FALMOUTH—The Falmouth boys’ lacrosse team truly came of age Tuesday afternoon.

Facing a stern test from a vengeful rival, perennial powerhouse Cape Elizabeth, the Yachtsmen needed to make the statement that even when their high-powered offense wasn’t scoring with abandon, they could still find a way to come through in winning time.

Thanks to a pair of clutch, unassisted goals from senior Dan Hanley, Falmouth did just that, breaking a tie late in the third period and going on to a 9-7 victory, essentially locking up the top seed in Western Class B and homefield advantage for the playoffs.

Unlike the first meeting this spring, an 11-4 romp in Cape Elizabeth, the Yachtsmen were pushed throughout. Falmouth grabbed an early 4-1 lead, but the Capers rallied and tied the game at 6-6 before Hanley provided the difference, improving the Yachtsmen’s record to 7-1, while dropping Cape Elizabeth to 4-3.

“When we needed to score, the kids came through,” said Falmouth coach Mike LeBel. “Offensively, we controlled the ball well and worked for shots. Dan finally broke through.”

Fight to the finish

When Falmouth made the leap to top contender status a year ago, it’s great run ended with an 11-7 loss at Cape Elizabeth in the regional final (the Capers went on to lose to Yarmouth in the Class B state game).

Back on April 16, the Yachtsmen got a measure of revenge with a seven-goal victory, their first ever over the state’s most storied program. In that one, Falmouth never trailed, led by as many as eight and cruised to victory as Hanley had five goals, while junior Nick Bachman added four.

Falmouth won five of its next six games, losing only to the two-time defending state champion Clippers, 7-4, at home on April 30. Saturday, the Yachtsmen passed a big test when they held off defending Eastern A champion Brunswick, 10-7, behind five goals from senior Mike Kane.

Cape Elizabeth bounced back from its opening loss with a pair of wins, then dropped a hard-fought 8-4 decision at Yarmouth before easily defeating Greely (14-2) and Lewiston (10-3).

Tuesday, everyone on hand expected the Capers to be much more competitive this time around and the visitors certainly didn’t disappoint.

Just 38 seconds in, Falmouth got the jump when Bachman scored unassisted, racing around the cage before firing a shot past Cape Elizabeth’s stellar junior goalie Jack Roos. The Capers answered with 9:38 left in the first period when junior Teddy Smith (from junior Casey O’Donovan) beat Yachtsmen sophomore goalie Cam Bell with the Capers playing a man-up.

Falmouth then got three goals in just under four minutes to seemingly take command.

With 8:25 to go in the quarter, Kane scored unassisted. Just 23 seconds later, after a faceoff win, senior Kyle Lucas set up sophomore Mitch Tapley for a goal. With 4:47 left, Tapley fed Bachman and the Yachtsmen were up 4-1.

Undaunted, Cape Elizabeth answered with a pair of goals before the end of the period. First, senior Harper Nelson scored unassisted. Then, with 35 seconds to go, senior Tommy Foden scored an unassisted goal (showing off his football acumen by fighting through four defenders) and Falmouth’s lead was down to one, 4-3.

Only one goal would be scored in the second stanza. Tapley (from Kane) did the honors with 8:52 left. With 1:38 remaining before halftime, Hanley hit the post and the Yachstmen clung to a 5-3 advantage at the break.

The first half stats were close to even and the game would remain tight throughout the third and fourth quarters.

Due to a Falmouth penalty, the Capers got the ball to start the third and while the hosts weren’t settled, raced down and got a goal when Foden set up Smith just 18 seconds in. Bachman answered with an unassisted goal with 9:21 left in the quarter, but Foden (unassisted) and junior Wilson Laprade (unassisted) countered and Cape Elizabeth drew even with 1:46 remaining.

Had the Capers gone ahead, it’s possible the Yachtsmen wouldn’t have been able to recover, but it didn’t happen. With 10.9 seconds to go in the third, Hanley made a move and scored unassisted to give Falmouth the lead for good, 7-6.

“On the clear, I outran the first guy and saw I had room, rolled back and got a close-in shot and it went in,” Hanley said.

Cape Elizabeth had a pair of great chances early in the fourth quarter to answer. First, junior Timmy Takach’s bid hit the post. Then, Smith was denied in close by Bell. After Roos made two stops on Kane shots, the Yachtsmen went ahead 8-6 when Hanley got his second unassisted goal.

“On that one, I had a similar move off a dodge and had another open shot,” Hanley said.

With 2:17 remaining, playing a man-up, Kane fed freshman Will Sipperly for a goal that restored a three-goal bulge and gave Falmouth some breathing room.

It didn’t last long, as Foden scored unassisted 30 seconds later, but the hosts won the ensuing faceoff and drained almost all of the remainder of the clock before celebrating their hard-fought victory.

“We expected (Cape Elizabeth) to come out strong,” Hanley said. “We knew they were a good team . We would have liked to shut them down defensively, but they have some good offensive players and you can’t always stop those guys. With this game and Brunswick, I think we’re hitting our stride. We played strong games consecutively.”

“This is what I expected the first time around,” LeBel added. “I knew they were talented. I think we just got them at a good time the first time. They just dropped passes the first time. They moved things around. They moved Foden to offense, which gave them more firepower. I knew we’d have matchup issues with them. Cape is very physical.

“(Capers coach Ben Raymond is) probably the best at making halftime adjustments to identify and go after weaknesses. It’s always a good matchup, coaching-wise. You have to be alert and ready and prepared. I think had they gone ahead, I’m not sure how we would have responded.”

Bachman led the Yachtsmen with three goals. Hanley and Tapley (one assist) each had two goals, while Kane (two assists) and Sipperly added one apiece. Lucas also had an assist. Bell made eight saves.

Falmouth won 10 of 19 faceoffs and had a 27-19 shots advantage (20-15 on goal). The hosts had one more turnover (20-19) than the Capers. Most importantly, the Yachtsmen won 53 ground balls to 37 for Cape Elizabeth. Falmouth was paced by seven apiece from Hanley and junior Brendan McDonell and six each from Kane and Tapley.

The Capers got three goals from Foden, two from Smith and one each from Laprade and Nelson (who also had an assist, as did O’Donovan). Roos made 11 saves. Senior Ben Brewster had a game-high 10 ground balls, while Foden added eight.

“We’re moving in the right direction,” Raymond said. “We’re trying to improve different aspects of our game. Our defense was better today. Maybe not as much as we wanted to be in the first quarter. We made the adjustments, but it took us three goals. Jack played an excellent game again. We cleared the ball well. We played very well in the second half.

“If we’d gone ahead, things would have been much different. I don’t think we would have taken penalties. We had chances at the end. As long as we’re in those spots, I guarantee the next time, we’ll put it in the back of the net. That’s where the kids learn and get better. (Falmouth) did a great job with faceoffs. They had extra possessions.”

Cape Elizabeth is second in the Western B Heals and still has several key games remaining. Thursday, the Capers visit Kennebunk and Friday they go to NYA. A home showdown with Yarmouth looms a week from Friday.

More drama looms

Barring a dramatic reversal of fortunes, Falmouth has homefield advantage sewn up for the postseason.

“Homefield is definitely huge for us,” Hanley said. “We didn’t want to play Cape at Cape.”

“Mentally, psychologically, it’s a huge advantage,” LeBel added.

The Yachtsmen won’t rest on their laurels. Friday night, they go to Yarmouth with a chance to avenge their lone loss.

“Yarmouth’s a huge game for us,” Hanley said. “We’ll try to win all our games. We look to play our best no matter what.”

“We want to go out there and give it our best Friday,” LeBel added. “We’re looking forward to it. We’re not really concerned with beating Yarmouth. If we play well, we’ll keep building on things. That game doesn’t win us the state championship.”

Talk of the Clippers notwithstanding, Cape Elizabeth and Falmouth are well aware that they’ll likely see each other a third time, June 16, in the Western B Final.

That could be a classic.

“We always get a little nervous playing a third game, whichever side we’re on,” Raymond said. “It happened a lot with us and Yarmouth. We’ll see what happens.”

“It will be great if we can play them again,” Hanley said. “I’d love to see this matchup again.”

Careful what you wish for.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]

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