YARMOUTH—They call it the “elephant in the room” and for at least another night, it stayed out of sight.
The “it” in this case is awareness of the fact that the powerhouse Yarmouth boys’ lacrosse team hasn’t lost a game on its turf field since 2002, something the current players are all too aware of.
If that’s not pressure enough, consider that the program hasn’t dropped a contest anywhere in nearly two years.
On Monday night, however, the Clippers got a stern test from longtime fierce rival Cape Elizabeth.
Yarmouth led 6-2 early in the third quarter and appeared on its way to another easy win, but the proud Capers, demonstrating enormous improvement from the start of the season, pulled within 6-4 midway through the period. They would get no closer. A dazzling individual performance by senior David Dietz led to a tide-turning goal and senior Colby Shields added another to help Yarmouth survive, 8-4, and improve to 4-0 on the season.
The Clippers have now won 67 straight games at home and 24 in a row overall.
“We don’t like to talk about it, but you don’t lose here,” said Dietz, who conjured up the elephant in the room analogy. “You just don’t. We have a lot to live up to, but we have serious potential to match any team we’ve had.”
With the exception of North Yarmouth Academy’s state titles in 2001 and 2007, Cape Elizabeth and Yarmouth have been on the top every season for two decades.
The rivals have met in five of the past seven state finals, with the Capers prevailing by a goal in 2003 (in OT) and 2005 and the Clippers winning with relative ease in 2004, 2008 and last year (12-9). Yarmouth has eclipsed Cape Elizabeth as the premier program in the state and is hoping to make it three in a row this year. The Clippers had no trouble in their first two outings, cruising 11-4 at home over NYA and 17-3 at York. Friday, however, Yarmouth got pushed by new power Falmouth before holding on for a 7-4 triumph.
The Capers, meanwhile, began the year with a stunningly decisive 11-4 home loss to the Yachtsmen. Wins at Freeport (10-7) and at home versus NYA (12-2) followed.
Yarmouth’s last home loss was May 14, 2002, a 16-6 drubbing at the hands of the Capers. Since then, prior to Monday, the Clippers had gone 68-0-1 on their turf (tying Kennebunk, 9-9, on May 20, 2002).
Monday, Cape Elizabeth came close to beating Yarmouth for the first time since April 28, 2007 (a span of six games), but down the stretch, once again, the Clippers did what they had to do.
Early on, the Capers had their way, winning all four first period faceoffs and having an edge in ground balls and shots in the first 12 minutes.
With 6:41 to play in the opening stanza, the visitors got on the board first when senior Harper Nelson scored unassisted. Cape Elizabeth almost made it 2-0 at the 3:27 mark, but junior Timmy Takach’s bid hit the post. Yarmouth drew even with 2:36 to go on a goal from senior Steven Petrovek (set up by junior Mike McCormack), but 30 seconds later, Nelson fed junior Teddy Smith for a score and a 2-1 advantage.
The hosts then turned up the intensity in the second quarter and got some separation.
Just 18 seconds in, Petrovek tied the score with a man-up, unassisted strike. With 8:55 remaining before halftime, Petrovek did it again unassisted and the Clippers were ahead to stay. Goals from McCormack (on a rebound of a Petrovek shot that Capers junior goal Jack Roos saved) and Petrovek (set up by Shields) gave Yarmouth a 5-2 lead at the break.
Six clutch saves from Roos prevented the Clippers from breaking it open.
Yarmouth appeared primed to do just that, however, when Petrovek set up senior Evan Henry for a man-up goal 57 seconds into the third quarter, but the Clippers wouldn’t score again until midway through the fourth.
Cape Elizabeth crept back in it as Smith (from Nelson, man-up) and Smith (unassisted) scored to make it a 6-4 game heading for the fourth.
For several minutes in the final period, neither team could generate any offense and turnovers were plentiful. The hosts finally got the spark they needed with 6:34 to play, when Dietz got the ball on the defensive end of the field, found a higher gear and sped through five defenders. He raced into the attacking zone, passed to Henry and Henry found Petrovek for a goal which snapped a 16 minute, 29 second drought, making it 7-4 Clippers.
“Fast breaks happen,” Dietz said. “You just kind of get going and passes get made. We got lucky there and got a nice goal.”
“That was gorgeous,” added Yarmouth coach Craig Curry. “We work hard at generating transition opportunities because everyone plays good settled defense.”
Shields added an unassisted strike with 3:29 to go and Yarmouth went on to the 8-4 victory.
“We always expect that Cape will be a great game,” Dietz said. “I think we have growing pains every year trying to replace all the shooters we have. We knew we’d have to play hard defense against these guys and move the ball.”
“It was definitely a fun game to play in,” said Shields. “I thought both ends really stepped up tonight and played their hearts out. The midfield dogged it out the entire game. We fought for every ground ball, played tough defense and played smooth offense. We took advantage of a couple man-up opportunities and put the ball in the net when we needed to. Close games are fun. It makes us better. We’re a deep team. That paid off in the end. We kept running fresh guys.”
“It was a great game,” Curry added. “I knew they were a better team than scores might have indicated. Falmouth will find out when they play them again that if poke a hornet’s nest, you’ll get the bees. Both teams kind of settled in defensively in the second half. We’ll live and die by transition and defense.”
Petrovek led all scorers with five goals and two assists. Henry, McCormack and Shields all had one goal and one assist. Senior goalie Cam Woodworth only needed to make three saves. The Clippers had a 37-19 edge in shots on goal (including a 20-7 difference in the second half). Yarmouth forced 33 turnovers (committing 28) and grabbed 40 ground balls (senior A.J. Oliver had a team high six) to 38 for Cape Elizabeth.
The Capers were paced by Smith’s three goals. Nelson scored once and added three assists. Roos made 14 saves. Senior Ben Brewster won the majority of faceoffs and also picked up 11 ground balls.
“We definitely played better tonight than we did against Falmouth,” Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond said. “I’ve watched the tape of that game a couple times. Almost all their goals came from us missing a ground ball. We had a couple young kids playing defense who were still learning the slide package and didn’t rotate all the way through. I expect a lot of the young guys early because they’re great athletes. We were much more prepared tonight.
“We made some mistakes. They made some mistakes. It wasn’t a typical clean game you’re used to seeing when it’s us against them. It was 6-4 for a long time. We spent a lot of time in the penalty box. It hurt us because we didn’t have the ball. That’s another piece that wasn’t consistent. We didn’t make good decisions.
“(Ben and Jack) played really well. Teddy Smith played really well. The midfielders in general did a very good job possessing the ball. We don’t have to be perfect today.”
The Capers are back in action Saturday at longtime rival Kennebunk.
Yarmouth, meanwhile, feels its recent close competition is nothing but a positive and that it’s still a work in progress.
“This keeps us motivated,” Curry said. “We understand that we haven’t separated ourselves. It’s going to continue to be a dogfight.”
“We can improve on making the right decisions, especially shot selection,” Shields added. “We have to keep turnovers low.”
Best of all, the homefield remains protected.
“We enjoy playing on turf,” Curry said. “We practice on it a lot so we’re more comfortable with it, but we also play well on grass.”
The Clippers are also idle until Saturday when they host Brunswick, a squad they haven’t faced since downing the Dragons, 17-3, in the 2005 East Region semifinals.
“It will be nice to see Brunswick,” Curry said. “We haven’t seen them in a couple of years.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cape Elizabeth junior Casey O’Donovan tries to get around Yarmouth senior Steven Petrovek Monday.
Cape Elizabeth senior Harper Nelson sizes up a shot, but Yarmouth senior goalie Cam Woodworth stands tall Monday. Woodworth only had to make three saves in the Clippers’ 8-4 victory.
Yarmouth senior Evan Henry’s bid for a goal was denied by Roos, who made 14 saves Monday, many of the spectacular nature.
Yarmouth junior Kyle Groves is hounded by Cape Elizabeth senior Matt Donovan. Defense carried the day in the latest showdown between rivals.
Yarmouth junior Mike McCormack’s scoring bid is denied by Cape Elizabeth junior Jack Roos during the teams’ battle Monday night. The Clippers did prevail, 8-4.
More photos below.