YARMOUTH—After suffering though game after game of frustration and heartbreak, the Falmouth boys’ lacrrosse team finally figured out how to close out a meaningful victory.
At the most optimal time.
Visiting talented North Yarmouth Academy on the Panthers’ Senior Day Wednesday afternoon, the Yachtsmen never trailed, but weren’t able to put NYA away until the final horn.
Falmouth, coming off its third overtime loss of the season, at home against Yarmouth Friday night, shot to a 3-1 first quarter lead and went up, 6-2, in the second period, but the Panthers battled back to tie the game 7-7 in the third period and again, 10-10, in the fourth.
On the brink of yet another agonizing loss, perhaps one that would have been too difficult from which to recover, the Yachtsmen dug deep and found a way to prevail.
With 34.5 seconds left in regulation and with NYA’s defense focusing on Falmouth senior standout Charlie Fay, Yachtsmen junior Brad Gilbert got the ball, eluded a defender, then fired a shot into the net to put his team ahead to stay.
Still, Falmouth couldn’t finish it off quietly as a Yachtsmen turnover gave the Panthers one final chance and as time wound down, senior sharpshooter Jacob Scammon had a decent look at the goal, but Falmouth senior goalie Will Nash made his 15th save and the Yachtsmen held on for an 11-10 triumph.
Fay scored four times, junior I.V. Stucker added three goals and Falmouth finished the regular season at 8-4, ending the Panthers’ year with the same record.
“I didn’t want to go to overtime,” said Falmouth coach Mike LeBel. “I think it’s a weight off our shoulders. Eventually it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we get in those situations, no matter what happens, we think we’re not going to win. We finally put together a complete game, from all positions for every second of the game. I’m really proud of the guys for that.”
The teams that closed each of the past two Class B seasons in the championship game, squared off to end the regular season this time around and both needed a win.
The Panthers came in still entertaining hopes of earning the top seed for the playoffs, something which last happened in their most recent championship season of 2007, while the Yachtsmen simply needed to build some confidence after another gutwrenching defeat.
NYA suffered a tough loss to start the season, 7-6, to visiting rival Yarmouth, but the Panthers turned things around with a 16-4 win at Wells, then made everyone sit up and take notice by rallying from 5-1 down to defeat visiting Cape Elizabeth, 9-6. Wins at three-time defending Class A champion Scarborough (8-5) and Fryeburg (12-2) followed before NYA lost at Falmouth, 8-5. After a 15-4 home win over Gorham, the Panthers lost at Yarmouth, 11-6, but bounced back to handle visiting Thornton Academy in a crossover game (11-3) and visiting Waynflete (23-11) and Friday earned another huge dose of confidence and Heal Points with a 7-5 victory at Cape Elizabeth, marking the first time in six seasons NYA had swept a regular season series from the Capers.
“It was a wet game, but it was fun,” said NYA coach Peter Gerrity, of the win at Cape Elizabeth. “We played one of our best games of the year. As soon as warmups started, we shook off whatever funk had been developing in the cold and we were ready to go. Defensively, we played very well. All of our guys communicated and worked together and (Sophomore goalie) D.J. (Nicholas) played great again. Offensively, we were confident and having fun. We relaxed a bit, but weren’t too loose and that helped I think in reducing the number of turnovers.”
Falmouth has ridden a roller-coaster of emotion this spring and has suffered as many regular season setbacks as it had the previous three seasons combined. The tone was set in the opener, a palpitating 10-9 overtime loss at Yarmouth. After an 18-1 home win over Portland, Falmouth fell in OT again, 11-10, at home to Cape Elizabeth. The Yachtsmen got back in the win column, 10-2, at Lake Region, then earned a big dose of confidence with an 8-5 home victory over NYA. That victory kicked the Yachtsmen in gear and they proceeded to down visiting Wells (18-8), host Deering (14-4) and host Greely (12-3). Falmouth’s win streak came to an end with a 9-6 loss at Cape Elizabeth, but, the Yachtsmen handled visiting York from start to finish, 17-2, before suffering another punch in the mouth from Yarmouth Friday, when they blew a three-goal fourth quarter lead and fell, 15-14, in OT.
NYA won the first seven all-time meetings against Falmouth (see sidebar, below), but the Yachtsmen turned the tide with a 6-3 home win over the Panthers in 2008, which began what was Falmouth’s six-year, 11-game win streak against NYA entering Wednesday’s contest. That run included state game wins in 2011 (15-4) and last spring (7-4).
Wednesday, Falmouth once again grabbed a lead and once again gave it away, but this time, the Yachtsmen had the last laugh.
Falmouth jumped to a 1-0 lead 1 minute, 45 seconds in when junior I.V. Stucker scored unassisted.
Nash first made his presence felt two minutes later when he denied a Scammon shot.
With 8:10 to go in the first period, Fay scored unassisted for a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers got on the board 65 seconds later as Scammon took a pass from senior T.J. Daigler, then beat Nash to cut the deficit in half.
The Yachtsmen pushed the lead back to two goals, 3-1, when Fay set up senior Kris Samaras with 4:54 to go in the first and after Nash robbed NYA senior Matt Hawkins twice and Nicholas denied Falmouth junior Joe Dancoes, the visitors held a 3-1 lead after one.
Early in the second quarter, Hawkins had a shot saved by Nash and with 9 minutes to go, Stucker set up Dancoes for a goal and a 4-1 lead.
After Scammon fed senior Eliott Wellenbach for a goal with 8:33 left, Fay scored unassisted 16 seconds later and with 7:58 remaining before halftime, after a faceoff win, Samaras passed to Stucker for a transition goal and a 6-2 advantage.
But just when Falmouth appeared comfortable, the Panthers roared back.
With 3:27 to go before halftime, Scammon scored an unassisted goal. With 1:50 left, Scammon set up Hawkins to make it 6-4.
The Yachtsmen got some momentum back in the final minute when Samaras set up Dancoes for a goal and a 7-4 lead at the break.
In the first half, Falmouth junior Tyler Jordan won eight of 12 faceoffs, but the rest of the statistical categories were almost dead even.
The game would get even tighter in the second half.
NYA would rally to tie the game in the third, but Nash didn’t make it easy as he made nine saves.
Early on, Nash denied Wellenbach, but with 8:15 left, Hawkins fired a rocket from up top that Nash couldn’t save and the score was 7-5.
A mere 49 seconds later, after Nash robbed Sylvain in front, Scammon set up senior Oliver Silverson for a goal which cut the deficit to one.
Nash stopped shots by both Wellenbach and Hawkins and after Nicholas made a save on a Gilbert bid, Nash denied Wellenbach and sophomore Haley Cunningham.
Finally, with 1:41 left in the third, Hawkins set up Wellenbach and Wellenbach finished to tie the score, 7-7.
Late in the period, Nash preserved the tie with saves on shots from Scammon and Silverson.
The fourth quarter produced even more palpitating drama, but NYA never could grab the lead.
The Panthers had a man-up opportunity early, but Nash robbed Scammon on the doorstep.
Then, with 8:03 left in regulation, Gilbert set up Fay to snap a 16 minute, 33 second drought and put Falmouth back on top, 8-7.
NYA appeared to draw even with 6:46 left when Silverson finished a pass from Daigler, but Silverson was ruled to be in the crease, waving off the goal.
The Yachtsmen then transitioned to offense and took a 9-7 lead when Stucker fought through the defense and finished unassisted with 6:02 to play.
The Panthers refused to buckle and 32 seconds later, Silverson cut the deficit to one with an unassisted goal.
Falmouth pushed the lead back to two, 10-8, when Fay took a pass from Stucker and beat Nicholas man-up with 5:12 to go, but 38 seconds later, Wellenbach (from Hawkins) tickled the twine and after Wellenbach bounced a good look just high, Scammon scored unassisted with 1:39 to tie the game again, 10-10.
The Yachtsmen found themselves on the verge of another demoralizing collapse, but this time, they refused to buckle and finished.
Jordan won the ensuing faceoff, as senior Luke Andrews grabbed the ground ball. After a timeout, Falmouth set up on offense and while NYA shut off Fay, Gilbert got the ball up top, made a nice move on a defender, then found room to shoot and beat Nicholas to put the Yachtsmen on top for good, 11-10, with just 34.5 seconds to go.
“I just caught it, looked at the net, saw there was an opening and didn’t really aim, just shot,” Gilbert said. “I didn’t really think, just tried to get around (the defender), no one really slid and I shot. Once you get that opportunity, you can’t not finish it. I just try to dodge and create space for other players to dodge and score. When I have a chance, I try to score. As long as we win, I’m happy.”
“We went out there and ran the offense,” Fay said. “It just so happened their crease slid and Brad had an open look at the net.”
“Brad’s still trying to find his offensive niche,” LeBel added. “He’s a very good player. He stepped up in the biggest moment. He had a great move, a great goal. He really protected his stick in a lot of traffic.”
Falmouth was able to hold on, but not easily.
Jordan won the faceoff and Gilbert got the ground ball, but the Yachtsmen turned the ball over with 16 seconds left.
The Panthers quickly moved the ball in the offensive zone and it came up top to Scammon, who dropped it momentarily, picked up the ground ball, then had time for one final shot.
It was on target, but Nash made the save.
Nash bobbled the rebound, but time ran out and Falmouth survived in breathtaking fashion, 11-10.
“I guess I was just really feeling it,” Nash said. “I knew (Scammon) was the shooter. I just buckled down and made the save. It felt great. This is the first big game we’ve played all the way through to the end. We switched up the defense and it worked really well. The outside shots I’ve been seeing is what I’ve been looking for. I just try to go out and do my thing and get it done.”
“We needed this one,” Fay said. “It’s nice to know we can do it at the end of the game. We haven’t done it this season. It’s nice to know we can turn it on. This time, we had more time. It’s huge. It shows we can close a game. We just needed it.”
“We’re committed,” Gilbert said. “They tied it and had the momentum going their way, but we didn’t give up. We know the feeling (of losing) and we didn’t want to feel it again. You try to forget about the losses. I’m sure we’ll go to OT another time. We can’t focus on losing, we have to focus on winning.”
“It’s one of those years where we’ve been teaching the entire year and every game, you can see a significant difference and improvement,” LeBel added. “That’s the way we approached the season. We knew we wouldn’t win every game and control games like we have in years past. It’s great to see the kids mature. I think we had the skill to get it done, but we needed to believe and I think some of us started to doubt. Eventually you have to ask yourself, ‘How many goals do we have to be ahead to be safe?’ Psychologically, this is a huge boost.
“I thought it was a pretty clean game on both sides. It was a nice game to watch. There was a nice back-and-forth flow. The kids played good lacrosse, both sides. (The Panthers) have some outstanding players. Our defense played a little better than they’ve been playing lately. Communication on defense is a big thing. Knowing who has the first and second slides, who’s backing up. We’re learning to play better team lacrosse.”
Fay had a game-high four goals, while Stucker scored three times, Dancoes two and Gilbert and Samaras once each. Samaras and Stucker each had two assists, while Fay and Gilbert set up one goal each. Jordan again excelled in the faceoff circle, winning 16 of 24 opportunities.
“(Tyler’s) awesome,” said NYA coach Peter Gerrity. “He’s really good, but Eliott did really well. He’s figuring out how to be in control, even against the best guys. Our wing men helped.”
Andrews and Jordan both had five ground balls.
Nash sparkled with 15 saves.
“Will’s stepped up big this year,” Fay said. “He hadn’t played since eighth grade. I pulled him out of the coffin last summer and got him playing and shot on him with some alumni. He’s stepped up huge.”
“I have to give a lot of credit to (former Falmouth assistant coach) Chris Richards for helping Will, tweaking a few things in his game,” LeBel said. “He didn’t really notice, but Chris brought them to his attention and got him to feel more comfortable in the cage.”
“We took a couple shots we maybe shouldn’t have taken up high, but (Nash) made big saves,” Gerrity said. “He was good. We got chances and got looks on the cage. We kept peppering him.”
The Yachtsmen turned the ball over 18 times.
NYA was paced by Scammon and Wellenbach, who both scored three goals. Hawkins and Silverson each had two. Scammon also had three assists, while Hawkins finished with two and Daigler had one. Nicholas made nine saves.
The Panthers had a 41-35 advantage on ground balls, as Daigler led all players with seven and Hawkins had six.
NYA only turned the ball over 13 times and ousthot Falmouth, 42-36 (25-20 on cage), but still fell short.
“Momentum was back and forth,” Gerrity said. “It would have been nice to be on the other side. We’re used to now, unfortunately, being behind in games. I’m happy to say we were able to climb out of it, but without taking a lead, it’s tough to win a game. I think we recognized we could play with them.”
Now the fun really begins.
NYA (second at the moment to Gardiner in the Eastern Class B Heal Points standings) will wait and see where it finishes and who it plays in the quarterfinals Wednesday of next week. The Panthers will likely have to play Yarmouth in the semifinals.
“I would’ve liked to go over .500 against Cape, Falmouth and Yarmouth, but we’ve been close,” Gerrity said. “We have four losses, two to Falmouth, two to Yarmouth, so that’s not bad. It looks like we might play Yarmouth in the semis. That would be frustrating. I think we can make a run. We’ll be ready to go.”
Falmouth (second in Western B), meanwhile, now has something to build on going into the postseason. The Yachtsmen know they’ll be second to Cape Elizabeth and will host Greely June 8 in the semifinals.
“We’re looking good,” Gilbert said. “I think we’ll have some good games for sure.”
“We try to move forward and analyze mistakes,” Nash said. “All we can do is improve. Coach rides our (butts) in practice. Ultimately it pays off. We could have won every game if things went our way. It’s good to get this win under our belts going into the playoffs.”
“I think we have as good a shot as anyone else,” LeBel added. “It depends on the matchup, as we’ve seen all season. We matchup well with NYA. NYA matches up well with Cape. Yarmouth has our number. So does Cape. I think we’re in a better place now, mentally at least, going into the tournament. If we can play a complete game like we did today and not panic, we’ll be very good.”
NYA junior Wes Bright defends Falmouth senior Kris Samaras.
NYA senior Eliott Wellenbach looks to pass. Wellenbach was his usual imposing self in the midfield.
Falmouth senior Charlie Fay shoots past NYA junior defender Wes Bright. Fay had a game-high four goals.
NYA senior Jacob Scammon fires a shot. Scammon had three goals and three assists in the loss.
Falmouth junior Tyler Jordan cradles the ball and runs through the NYA defense after one of his 16 faceoff wins.
Falmouth senior goalie Will Nash makes one of his 15 clutch saves.
@ Falmouth 14 NYA 2
Falmouth 15 @ NYA 4
Class B Final
Falmouth 15 NYA 4
Falmouth 12 @ NYA 9
@ Falmouth 14 NYA 6
@ Falmouth 6 NYA 3
NYA 10 @ Falmouth 1
@ NYA 8 Falmouth 7
@ NYA 19 Falmouth 5
@ NYA 12 Falmouth 2
NYA 14 @ Falmouth 3
NYA 13 @ Falmouth 7
NYA 10 @ Falmouth 9 (OT)
Falmouth senior goalie Will Nash and senior Luke Andrews celebrate after the Yachtsmen hold off host NYA in an 11-10 thriller Wednesday afternoon.