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YARMOUTH—For nearly nine seasons, as the Yarmouth boys’ lacrosse team ascended from contender status to the best program in the state, the Clippers, be they senior-laden and dominant or young and building, all had one thing in common.
They never, ever lost at home.
From May 24, 2002 on, through 73 countable games (see sidebar), Yarmouth turned away all comers in one of the most amazing win streaks in the annals of Maine high school sports.
Alas, all good things must cease and Friday evening (six days after the originally scheduled game was postponed in an unpopular decision), the Clippers went down to defeat at the hands of a new power, one that was in just its second varsity season the last time Yarmouth fell at home and one that is eager to model itself on the Clippers and become a champion.
Yes, for the first time in 3,276 days, Yarmouth left its turf field on the wrong end of the scoreboard as despite a valiant, championship-heart-type effort from the hosts, Falmouth pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 14-5 victory.
“Every good thing has to come to an end at some point,” said Clippers first-year coach Steve Moore. “It’s a cycle. This cycle has taken a long time to come to fruition. It took a long time for that loop to close itself.”
On May 24, 2002, we were early in the first term of the presidency of George W. Bush, the hunt for Osama bin Laden was less than a year old, the New England Patriots were some three-plus months removed from a Super Bowl upset of the St. Louis Rams, ensuring quarterback Tom Brady would remain a household name, and Tim Kjeldgaard, Chris Hichborn, Brent Stevens and Jared Harriman were some of the stars for the Yarmouth boys’ lacrosse team.
That evening, in the regular season finale, the Clippers hosted Cape Elizabeth, the program that everyone modeled itself after, then and now, in a contest that was originally scheduled to be played in Cape Elizabeth, but was moved to the Yarmouth turf because the Capers wanted to play on the then-new surface.
Cape Elizabeth rolled that night, 15-6, dropping the Clippers to 7-4-1. Mike Walsh and Mike DiFusco both scored five goals and Dean Scontras had three goals and two assists in the win. Hichborn and Dan Leahy each had a goal and two assists for Yarmouth, which would beat Freeport, 12-2, in the first round of the playoffs a week later and the streak was born.
Yarmouth eventually reached the regional final that year before losing in Brunswick, 11-5. The next year, the Clippers made it to the state final and lost to the Capers in overtime. By 2004, they were at the top of the heap.
Since May 24, 2002, seven different teams have won the Super Bowl and eight different World Series champions have been crowned. When the streak began, the “Curse of the Bambino” still held sway over Red Sox Nation.
This year’s seniors were in the third grade.
This year’s freshmen were in kindergarten.
Through 52 regular season and 21 playoff contests, three coaches (Barry White, Craig Curry, who didn’t lose a single game at home in his reign, and Moore) and four athletic directors (Ken Roberts, Rachel Bouchard, Thor Nilsen and since 2005, Susan Robbins), Yarmouth handled every single foe, outscoring the opposition by a total of 1,003 goals to 278, an average margin of victory of 14-4.
In truth, there were only a handful of scares.
In the 2003 regional final, the Clippers and North Yarmouth Academy were tied in the final minute before a Harriman goal proved to be the difference. On May 11, 2004, Yarmouth found itself down 6-0 to Cape Elizabeth early before rallying to win, 13-11. In 2006, the Clippers edged the Capers, 4-3, in the regular season, then survived a semifinal round scare from Freeport, 11-9. The next spring, Yarmouth beat NYA and Cape Elizabeth by a goal apiece and in 2009, the Clippers eked out a two-goal victory over Cape Elizabeth, then edged eventual Class A champion Portland in an 11-9 epic.
On April 27 of this year, Yarmouth, which lost, 7-6, in last year’s state final to Cape Elizabeth, made it 73 in a row at home by downing York, 9-4, as part of a 3-0 start, which also included victories at NYA (6-2) and Brunswick (10-2). On May 2, the Clippers suffered their first loss of 2011, 13-2, at Cape Elizabeth. Yarmouth got back in the win column Tuesday with a 9-3 triumph at Waynflete.
Changing of the guard
Falmouth entered Saturday’s game as the most sizzling team in the state. The Yachtsmen, who suffered an agonizing, overtime regional final loss to Cape Elizabeth in 2010, got a measure of revenge in the opener, with a 12-4 home romp over the Capers, then easily dispatched visiting Waynflete (17-5), host Scarborough, the defending Class A champion (13-3), visiting NYA (14-2) and host York (15-5).
When Yarmouth began its home win streak nine years ago, Falmouth was en route to a 7-6 campaign. As coach Ted Galbraith gave way to Jason Hurley and eventually to Mike LeBel, the Yachtsmen slowly became contenders, but they never had much luck with the Clippers. From 2003 through 2010, Yarmouth took all eight meetings by an average score of 14-4.
The game was originally scheduled for last Saturday at 6 p.m., but earlier that afternoon, thunder and lightning rolled through Yarmouth and after originally delaying the girls’ junior varsity game (which preceded the girls’ varsity and the boys’ varsity games), the decision was made to scrap the whole slate and reschedule.
By 6 p.m. Saturday night, however, the weather was beautiful in Yarmouth and it would have been a perfect night for lacrosse, leaving some to question the wisdom of the postponement.
Regardless, the game was finally played Friday night and despite another example of Clippers Pride, Falmouth made it an historic evening.
Early on, the hosts had a chance to get the jump, but senior Matt Murphy’s blast hit the crossbar.
With 7:49 to play in the 12-minute first period, the Yachtsmen went on top to stay when sophomore standout Will Sipperly scored unassisted, beating Yarmouth junior goalie Alex Kurtz. Forty-two seconds later, Sipperly scored again, this time from junior Mitch Tapley, and it was 2-0.
Before the first quarter was out, Tapley scored unassisted and senior Zach Alexander did the same for a 4-0 bulge.
Yarmouth wasn’t about to go quietly, however, and dominated the second stanza.
With 11:02 to go before halftime, the Clippers got on the board thanks to a wacky play. Yarmouth appeared to turn the ball over, but it squirted out of a defender’s stick right to Clippers junior Bart Gallagher who one-timed a shot past Falmouth junior goalie Cam Bell.
With 4:17 left in the half, Yarmouth demonstrated stunning ball movement as sophomore Nick Ronan fed freshman Max Watson for a goal. Forty-eight seconds later, Gallagher set up junior Sam Torres for a man-up goal and just like that, the Clippers were within one, down, 4-3.
LeBel then called a rare dead-ball timeout to restore order.
“Even when it was 4-0, I had a feeling it would be tough,” LeBel said. “They were still pretty solid defensively and we made some mental mistakes. I told them to relax and we’d be OK. I tried to calm them down a little bit and tried to get them out of panic mode.”
With 1:44 remaining, after Yarmouth failed to convert on a possession which could have tied the score, Falmouth ended a 10 minute, 57 second drought as senior Nick Bachman scored unassisted, giving the visitors a 5-3 lead at halftime.
The Yachtsmen threatened to pull away in the third period as Tapley (unassisted, with his team playing a man-up at 10:04), Tapley again (from Bachman, at 8:08) and senior Johnny Goodrich (from junior Jack Cooleen, with 5:49 showing) scored goals to make it an 8-3 contest, but in the final minute, Torres, who played superbly on this night, scored a pair of unassisted goals to make things very interesting and pull the Clippers within 8-5 with 12 minutes to go.
“Sam is very quiet, but he leads by example,” Moore said. “He went out there and took control.”
Falmouth finally put the win on ice in the fourth.
With 9:21 remaining, playing man-up, the Yachtsmen took a 9-5 lead when Alexander set up Bachman. Tapley scored unassisted with 7:59 to play. Senior Brendan McDonnell, playing attack for the first time, scored unassisted 16 seconds later to make it 11-5.
Goals from Tapley (unassisted, after faking out two defenders, with six minutes left), Sipperly (assisted by McDonnell, with 3:45 to go) and senior Mike Bloom (after a faceoff win, with 3:32 left) completed the scoring.
At 7:48 p.m., on yes, Friday the 13th of the month of May, 2011, the horn sounded and Yarmouth’s near-decade run of home perfection was over.
Falmouth 14 Yarmouth 5.
“It’s something special, absolutely,” Bachman said. “(Yarmouth) has been so dominant for such a long time. It’s been almost a decade. So many records were broken tonight. It wasn’t in the discussion that much, but we knew what this game meant for our program and for their program and we came out and executed. We’re an up-and-coming program and we like to show it. This was the last step. (Yarmouth) played an excellent game. They kept it going until the end. We got a run going like we do and we’re not going to stop. We found our tempo and dictated our game.”
“This game was a lot closer than the score would indicate,” LeBel said. “It is a big win and Yarmouth’s a far better team than people give them credit for. I knew they’d steadily improve over the length of the season. They’ll be a team to be reckoned with come tournament time. They’re well-coached, they’re disciplined. They’re your traditional Yarmouth team. They’re missing some scorers, but (junior defender Josh Britten’s) a game-changer. He is a heck of a player, one of the best defensemen in the state that I’ve seen.
“Our guys hang in there and know they’ll eventually open up. That’s what happened with Cape. It was close for a long time. I felt good defensively. I knew we’d have a tough time scoring, but I knew so would they. It opened up a little bit in the fourth quarter. Our man-down defense played very, very well. We’ve had some problems in the box, but penalties are a funny thing. You don’t want to have zero penalties, because then you’re not playing aggressive enough. Our total time in the box wasn’t that bad. It seemed like they all came at once.
“This game is great for us. It’s fun to be in a close game with something at stake. It’s fun to coach in a game like that. We were pushed like we were against Cape. We need to be in games like this. You have to play at this level or you’ll develop bad habits. Yarmouth’s is one of the scariest teams out there. They played better than I thought they’d play. They came out with more intensity than I expected. They impressed me. I knew they’d be fundamentally sound, aggressive, well-coached and disciplined.”
The Yachtsmen got a game-high five goals from Tapley.
“(Yarmouth) played well,” Tapley said. “They gave us a game. The second quarter, we got a little anxious and didn’t run our offense and they scored some goals. We had to start playing better. We made better choices in the fourth quarter.”
Sipperly added three goals. Bachman scored twice, while Alexander, Bloom, Goodrich and McDonnell each had one goal. Alexander, Bloom, Cooleen, McDonnell and Tapley all assisted once. Junior defensive standout Mike Ryan had a game-high 10 ground balls. Alexander, Bloom and Goodrich all added six. Bell made nine saves.
Falmouth dominated on ground balls, holding a 57-32 advantage. The Yachtsmen outshot the Clippers, 35-22, putting 22 shots on frame to 14 for the hosts. Each team turned the ball over 30 times.
For Yarmouth, Torres scored three times, Gallagher and Watson once each. Gallagher and Ronan added assists. Sophomore Drew Grout led the Clippers with five ground balls. Torres finished with four. Kurtz stopped eight shots.
Falmouth junior Abyn Reabe-Gerwig won 12 of 23 faceoffs, but was neutralized more than he’s used to by Yarmouth senior Billy Clabby (who went 9-for-19) and Britten (2-of-4).
“Billy’s really come along for us,” Moore said. “We started with two or three guys. Billy had a great game against NYA. He came on strong in practice and started to dominate. He understands that’s his role. He’s been dominant for us against just about everybody we’ve faced. We knew it would be a tough match for him.”
There’s no question that for this group of Clippers that the loss stings, but what shouldn’t be overlooked is how impressive Yarmouth was in the face of adversity and how proud the Clippers were in ensuring their first home loss in nine years wouldn’t be an embarrassing one.
“We just told them to walk off the field with your chins up and your heads held high,” Moore said. “You can’t let this get to you. It just builds character. You’re better off in life learning this lesson. They’ve done a really good job. I’m impressed with how well they’ve handled this.
“It was by far our best game. Emotionally and as far as lacrosse goes. We’re one step away. We’ve got to put together a consistent four quarters of play at our top level and it’s really going to make a difference. We have a really young group of kids. They’re still working on playing together. It’s still a learning process. It’s going to take some time. I couldn’t ask for a better effort considering what was on the line.
“Defensively, that group was so cohesive. They never get out of sorts and stay composed and play their game. Offensively, I think we played a strong game, but it was shining moments, then we stepped back. We have to put it together consistently instead of sporadically. We kicked and scratched and tried to come back. We got worn down and it was very emotional. We’ve told them it will take six guys to run the offense. They’re getting it. We had some really good looks. One or two more goals might have turned the tide. It was that close.”
Both teams have less than 24 hours to recover.
Yarmouth (now 4-2 and second behind St. Dom’s in the Eastern Class B Heal Points standings) gets a chance to begin a new home streak Saturday at 6 p.m, when it hosts Cheverus. The Clippers welcome crosstown rival NYA Wednesday and have a rematch with the Yachtsmen next Friday in Falmouth.
While Yarmouth was crestfallen over the end of its storied streak, when all is said and done, these Clippers will maintain their program’s legacy.
“We’ll get back into it tomorrow,” Moore said. “We can just build on this and that’s what we’re hoping to do.”
The Yachtsmen (6-0 and first in Western B) host Brunswick Saturday at high noon. Wednesday, Falmouth is at Cape Elizabeth in a game that will go a long way toward determining who has homefield advantage for the upcoming playoffs.
“It’s definitely a boost to our confidence to beat a really good team,” Tapley said. “We have to keep it going. (Cape’s) going to be a good game.”
“We have to keep our focus going and improve every day,” Bachman said. “We still have some big steps to make. Those other programs improve amazingly. If we do the little things right, I think we have it.”
For a few hours, at least, the Yachtsmen can savor a long-awaited win, one that ended a streak that figures to never again be approached.
Not even by half.
“It feels good because I remember taking over the program five years ago, we’d come over here for a scrimmage and it would be 19-1 and we couldn’t hold the ball,” said LeBel. “It’s definitely satisfying like the first time we beat Cape. It’s a big win for the program.”
Falmouth coach Mike LeBel exults during the Yachtsmen’s landmark win.
Yarmouth freshman Max Watson attempts a tough-angle shot, but is denied by Falmouth junior goalie Cam Bell.
Yarmouth junior Bart Gallagher holds on to the ball while being defended by Falmouth junior Abyn Reabe-Gerwig.
Yarmouth senior Billy Clabby and Falmouth junior Abyn Reabe-Gerwig pursue a ground ball after one of their many faceoff battles.
Yarmouth junior goalie Alex Kurtz makes a stop on Falmouth junior Mitch Tapley during Friday’s game. Tapley scored five times as the Yachtsmen improved to 6-0.
Falmouth senior Zach Alexander drives around Yarmouth junior Sam Torres.
Friday evening, for the first time in nine years, someone other than the host Clippers celebrated victory at Yarmouth’s turf field. Falmouth pulled away late for its first-ever win over the Clippers and became the first road team to win in Yarmouth since May 24, 2002, 14-5.
More photos below.
F- 4 1 3 6- 14
Y- 0 3 2 0- 5
7:49 F Sipperly (unassisted)
7:07 F Sipperly (Tapley)
4:34 F Tapley (un)
41.2 F Alexander (un)
11:02 Y Gallagher (un)
4:17 Y Watson (Ronan)
3:29 Y Torres (Gallagher) MAN-UP
1:44 F Bachman (un)
10:04 F Tapley (un)
8:08 FTapley (Bachman)
5:49 F Goodrich (Cooleen)
54.8 Y Torres (un)
37.9 Y Torres (un)
9:21 F Bachman (Alexander) MAN-UP
7:59 F Tapley (un)
7:43 F McDonnell (un)
6:00 F Tapley (un)
3:45 F Sipperly (McDonnell)
3:32 F Bloom (un)
F- Tapley 5, Sipperly 3, Bachman 2, Alexander, Bloom, Goodrich, McDonnell 1
Y- Torres 3, Gallagher, Watson 1
F- Alexander, Bachman, Cooleen, McDonnell, Tapley 1
Y- Gallagher, Ronan 1
F- (Bell) 9
Y- (Kurtz) 8
Faceoffs (Falmouth, 12-11)
F- Reabe-Gerwig 12-of-23
Y- Clabby 9-of-19, Britten 2-of-4
Ground balls (Falmouth, 57-32)
F- Ryan 10, Alexander, Bloom, Goodrich 6
Y- Grout 5, Torres 4
Shots on goal:
Shots on frame:
From May 24, 2002 (a 15-6 loss to Cape Elizabeth) through Friday evening (a 14-5 setback to Falmouth), the Yarmouth boys’ lacrosse team went undefeated on its home turf. Here’s a look at the sensational run (* denotes postseason game):
* May 31 FREEPORT W 12-2
* June 4 NYA W 10-5
April 11 GREELY W 12-9
April 16 ST. DOMS W 17-1
April 29 DEERING W 15-4
May 2 KENNEBUNK W 15-5
May 8 NYA W 8-6
May 19 YORK W 18-2
* June 3 MESSALONSKEE W 16-1
* June 6 MT. BLUE W 15-4
* June 10 NYA W 9-8
April 10 YORK W 13-1
April 14 FALMOUTH W 18-1
April 15 WAYNFLETE W 17-0
April 27 CHEVERUS W 12-3
May 3 NYA W 12-8
May 8 MARSHWOOD W 11-1
May 11 CAPE ELIZABETH W 13-11
May 18 GREELY W 15-3
* June 1 CONY W 23-4
* June 4 NYA W 11-3
* June 8 BRUNSWICK W 13-3
April 25 GREELY W 14-3
April 29 NYA W 15-2
May 2 FALMOUTH W 19-6
May 13 DEERING W 14-5
May 23 CAPE ELIZABETH W 15-8
May 28 YORK W 21-1
* June 8 OXFORD HILLS W 15-0
* June 11 BRUNSWICK W 17-3
* June 15 NYA W 10-0
May 1 FALMOUTH W 13-2
May 6 FREEPORT W 15-3
May 10 NYA W 8-4
May 17 WELLS W 22-0
May 19 CAPE ELIZABETH W 4-3
May 23 GREELY W 16-0
May 26 KENNEBUNK W 15-2
* June 10 FREEPORT W 11-9
* June 14 NYA W 9-3
April 30 FREEPORT W 17-6
May 4 NYA W 12-11
May 9 WELLS W 17-1
May 12 CHEVERUS W 7-3
May 16 FALMOUTH W 17-2
May 21 CAPE ELIZABETH W 8-7
* June 6 MORSE W 20-1
* June 9 LINCOLN ACADEMY W 14-0
May 7 NYA W 16-6
May 10 DEERING W 16-3
May 20 CHEVERUS W 11-7
May 28 PORTLAND W 9-1
June 2 KENNEBUNK W 15-4
June 6 CAPE ELIZABETH W 7-3
* June 14 LINCOLN ACADEMY W 16-0
* June 18 NYA W 12-7
April 27 CAPE ELIZABETH W 8-6
May 6 FREEPORT W 18-2
May 12 SCARBOROUGH W 13-6
May 18 PORTLAND W 11-9
May 20 THORNTON ACADEMY W 13-1
June 1 NYA W 12-4
* June 13 ST. DOM’S W 26-1
* June 17 NYA W 15-4
April 16 NYA W 11-4
May 3 CAPE ELIZABETH W 8-4
May 8 BRUNSWICK W 13-6
May 11 WAYNFLETE W 14-2
May 21 FALMOUTH W 8-6
June 1 GREELY W 17-4
* June 12 NYA W 17-7
* June 16 ST. DOM’S W 18-5
April 27 YORK W 9-4