(This story originally appeared Nov. 5, 2008)
FALMOUTH—All decade, the Falmouth and Yarmouth boys’ soccer programs have clearly been the gold standard in Class B. But within that hierarchy, there was a delineation, with the Yachtsmen riding supreme due to their consistent head-to-head success against the Clippers.
That all changed in emphatic and dramatic fashion last Wednesday night in the Western B Final, the first-ever regional final between the rivals, when Yarmouth came to life in the second half, took the fight to Falmouth, and rode goals from senior Johnny Murphy and sophomore Luke Pierce to a dramatic 2-1 victory, ending the Yachtsmen’s undefeated season and two-year reign as state champions.
“Yarmouth played well,” said longtime Yachtsmen coach Dave Halligan. “It was hard-fought. A great game to watch. That’s the way a regional final should be. Most of our games are like that.”
“(Meeting in the regional final) was long overdue,” said Clippers’ coach Mike Hagerty. “The last four years, we won two (regional championships) and they won two and none of the finals were against one another and we felt slighted. We really needed to meet in the final. It was big.”
Falmouth beat Yarmouth twice in the regular season, but neither win came easily. On Opening Night, Sept. 5, the host Yachtsmen eked out a 2-1 victory on junior Gabe Hoffman-Johnson’s overtime goal, a shot that deflected off a Clippers’ defender. On Sept. 27, Falmouth kept its perfect record intact on Yarmouth’s turf field, riding sophomore Sam White’s second half goal to a 1-0 triumph.
That win gave the Yachtsmen a 13-2-3 record against the Clippers since a 3-0 win in the 2000 semifinals and a 27-7 differential in goals scored in those games.
Falmouth also eliminated Yarmouth from the playoffs in the 2002 semifinals (1-0), 2006 semifinals (2-0) and the 2007 semifinals (1-0).
While the Yachtsmen appeared to be dominant in the rivalry, the record showed the Clippers simply needed to find a way to put the ball in the net to level the playing field.
That finally happened in the regional final.
Falmouth (11-0-3 in the regular season, good for the top seed in Western B) had downed No. 8 Oak Hill (9-0) and No. 4 Maranacook (1-0 in overtime) to advance, while Yarmouth (9-3-2 during the regular year, good for third) dispatched No. 6 Fryeburg (6-1) and No. 7 Freeport (1-0) in its quarterfinal and semifinal round games.
In the early going, old habits continued as the Yachtsmen carried the play. In the sixth minute, junior Kyle Lucas had a great look after receiving a pass in the box, but couldn’t make solid contact and sent the ball high and wide. Falmouth continued to control possession and with 20:55 to play in the first half, took the lead on a sensational individual effort by unsung senior Colin Burnett, who tracked down a deflected pass, dribbled to his left past a defender, and launched a 25-yard left-footed rocket past Clippers’ junior goalkeeper A.J. Oliver and into the upper right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.
“Just a beautiful goal,” Halligan said.
“We didn’t game plan for their outside left fullback,” joked Hagerty.
Yarmouth went into the half in the all-too-familiar position of trailing and being scoreless, but little did anyone on hand know that things were about to change in mindboggling fashion.
Just 2 minutes, 19 seconds into the second stanza, Clippers’ junior Travis Merrill was just high on a shot after a Yarmouth corner kick wasn’t cleared.
A little over five minutes later, momentum changed for good when Murphy beat the defense to a through ball and as he bore down on the Falmouth goal, was brought down from behind and awarded a penalty shot.
Murphy, who does nothing softly, rifled his kick past Yachtsmen senior goalkeeper Adam Lamoureux and the game was tied.
“I literally got yanked down right as I was about to kick it,” Murphy said. “It was my first PK. We’ve practiced PKs all week just for that reason.”
“We needed a spark and the PK was it,” Hagerty added. “That call was the right call at the right time. Johnny earned it. He got fouled. To his credit, he hammered that PK.”
Like an underdog boxer, Yarmouth had punched the champ in the mouth and suddenly realized a knockout was possible. It would take most of the rest of the half, but the Clippers would ultimately deliver.
Both teams had their chances as time wound down.
With 29:51 to play, Falmouth sophomore David Nurse’s header was saved by Oliver. Five minutes later, on a direct kick, a Murphy rocket crossed up Lamoureux, but the goalie was able to make the save. Then, with 23:20 to play, in yet another sign that times had changed, Oliver never saw a shot come through a screen, but luckily for Yarmouth, it bounced off the right post and the game remained tied.
In the waning moments, the Clippers wouldn’t be denied, controlling possession and creating solid chances.
With 5:40 to go, Murphy’s feed off a corner skipped through the goalmouth untouched. With 3:25 remaining, a Murphy rocket deflected over the goal, setting up a corner kick. Murphy then floated the ensuing kick toward the far post where Pierce timed his rush perfectly and headed the ball into the net. Lamoureux never had a chance.
With 2:55 to play, Yarmouth was up 2-1.
“I was just there,” Pierce said. “The ball came to my head and went in. Johnny made an unbelievable cross.”
“We kept getting corners and we knew if we kept getting more corners than them, we had a really good chance,” Hagerty added. “The kids just kept working. In the first half, we were so aware of their offense. We weren’t getting enough combinations. We came back. We just played. We went back to our regular formation and played straight up in the second half and really ended up letting loose.”
As expected, the two-time defending champs didn’t go down without a fight.
With 2:20 to go, the Clippers attempted a clear, but the ball was mis-struck and bounced backwards toward the goal. Oliver, however, was in the right place at the right time and saved the day. With 1:45 left, Lucas sent a shot high and wide. Then, with just 8.5 seconds remaining, Falmouth got its final chance when Hoffman-Johnson sent a wicked, sinking shot on goal, but Oliver caught it and cradled it as he fell to his knees and time ran out, unleashing a wild Yarmouth celebration.
“(Falmouth’s) such a good team,” Murphy said. “Sometimes everyone thinks they’re untouchable. We played them straight up in the second half and went as hard as we could and it paid off. That’s what you have to do against them. They have so many good players, but a team’s a team and we played really well as a team.”
“It’s unbelievable,” Pierce added. “We were so looking forward to this game. We changed up what we were going to do, our mindset. We were really defensive in the first half then we changed it around in the second half and we were offensive-minded. We knew that we could definitely beat this team. A lot of people doubted us, but we were confident coming in. This means a lot to us.”
Hagerty had plenty of praise to go around.
“I’m so proud of how the kids played,” he said. “Travis Merrill doesn’t get a lot of credit, but he won so many battles in midfield. He was the unsung hero. Our backs really did a great job stepping in front of balls and winning balls to stop their attack before it got started. They play direct but they don’t go over the top a lot. We worked on winning those balls. They did a great job in the second half.
“I really thought our underclassmen played a huge role tonight. Our juniors who helped defend, (Ryan) Melvin and Colby Shields and Eb (Fazeli) on the outside. Matt Waldroup playing important minutes. They really supported the seniors and this will be a huge confidence boost for them looking forward.
“Obviously, Falmouth’s a terrific team. They beat us two out of three times. They’ll be the favorites again next year. We have nothing but respect for them and how they play. I’m happy for our kids. Tonight they earned it. It’s not like we defended for 80 minutes. We had some nice combinations.”
The Yachtsmen were left shocked as just the second penalty kick allowed in five seasons and the first corner kick goal allowed this fall sealed their doom.
“Soccer’s such an emotional game,” Halligan said. “The PK took a little wind out of our sails. Yarmouth’s a veteran team. We’re young.
“I’m proud of the season the kids had. This game could have gone either way. Soccer can be unforgiving. Last year, against Freeport (a 2-1 come-from-behind overtime victory in the regional final) we were on the other end.”
Falmouth graduates four starters, Burnett, Lamoureux and Ben and Chris Moody. Plenty of talent returns, however.
“We have a lot of firepower back,” Halligan said. “Ninety percent of our scoring and some good defenders too. We’ll be all right. We’ll learn and get back here next year.”