Yarmouth senior Liam Ireland, second from right, is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the lone goal in the Clippers’ 1-0 win at Freeport Tuesday night. Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald photos. More photos below.

FREEPORT—Yarmouth’s boys’ soccer team already had victories over top contenders York, Cape Elizabeth and Greely under its belt to start the 2019 season, but the Clippers faced their biggest test to date Tuesday evening when they traveled to Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field to meet defending Class B South champion Freeport Tuesday night.

But like it has all season, Yarmouth rose to the occasion and emerged victorious.

With the Clippers’ staunch defense holding the injury-plagued Falcons in check, senior Liam Ireland produced the game’s lone goal in the 33rd minute.

Yarmouth allowed just one shot on frame all night and while the Clippers couldn’t tickle the twine again, they did prevail, 1-0, to further stake their claim as the team to beat in the region.

Yarmouth improved to 5-0 and handed Freeport its first loss, dropping the Falcons to 2-1-1 in the process.

“I’m pleased with the outcome,” said longtime Clippers coach Mike Hagerty, who has never lost to Freeport in his 23 seasons. “It felt like we moved the ball well. There’s not a lot of separation between the top teams. Any of us can knock off any of the other teams on any night.”

Intensity

The Yarmouth-Freeport rivalry ratcheted up a notch last year for a couple of reasons.

For starters, the Falcons became truly competitive against the Clippers for the first time and by the end of the season, Freeport had dethroned Yarmouth as Class B South champion.

The teams weren’t able to do battle in the Class B South Final due to Cape Elizabeth ending the Clippers’ four-year title reign in the semifinals and the Falcons went on to the state final for the first time in four decades, which they lost, 3-2, in overtime to Persque Isle.

Freeport opened 2019 with a 5-0 home win over Gray-New Gloucester, then settled for a 2-2 draw at Greely. Saturday, the Falcons returned to the win column at home over Lake Region, 3-0.

Yarmouth, meanwhile, started with a 3-1 home win over York, then blanked host Lake Region (7-0), host Cape Elizabeth in a playoff rematch (1-0) and visiting Greely (4-0).

In 2018, Freeport played host Yarmouth to a 1-1 tie, its first positive result against the Clippers since Hagerty took over as Yarmouth coach in 1997, then the Clippers prevailed in Freeport, 2-1.

Tuesday, the Falcons looked for their first win over Yarmouth this century, but the Clippers completed their first go-round against top rivals with a narrow victory.

In the seventh minute, Yarmouth earned a corner kick which forced Freeport senior goalkeeper Gabe Wagner to punch the ball out of harm’s way.

In the eighth minute, senior John Clinton played a nice ball ahead to senior Will Nicholas, who one-timed a shot over Wagner’s head, but it sailed over the crossbar.

Later in the first half, Nicholas missed just wide and Wagner made a terrific save on a header by Clinton, off a cross from Ireland.

With 12:34 remaining before halftime, the Clippers came oh-so-close to going on top, as Ireland’s one-timer appeared goal-bound, but Falcons senior Aidan Gallagher cleared it away at the last second.

Finally, with 7:54 on the first half clock, Yarmouth got the jump.

The goal came as the result of a failed Freeport clear, as Ireland pounced on the ball, raced in and beat Wagner with a low shot to make it 1-0.

“I saw an opportunity and I kept going and drove in,” Ireland said. “The goalie saw I had a crossing opportunity. I crossed it a couple plays earlier, so I faked the cross and tucked it front post and I don’t think he expected it.”

“Liam scored a great goal,” Hagerty said. “If anything, we want him to be more selfish. He distributes and plays so well. I’m so impressed with how he plays offensively and defensively. The best players make the players around him better and he’s done that this year.”

Yarmouth senior Liam Ireland (9) is congratulated by classmate Jason Lainey after putting the Clippers on top.

With 3:01 left in the half, the Falcons nearly the tied the score on their best chance, but sophomore Owen Howarth’s header on the doorstep was nabbed by Yarmouth senior goalkeeper Isaac Owen.

The Clippers had all three corner kicks and held a 3-1 edge in first half shots, but only clung to a one-goal lead as the second half commenced.

Freeport had a good early chance in the second half, as Howarth delivered a promising cross, but Owen came out to snare it.

Yarmouth then looked to add to its lead, but senior Alejandro Coury missed just wide and Ireland hit the side netting.

With 32:43 remaining in regulation, the Falcons, who were already playing without injured senior Jesse Bennell, lost another standout, as senior Will Winter tried to get to a feed from senior Finn Sheehan, but was beaten to the ball by Owen and the ensuing collision resulted in Winter having to leave the game.

Howarth later went down with a leg cramp, but was able to return. Regardless, Freeport couldn’t produce the equalizer.

Late in regulation, junior Will Dickinson hit the side net for Yarmouth, Owen came out and headed away a pass from junior Ethan Prescott to Howarth and a final Falcons’ corner kick was cleared, allowing the Clippers to celebrate their hard-earned 1-0 victory.

“It was a battle, but we played well as a team and we grinded it out,” Ireland said. “We could have scored more, but we kept pushing and our defense was so strong. It was a tough challenge. They had injuries, so when we play them again, we’ll have to play even harder.”

“I thought we had three good chances in the first half and at least three in the second half and if we bury half of those it’ll be a comfortable game, but it’s never comfortable against Freeport,” Hagerty said. “We counted 30 fouls between the two teams. It’s hard to get a flow going with that many fouls.

“Give them credit. When Will misses 30 minutes and Jesse misses the entire game, that’s two of the best players in the conference and that’s huge. Freeport’s center backs are very good and their goalie did a nice job coming off his line. He’s very athletic. We know how good (Freeport senior back) Sam (Larochelle) is. Hopefully they’ll be healthy when we play them again.”

Yarmouth outshot Freeport, 5-1, on frame got one save from Owen and took five corner kicks to one by the Falcons.

“I like how our defense is holding up,” Hagerty said. “We held Greely to no shots and Cape to two shots. We’ve limited shots and Isaac is a rock. He’s coming out and handling crosses and clearing the ball. (Sophomore) Steve Fulton and (senior) Jason Lainey are doing a good job solidifying the midfield.”

Wagner made four saves for the Falcons, who did their best despite being shorthanded.

“It’s frustrating, but it gives some of the other guys a chance to play minutes that we’ll need from them at the end of the season,” said Freeport coach Bob Strong. “I’m very pleased with the contributions we got from guys off the bench. Keigan Shea, Eli Anderson, a couple sophomores. (Yarmouth’s) so tough to defend. Liam and Alejandro in the middle are so crafty. We had our hands full, but I’m so proud of how well and disciplined our back line played. (Yarmouth) had more opportunities than we did and we made one mistake, but all in all, I think we leave this game a better team.”

Until next time

The rivals play again Oct. 10 in Yarmouth, but there’s a lot to be determined in the interim.

Freeport has two tough road games upcoming, at York Friday and at Cape Elizabeth Tuesday of next week.

“I’m pleased with the effort and we’ll move forward,” Strong said. “Getting Jesse back in the lineup is a big piece for us. When we do, that will give the team confidence that we’ll have one more player on the field against top teams.”

Yarmouth, meanwhile, has three straight at home, versus defending Class D champion North Yarmouth Academy Saturday, Fryeburg Academy next Tuesday and Poland Saturday of next week.

“We’re still on top and we have to keep playing well because there’s not a lot of room for error if we want to stay on top,” Ireland said. “We all feel last year deeply. We remember how it felt. We don’t want that feeling again, so we’re working hard to avoid that outcome. Our defense has been really good. We have to work on finishing and take advantage of opportunities, so these games aren’t as close as they’ve been.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Yarmouth sophomore Steven Fulton chases the ball as Freeport senior Sam Larochelle closes in.

Yarmouth senior Jason Lainey and Freeport junior Ethan Prescott battle in the air.

Freeport sophomore Keigan Shea defends Yarmouth junior Will Hunter.

Yarmouth senior Aidan Hickey and Freeport senior Finn Sheehan fight for possession.

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