FALMOUTH—Prior to Tuesday afternoon, Scarborough sophomore Connor Gullifer had never played in a varsity game.
The Red Storm are mighty glad he suited up.
Gullifer, playing in the stead of unavailable senior standout Jake Barrett, erupted for an improbable four goals, helping Scarborough rally from a third period deficit to beat the upset-minded host Falmouth Yachtsmen, 7-5.
Gullifer tied the game midway through the third period, then put his team ahead to stay with 6:16 to play and the defending Class A state champions clamped down on defense and improved to 1-0.
“Connor had a chance to step in,” said Scarborough coach Joe Hezlep. “He’d never played a varsity game in his life. He found out about an hour before the game that he was playing. He sure came up huge for us when we needed it.”
A sign of things to come
Scarborough has become a special program over the past three seasons, winning more games than anyone in that span, a stretch which featured two state titles, including last year’s crown in Hezlep’s first year.
Falmouth, meanwhile, is on the radar of the top programs and is viewed as an elite team in the making. The Yachtsmen fell in the Western B semifinals in 2008 and appear to be a year or two away from being a serious championship contender.
Last year, the Red Storm downed the Yachtsmen 14-6. Falmouth hadn’t beaten Scarborough since April 27, 2004 (11-7), but had a great shot to do so in the teams’ mutual opener.
When the Red Storm’s senior standout Danny Clark scored just 1 minute, 36 seconds in, it appeared as if Scarborough was in good shape, but instead, the visitors had the first of four leads that would promptly disappear.
With 7:34 left in the first, Falmouth sophomore Nick Bachman answered to tie the game. At the 6:31 mark, Brendan Ham fed junior Matt Mayo to put Scarborough back on top, but a mere 12 seconds later, Yachtsmen junior Kyle Lucas scored unassisted off the faceoff, beating Scarborough senior goalie Ryan Kane (13 saves) to make it 2-2. Only 14 seconds after that, the Red Storm went back on top when Gullifer got in the scoring column, taking a pass from Clark and beating Falmouth’s sophomore goalie Jay Hurdman.
While five goals were scored in the game’s initial 5 minutes, 55 seconds, only one would be scored the rest of the first half. That came off the stick of Yachtsmen junior Dan Hanley with 9:55 to go in the second. The game was tied 3-3 at halftime and the hosts had to love their chances.
Scarborough took its fourth one-goal lead when Gullifer scored from Ham at the 9:22 mark of the third quarter, a goal which ended a 20 minute, 43 second drought. The advantage lasted all of 38 seconds, however, as Hanley scored an unassisted goal to end Falmouth’s 13 minute, 11 second drought.
When Hanley took a pass from Bachman and scored on a man-up situation with 7:27 to play in the third, giving the Yachtsmen a 5-4 lead, it appeared an upset was in the making, but the hosts wouldn’t score again, while Gullifer still had a couple tricks up his sleeve.
With 5:54 to play in the third, Gullifer took a pass from Peter Moore and beat Hurdman to tie it.
The game remained deadlocked until the 6:16 mark of the fourth, when Gullifer got a pass from senior Nick Broadhurst and scored again to finally put the visitors ahead to stay.
“The team moved the ball around really well and our goalie made some key saves which allowed us to bring the ball up,” Gullifer said. “Our middies really stepped up on defense and allowed us to control the ball. We’ve got guys who can step up.
Clark’s second goal (from Tennessee Peters) with 3:22 to go was the punctuation mark and Scarborough escaped with the 7-5 win.
“(Falmouth’s) extremely well-coached and well-disciplined,” Hezlep said. “It’s impressive how well they play. They run three lines of middies and for the most part I couldn’t tell them apart. They played really well. It’s a good start for us. Much better than last year (a 19-6 home loss to Yarmouth).”
As for the Yachtsmen, they weren’t able to open the season with a statement victory, but they have plenty to build on.
“We’re still learning,” said Yachtsmen coach Mike LeBel. “We have a lot of inexperienced players starting. We have freshmen and sophomores on attack. It’s not an excuse, just the reality of the situation. It will take them some time to get used to the speed of the game. I’m very pleased with the overall effort of the team. We ran three lines consistently. I think that will pay off. Experience early-on will pay off. As the season gets longer and hotter, we’ll have three good, solid lines. We have depth. We have to get the experience.”
Falmouth, which was paced by three goals from Hanley, amazed itself and its foe by only taking one penalty the whole game (it came in the waning moments).
“As young a team as we have, as inexperienced as we are, to have one penalty, is extremely impressive,” LeBel said. “It’s what actually kept us in the game. We weren’t in the penalty box. We’re going to be competitive. We’re able to run with the Class A state champion. We should be able to at least be competitive and not get run out of games.”
The Yachtsmen’s schedule doesn’t get any easier. Thursday, they host Kennebunk. Then, they go to Cape Elizabeth.
As for Scarborough, the Red Storm go to Massabesic Thursday and are at home against Deering Saturday.