YARMOUTH— The “Game of the Year” turned out to be a game for the ages.
In a nearly two hour showcase of the best of boys’ lacrosse, the host Yarmouth Clippers overcame a stirring rally by the Portland Bulldogs and rose off the deck to score the final three goals, extending their seven-year homefield winning streak to 60 games with an exhilarating 11-9 victory.
Yarmouth appeared in control at the half, up 8-4, but the Bulldogs proved once and for all that they’re as good as anyone, anywhere, erupting for five straight goals, a surge capped by sophomore Caleb Kenney’s unassisted tally with 5:15 to play to give the visitors their lone lead.
Undaunted, the Clippers tied the game 40 seconds later on junior Steven Petrovek’s unassisted strike, then got the eventual winner with 3:50 to play when Petrovek set up senior Jake Gallagher. After dodging several bullets down the stretch, Yarmouth got a cosmetic goal from Petrovek as time expired to put the finishing touches on its most stirring win of the year.
“It was unbelievable,” said Clippers coach Craig Curry, who remains undefeated at home during his tenure. “Both teams played out of their minds. Everyone played their hearts out. They had a ton of kids come up big for them. We had kids come up big for us.”
Exceeding the hype
With Yarmouth the defending Class B state champion and Portland emerging as the team to beat in Class A, all eyes were on this game.
The teams did not disappoint.
The Clippers had won their first six games by a composite 88-19 margin. An 8-6 home win over Cape Elizabeth in a state final rematch and a 13-6 home victory over defending Class A champion Scarborough (in a game that was close for a half) were Yarmouth’s lone tests to date.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, had drubbed their first five opponents to the tune of 73-10, then went to Cape Elizabeth Saturday night and rolled to a 13-7 win.
The teams met twice a year ago. Portland beat Yarmouth for the first time ever, 12-11, at home, then the Clippers got revenge, 9-1, on their home turf.
This one would be riveting until the very end.
In a sign of things to come, the hosts took a 1-0 lead with 9:57 to go in the first period when Gallagher set up senior Peter Erickson for a goal on the man-advantage. Two minutes later, the Clippers made it 2-0 when Petrovek fed junior Evan Henry, whose shot eluded Portland senior goalie Nick Sterling.
The Bulldogs broke the ice with 7:25 to go, when playing a man-up, sophomore Bronson Guimond took a pass from senior Sam Guimond (his older brother) and beat Yarmouth junior goalie Cam Woodworth.
The visitors tied the game with 4:11 to play in the period when junior Kevin Nielsen intercepted a pass at midfield and fed senior Tyler Sandler, who set up Sam Guimond for a goal.
The Clippers retook the lead, 3-2, when again on the man-advantage, Gallagher took a pass from Henry and scored. With just under a minute to play in the first, Petrovek set up senior Rob Highland for a goal, but with 22.5 seconds left, Portland senior Andrew Holt fed senior standout K.R. Jurgelevich, whose goal pulled the Bulldogs within one, 4-3, after one period.
Portland had an edge in faceoffs won, ground balls and shots on goal, but six turnovers and a pair of untimely penalties put it in a hole.
With 8:43 to go in the second quarter, the Bulldogs tied the game for a second time when senior Dylan Kenney (from Jurgelevich) scored a man-up goal. Yarmouth went right back on top, however, with 6:25 left, when (again playing man-up) junior Colby Shields converted Gallagher’s pass and scored. With 3:21 to play in the half, Highland (from Petrovek) tickled the twine, and with 1:40 to go (man-up), the Clippers went ahead 7-4 when Shields (from Erickson) did the trick.
Yarmouth scored on four of six man-up opportunities and forced 16 Bulldogs turnovers in the half to gain a little breathing room.
When junior Mike Johnson (from Henry) scored 1 minute, 17 seconds into the second half, it appeared as if the Clippers were going to open things up, but Portland was primed to answer.
With 2 minutes to play in the third, Nielsen (from Holt) scored man-up to end an 18 minute, 43 second drought. With 8.8 seconds to go, Caleb Kenney converted man-up and Portland was back within two, 8-6.
“We made some mental mistakes and had turnovers and penalties in the first half,” said Bulldogs coach Eric Begonia. “Other than that, the second half was more indicative of who we are. We needed someone to step up and make a play. We had young leadership tonight. Caleb Kenney had some looks and was a difference-maker down the stretch.”
Kenney almost brought the visitors closer at the buzzer, but his long shot was ruled to have gone into the net after the horn sounded and the Clippers had a two-goal lead to protect with 12 minutes to go.
“The kids knew it wasn’t over,” Curry said. “(Portland’s) a great team in transition. We let it get loose. They’re big, fast and strong and took advantage. We needed to understand how to play patient and not let it get loose. Most of our goals came off the crease. It was beautiful lacrosse.”
The Bulldogs kept coming in the fourth.
Just 43 seconds in, Sam Guimond took a pass from senior Kyle Roberts and scored to cut the deficit to one. Portland completed its comeback with 5:51 left in regulation when Holt collected a loose ball and scored unassisted to make it 8-8. Caleb Kenney put the visitors on top 36 seconds later, but the Bulldogs wouldn’t be able to hold on.
Petrovek’s game-tying goal ended an 18 minute, 18 second drought for Yarmouth. After the Clippers regained possession, Curry called timeout and moments later, Petrovek fed Gallagher to put the hosts on top, 10-9.
“It wasn’t designed at all,” Gallagher said. “It’s just a play we’ve worked on in practice. ‘Steve-O’ just saw me and it was a perfect pass from him. All I had to do was just put my stick up. We knew they would bring some fire in the second half. Once they started to pick it up, we picked it up too.”
“It was us playing freelance,” Curry added. “It’s what we do.”
Portland would have its chances in the waning moments to rally again, but after the teams traded turnovers and the Bulldogs called timeout, Jurgelevich was denied, not by Woodworth, but by the post on a game-tying bid with 1:08 to go.
“Much like the other night at Cape, (K.R.) was drawing a crowd, double-team, triple-team, and we saw that,” Begonia said. “He got inside there and had a shot. It was a great shot, but it’s a game of inches. That could have been the equalizer and who knows what would have happened from there? We had our man-up unit in there, but we just didn’t get it.”
The Bulldogs would get one more opportunity after a Clippers’ turnover, but with 15 seconds left, Nielsen’s shot was wide and an ensuing inbounds pass went awry, giving the ball back to Yarmouth with 6.4 seconds left.
Erickson and Petrovek then combined to ice it as Erickson’s long pass was grabbed by Petrovek and fired into the net as the final horn sounded.
Yarmouth 11 Portland 9.
Everybody take a deep breath!
“At halftime, we wanted to see what our team was made of,” Begonia said. “We had a tough stretch here with two games in a row on the road against the perennial powers. We came in here and were more than respectable. We had some adversity tonight. Yarmouth’s well-coached and well-disciplined. We like to think of ourselves in the same light.
“We knew it would be an even match if we played a complete 48 minutes. Some people might have counted us out at halftime, but we got back in it and it came down to the fourth quarter. The only thing we’re disappointed with is the final score. We ran into a great team that takes care of the ball and stayed out of the penalty box. I’m proud of my guys to have a good showing in a tough place to play.”
“I don’t even know what to say,” Gallagher said. “It was intense from start to finish. It was just a pleasure to be part of. Portland played their hearts out and we played our hearts out. It was great to be out there. A win like this gets us psyched up. Obviously the goal is states again. We won’t rest on our laurels and practice hard every day.”
“It was intense,” added Erickson. “I’ve played in a lot of games like this, but not as a senior. We had to step up. Our team played great all-around. Our coaches were great too. I’ve been out the past few practices with a rib injury, but there was no way I was going to miss it. I wanted to keep the team pumped up. We came out and did a great job. We had a little bit of a trip up in the third quarter, but stayed strong.
“It feels great. We have to realize it’s only halfway through the season. It’s a huge win. We only see them once. They’re such a great team. Going one-for-one against them this year is great. I’m really happy with the win. We had energy. Lacrosse is a game of runs. It only takes seconds to turn it around. They had their run, but we held fast and pulled it out.”
Seven different players scored for the Clippers. Gallagher had two goals and two assists, Petrovek had two goals and four assists, and Highland and Shields also scored twice. Erickson (two assists), Henry (two assists) and Johnson had one goal apiece. Ten of Yarmouth’s 11 goals were assisted.
For Portland, Sam Guimond (one assist) and Caleb Kenney each scored twice. Bronson Guimond, Holt (two assists), Dylan Kenney and Nielsen had one goal apiece. The Clippers held the prolific Jurgelevich to one goal and one assist.
“It was a whole team effort,” Erickson said. “Cam is doing a great job in goal, being a team leader. Everyone’s working together. The team effort put the game away. No one was trying to be an individual.”
“Our defense did a fabulous job,” Curry added. “We exhausted K.R., but he exhausted us. He’s incredibly dangerous. The defense did a nice job on the ball. Peter Erickson doesn’t show up in the score sheet, but if he’s not an All-American at the end of the year, it’s a tragedy.”
The final statistics were reflective of how close the game was.
Portland had a 14-9 edge in faceoffs and won 45 ground balls (Jurgelevich led the way with nine) to 38 for the hosts (who were paced by nine from senior Steven Derrey). Yarmouth forced 34 turnovers (and had 29) and had a 33-32 edge in shots on goal.
Sterling stopped 12 shots for the Bulldogs. Woodworth made 11 saves for the Clippers.
Yarmouth was 4-of-6 in man-up situations. Portland finished 4-for-5.
While the Clippers escaped with the win, you could argue that the ultimate winner Monday night was the sport itself.
“A game like this was great for the game of lacrosse,” Begonia said. “It was a good night. It’ll echo across the lacrosse community.”
Tough act to follow
Portland and Yarmouth now return to the balance of their schedule and their quest for respective state titles.
The Bulldogs (6-1 and first in the Western A Heal Points standings) host Gorham Wednesday and Falmouth Friday.
“It’s going to sting a little bit and that’s okay, but I want them to remember that our goal wasn’t to go undefeated,” Begonia said. “We want to win a state championship. We’re in a good position to do that. We still have a long way to go.”
The Clippers (7-0 and ranked first in Eastern B) are home with Thornton Academy Wednesday and go to Gorham Saturday. Yarmouth’s next big test will come in the season finale, June 1 against rival North Yarmouth Academy.
At home. Where the Clippers simply refuse to lose.
“It means a lot to the boys,” Curry said. “It’s an incredible burden. It was nice to see all the college kids on the sidelines cheering. They’re all happy for them.”
“(The streak) means a lot,” Erickson added. “But it’s not what we’re thinking about, obviously we’re thinking about a state title first, but we don’t want to be the team to lose it and have the alumni on us. We’re not worried about seeding. We have to be comfortable to play anywhere. I feel we have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. We have to keep practicing strong, like it’s a game, so we can come out strong.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com. You can also follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/mhoffer
Yarmouth senior Colin Simsarian delivered some punishment to Portland sophomore Caleb Kenney. (Jason Veilleux photo)
Portland senior Kyle Roberts and Yarmouth senior Leo Oliva did battle for one of many contested balls during Monday’s showdown. (Jason Veilleux photo)
Yarmouth senior Chad Lorenz kept close tabs on Portland senior Sam Guimond, who scored twice in a losing effort. (Jason Veilleux photo)
Yarmouth’s Evan Henry (34) and Steve Petrovek celebrated one of the Clippers’ 11 goals Monday as Yarmouth extended its seven-year home winning streak to 60 games with a stirring 11-9 win over Portland. (Jason Veilleux photo)