yarmouth pressured throughout and had great looks.
Just 80 seconds in, Hutchinson looked primed to win it, but Panthers senior Emma Warren broke up the shot.
With 5:07 to go, Hutchinson fired a shot and again was denied by Coughlin.
The visitors earned another corner, their third of OT and Overhaug got the ball to Hutchinson, but she couldn’t get much on the shot and Coughlin stopped it. Moments later, a game-winning bid by Overhaug (who had a stellar game, all over the field) hit the outside of the cage.
“Our corners have been a strength so far this season, but not today,” lamented Lewis. “We were just off a little bit inside the circle. We got the ball right there, but we couldn’t get a stick on. That’s one thing we’ll continue to work on.”
NYA had dodged several bullets.
“It was terribly nervewracking,” Quimby said. “We hadn’t done 7-v-7 in practice for awhile.”
After a two-minute break, it was time for the second session and again the Clippers looked for the winner.
First, a Hutchinson rush was broke up by McKelvy. After an Overhaug feed was broken up by a defender, Hutchinson had a shot on goal with 5:28 to go, but it was deflected wide by a defender.
That would prove to be Yarmouth’s last scoring chance.
After Madore had a shot saved by Messina, then next opportunity resulted in the game winner.
Madore, who demonstrated breathtaking individual skills all afternoon, got the ball and not surprisingly, finished after eluding a couple of Clippers.
“I went to the ball for the first time in the whole game,” Madore said. “I got around the first girl. I was going to go left, but stopped and pulled it right, then there was another girl, so I pulled it right again. I was at the top of the circle and I just drove it in. I was hoping. I didn’t think it was real at first. It was an unreal feeling it was finally over. I was pretty tired.”
NYA 2 Yarmouth 1.
At last, everyone on hand could exhale.
It was clear that even in victory, the Panthers had earned a ton of respect for the Clippers.
“We’ll end up seeing them again,” Quimby said. “A couple times probably. They’re the best Class C team we’ve seen. It’s good to have them back. It’s good competition. The girls know they can come back from a deficit, but besides that, they didn’t want to lose to Yarmouth. The girls get fired up to play them. They’re friends too. Our team appreciates excellent players. When they see excellent players on the Yarmouth team, they appreciate it. Yarmouth has excellent players, which is good to see.
Yarmouth finished with a 25-12 shots advantage, while corners were even, 6-6. Messina made 11 saves, while Coughlin saved NYA’s day with 10.
“Every time I got a shot, it was really scary, but I have a lot of faith in my defense,” said Coughlin. “We’ve worked together since I was a freshman. I know they’ll back me up no matter what. I talk a lot and tell them where I want them and I try to stop as many as I can.”
“(Elizabeth) had beautiful saves,” said Quimby. “I was really impressed with how far she was clearing. It was good to see the ball go out to people we needed to get it to.”
Yarmouth didn’t act like a team that had lost.
“We’re more encouraged than disappointed,” Lewis said. “I’m very proud. It was exciting to see (the girls) come out and play so well. We were winning, but we weren’t jelling necessarily as a team. We talked about what it means to play as a unit and today we saw it. It’s fun to play NYA again. It’s also fun to have two turf teams playing. We were really hoping to win.”
The teams meet again Oct. 7, at Yarmouth High, but both have a lot of work to do first.
Next week, the Clippers host Wells Tuesday and go to Traip Friday. A big test at Western B contender Cape Elizabeth follows Sept. 25. Even after the agony of this defeat, Yarmouth knows the sky’s the limit.
“What we’re excited about as coaches is that we’re getting better,” said Lewis.
NYA visits Traip Monday and Waynflete Tuesday before returning home Thursday to face Sacopee. The Panthers then have to go to dangerous Falmouth Sept. 25.
NYA knows its margin for error is less than it’s been in the past, but this team continues to find a way to get the job done. The Panthers hope that continues.
“We need the same intensity for all (the teams we play),” Coughlin said. “We know we have to work really hard. There will teams better than us, so we have to work really hard to get around them.”
“It’s good for us to know we’re not the best team out there and we can’t get cocky,” said Madore. “There’s going to be teams that will be a challenge. We have to play our hearts out every game.”
The Panthers (and Clippers too) certainly did that very thing in Friday’s epic contest.