Yarmouth’s Byron Bergeron (54) and Henry Venden (12) celebrate Saturday’s dramatic 17-14 come-from-behind victory in the Class C South Final. Ben McCanna / Press Herald photos


Yarmouth 17 Wells 14

W- 14 0 0 0- 14
Y- 7 7 0 3- 17

First quarter
W- Chase 45 run (Reidy kick)
W- Chase 1 run (Reidy kick)
Y- Snyder 82 pass from Thoma (Beatty kick)

Second quarter
Y- Snyder 7 run (Beatty kick)

Third quarter
No scoring

Fourth quarter
Y- Beatty 37 FG

(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared Nov. 14, 2015)

YARMOUTH—For nearly three months, Yarmouth’s football team entertained the dream of playing for a Gold Ball.

A little more than seven minutes into Saturday’s Class C South Final against Wells, the Clippers’ dream had become a nightmare.

Yarmouth surrendered two quick touchdowns and even worse, lost senior standout Cody Cook, a captain and sparkplug, for the game with a knee injury.

But with its season on the brink of ending in disappointment and despair, the Clippers showed why they believe they can become champions.

Yarmouth got a much-needed jolt when junior quarterback John Thoma connected with senior star Jack Snyder for an 82-yard touchdown pass and the Clippers were right back in the game.

When Snyder scored on a 7 yard run with 7:29 to go in the first half, the Clippers, improbably, had pulled even, 14-14.

Yarmouth’s defense wasn’t about to budge from there, but the Warriors’ D was just as formidable and neither team scored the rest of the first half or in the third quarter, as the Clippers hardly had any possession and they had to turn Wells away deep in their territory time and again.

With 3:58 to play in regulation, Yarmouth got the ball at its 32 and finally moved, thanks to Snyder, who had a 57 yard TD scamper called back, but that helped the Clippers nonetheless move deep into Warriors’ territory, setting the stage for the go-ahead points.

With 2:16 remaining, senior placekicker Andrew Beatty, who a week ago played an integral role in Yarmouth’s boys’ soccer state title, drilled a 37-yard field goal and the Clippers led for the first time.

Yarmouth then got a defensive stop, but had to kick the ball back to Wells, giving the Warriors one final chance and while the visitors did reach the Clippers’ 23, they ran out of time and Yarmouth produced one of the signature wins in its impressive history, 17-14.

The Clippers pitched a shutout over the final 40 minutes 38 seconds, improved to 11-0, ended Wells’ fine season at 8-3 and advanced to meet Winslow (10-0) in the Class C state final Saturday, Nov. 21 at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland at a time to be announced.

“It speaks to the character of our kids,” said Yarmouth coach Jason Veilleux. “I’m incredibly proud of them. They never stopped believing. Even down a couple scores and losing Cody, they never stopped.”

Too close to call

Yarmouth and Wells had no playoff history entering Saturday’s contest, but the clubs were well acquainted, thanks to a fight to the finish on Oct. 2, which saw the Clippers eke out a 16-15 decision.

That was part of a perfect regular season which gave Yarmouth the top seed for the Class C South playoffs. The Clippers then dominated No. 8 Mountain Valley (50-15) in the quarterfinals and fourth-ranked Fryeburg Academy (54-12) in the semifinals to advance.

Wells was shocked at home by Fryeburg Academy in week three and lost by a point at Yarmouth, but the Warriors beat everyone else to earn the No. 3 seed in the region. After a decisive 55-0 win over No. 6 Poland in the quarterfinals, Wells rallied to knock off second-ranked Cape Elizabeth in last week’s semifinals, 20-14.

Saturday, the Warriors came out sizzling and appeared en route to an easy win, but the Clippers refused to buckle and rallied for a victory that will long be hailed.

Wells won the opening coin toss and with the temperature reading 41 degrees, with a brisk 17 mile-per-hour wind blowing out of the northwest, Yarmouth got the ball first, but quickly went three-and-out.

After senior Lucas Uhl was thrown for a two-yard loss on the first offensive play of the game, Snyder ran for three, but Thoma threw incomplete and the Clippers had to punt.

After a nice return, the Warriors started at Yarmouth’s 46 and two plays and 52 seconds later, had the lead.

After junior Nick Hansen ran for a yard, senior Reid Chase got the ball and he broke free up the gut and didn’t stop until crossing the goal line for a 45 yard touchdown run with 9:42 to go in the first quarter. Junior Keegan Reidy added the extra point and Wells had delivered the first blow and led, 7-0.

Things then went from bad to far worse for the Clippers, as Cook took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 15 yards to the 30, but after being tackled, Cook tried to get up, wasn’t able to and had to be attended to by the Yarmouth training staff before being helped off the field as his day was done.

“I’m guessing Cody is probably lost for the season,” Veilleux said, after the game. “He had to work back from tendinitis in the preseason. It’s tough.”

Yarmouth’s fortunes continued to go downhill, as after Thoma hit freshman Noah Eckersley-Ray for eight yards, he threw incomplete and after a false start penalty backed the Clippers up five yards, junior Remi Leblanc ran for five, but he fumbled and Wells recovered at the Yarmouth 42.

Eight plays and 4:02 later, the Warriors doubled their lead.

After senior Sam Hazlett lost three yards, junior quarterback Owen Berry kept the ball and gained 19 for a first down at the 26. After senior Evan Whitten ran for five yards, Uhl sacked Berry for a seven-yard loss and Berry threw incomplete, setting up fourth-and-12. Chase moved the chains, however, running for 16 yards to the 12. After the Clippers jumped offsides, Whitten bulled his way to the 1 and on the next play, Chase capped the drive with a 1-yard run and Reidy’s extra point made it 14-0 Wells with 4:38 to go in the first quarter.

At that point, the thought that the Warriors wouldn’t score again and that Yarmouth would find a way to rise off the deck and win seemed utterly improbable at best.

But the Clippers’ finest hour was yet to come.

Yarmouth started its next drive at its 24, but Snyder was thrown for a six-yard loss by junior Riley Dempsey on first down and Thoma threw incomplete to set up third-and-16 from the 18.

It was long yardage, but as it turned out, the Clippers had the Warriors right where they wanted them.

Thoma dropped back and heaved a long pass over the middle. At first, it appeared it would be too far for Snyder to catch, but Snyder reached out to snare the ball at midfield, then he outran the pursuit to complete an exhilarating 82 yard catch and run.

Yarmouth senior Jack Snyder breaks away for a touchdown to get the Clippers back in the game.

With 3:48 left in the quarter, Beatty added the extra point and just like that, Yarmouth was right back in the game, down, 14-7.

“We’ve scouted them all week,” Snyder said. “We knew that would be open. John and I made a little connection in the huddle and he hit me in the right spot. It was a good pass. I don’t like when the ball’s in other people’s hands. I like to control the game myself. That boosted our confidence and made us feel we could stick with them.”

“We needed that long play to Snyder, that touchdown pass, to get that belief that we were still in it,” Veilleux said. “After that, they never lost that belief. To give Cape credit, we saw things from their film (against Wells) that we knew we could take advantage of. Luckily, we caught them with it early. They made adjustments and we had a hard time after. We knew running would be tough against these guys. We keep trying different things until we find what works.”

After Wells started at its 18 due to a block in the back penalty on the ensuing kickoff, Hansen ran for a yard, the Warriors recovered a fumbled exchange and Berry threw incomplete, necessitating a punt. Whitten then kicked the ball just 21 yards and with exactly two minutes to play in the opening stanza, Yarmouth started at the Warriors’ 39.

The Clippers couldn’t take advantage of their field position, however, as Thoma threw three straight incompletions and Wells got the ball back at its 10. After Hansen was held to no gain, Dempsey moved the chains with a 20 yard rush. Hansen was held to no gain, then, on the final play of the quarter, Hansen picked up 10 yards and a first down at the 40.

The Warriors held an 88-85 edge in first period yardage, but couldn’t finish the drive, as Chase gained a yard, Dempsey ran for five and after a false start, Berry was sacked by Yarmouth senior Tyler Waaler. There was a facemask penalty on the sack, allowing Wells to run another play, but Berry threw incomplete and Whitten’s next punt went for only 11 yards, giving the Clippers the ball at their 45 with 10:39 to go in the half.

Again, Yarmouth couldn’t take advantage, as Leblanc ran for six yards and Thoma hit senior Noah Colby-George for four yards and a first down, but on the next snap, Thoma tried to throw deep down the left sideline, only to have his pass intercepted by Hansen at the Wells 15.

The Clippers’ defense then came up huge, as after Chase ran for a yard, Yarmouth forced a fumble and recovered at the Warriors’ 14.

Three plays later, the game was tied.

After Thoma connected with Snyder for seven yards, Thoma was held to no gain.

The Clippers then mixed it up, putting Snyder in the ‘Wildcat’ formation and he took the direct snap, ran to his left and followed the blocking of senior Ricky Tillotson into the end zone for a 7 yard TD scamper, which capped the 72-second drive.

“We just put the ‘Wildcat’ in this week,” Snyder said. “Ricky did a great job getting out there to block.”

“We tried some ‘Wildcat,’” Veilleux said. “It originally was designed for Cody. He took the reps in practice, but we knew Snyder could run it as well. He made some big plays and it worked when we needed it. We put Ricky back there to block and that made the difference.”

With 7:29 to go in the half, Beatty tied the score, 14-14, with an extra point.

And neither team would score again for a long, long time.

Wells started to move again on its next drive. The Warriors began at their 32 and Chase ran for six yards, then 10, for a first down at the 48. After Whitten ran for eight yards, he picked up two more for a first down at the Clippers’ 42. Yarmouth senior Joey Fortin then came up huge, stopping Dempsey for no gain and after Wells had a false start, Fortin sacked Berry for an eight-yard loss. Following another false start, Berry threw incomplete and the Warriors had to punt.

With 2:48 left before halftime, the Clippers got the ball at their 42, but after Snyder ran for a yard and Thoma hit Eckersley-Ray for seven, Thoma twice threw incomplete and Wells got the ball back on downs at midfield with a little over a minute left.

The Warriors hoped to take the lead by halftime, but after Chase ran for six yards, Tillotson threw Berry for a loss of five, Whitten got four yards back and on the final play of the half, Eckersley-Ray intercepted a pass downfield to send the game to the break deadlocked at 14-14.

In the first half, Wells had 104 yards of offense to 103 for Yarmouth. The Warriors got 86 yards and two TDs on eight carries from Chase, but were hindered by two turnovers and three penalties for 15 yards. Thoma completed 5 of 14 passes for 108 yards and a score (Snyder had two catches for 89 yards and a TD), but two turnovers and three penalties for 25 yards prevented the Clippers from having the lead.

The game then turned into a defensive battle of attrition in the second half.

After deferring at the game’s onset, Wells got the ball first in the third quarter and moved the chains as Dempsey ran for four yards, Chase picked up four more and Whitten gained two for a first down at the 30. After Hansen picked up five yards, Chase ran for one and Hansen was held to two, forcing a punt.

Yarmouth got the ball at its 39, but discovered that the Warriors’ defense had turned it up a notch, as Uhl was held to no gain, Uhl ran for three yards, then Thoma threw incomplete.

Wells started at its 46 on its next series. After Hansen was held to no gain and Dempsey ran for four yards, Berry hit junior Jordan Cluff, who made the first of his pretty catches, good for 29 yards and a first down at the Clippers’ 21. Whitten ran for four yards and after the Warriors committed another false start penalty, Yarmouth negated it by jumping offsides. A six-yard Whitten run set up third-and-inches at the 11, but the Clippers rose to the challenge, stuffing Berry for no gain and on fourth-and-one, Fortin dropped Chase for a one-yard loss and the hosts got the ball back on downs at their 12.

Yarmouth picked up a first down on a pass interference penalty, but two plays later, Thoma again was intercepted by Hansen on a pass down the left sideline and with 2:41 to go in the third period, Wells had the ball its 45.

After Berry was held to no gain on a broken play, Dempsey ran for nine yards and only an ankle tackle by Snyder prevented a touchdown. Whitten moved the chains with a one-yard run and Dempsey ran for two, but on the next play, Dempsey appeared to have a nine-yard gain, but a holding penalty backed the Warriors into their own territory as the third quarter gave way to the fourth.

Before the first snap of the final stanza, Wells committed an illegal motion penalty. Berry hit Dempsey for 13 yards, then threw incomplete and the Warriors had to punt again.

With 11:33 to go, Yarmouth, which mustered just eight third quarter yards, started at its 18 and again went nowhere, as an illegal blocking penalty set it backwards and two Thoma incompletions (both Cluff and Dempsey dropped potential pick-sixes) were sandwiched around a Warriors’ sack, necessitating another punt.

A nice return seemingly set Wells up in golden position, at the Clippers’ 26, but after a fumbled exchange resulted in a three-yard loss, Chase was stuffed, fumbled and Yarmouth recovered to dodge that bullet.

The Clippers couldn’t take advantage, although they did pick up one first down. After a false start, Thoma hit Snyder for 17 yards, putting the ball at the 40. After Thoma hit Leblanc for a yard, Snyder lost three yards and Thoma was sacked for an eight-yard loss by junior Deandre Woods, forcing a punt.

With 7:14 left, the Warriors started at their 33 and after Dempsey ran for one yard, he broke free and only a last-second tackle by Eckersley-Ray prevented a score, as Dempsey gained 28 yards to the Yarmouth 38.

Again the Clippers stiffened, as Dempsey ran for three yards, Dempsey was held to no gain, Whitten ran for four yards and on fourth-and-3, Dempsey was thrown for a one-yard loss by Leblanc, giving Yarmouth the ball at its 32 with 3:58 left.

And this time, the Clippers got their offense in gear.

After Thoma hit Snyder for 11 yards, Snyder took the ball, ran through a hole on the right side and raced down the sidelines for an apparent 57 yard touchdown. The score didn’t stand, however, as there was a hold behind the play and the points came off the board, but Yarmouth had a first down at the Wells 32.

“I was pretty hyped, then I looked back and saw the flag,” Snyder said. “It was frustrating, the worst feeling.”

Snyder ran for 11 more yards for a first down at the 21, but the drive stalled, as Uhl and Snyder both gained one yard, then Snyder lost a yard.

With 2:16 to go, Beatty came on to the field to attempt the biggest field goal of his life and his 37-yard boot left no doubt and split the uprights for a 17-14 lead.

“I wasn’t really thinking, actually,” said Beatty, who turned heads by making a huge defensive save in last week’s soccer state game. “When I think, I overthink. I knew Ricky would snap it well. I knew Thoma would hold it well and I just had to kick. I started kicking sophomore year because football needed a kicker and I’ve kicked every since. It all led to this moment. I hit it with the top of my toe and I didn’t know if it would make it. I looked up and it was down the middle. I just hoped it would get there. It was a great feeling.  I’d like to thank (athletic director) Susan Robbins for giving me the opportunity to do this and Coach Veilleux and (boys’ soccer) Coach (Mike) Hagerty for being so supportive in this process.”

No one in blue and white was surprised when Beatty connected.

“I was confident,” Tillotson said. “He’s probably one of the best kickers in the state and he got it done for us.”

“He’s a great kicker,” Snyder said. “I’m glad we have him.”

“If we were kicking against the wind, we might not have done that, but Andrew has made big kicks all season,” Veilleux added. “We were pretty confident. He’s been phenomenal for us all year. I’m happy for him.”

The win was now in the hands of the Yarmouth defense and after a few anxious moments over a pair of possessions, the Clippers sealed the deal.

Wells got the ball at its 24 with 2:10 to play and on first down, Cluff made a tremendous diving catch for 25 yards to the 49. After Berry threw incomplete, Cluff made an even better diving catch for 31 yards and just like that, the Warriors were at the Yarmouth 20.

Wells couldn’t finish, however, as a false start was followed by a two-yard Hansen run, a pair of Berry incompletions and after another false start, an incomplete pass which gave the Clippers the ball back on downs at their 28 with just 1:14 remaining.

Wells still had two timeouts and prevented Yarmouth from running out the clock.

Snyder took the direct snap and ran for two yards, then three, but with a chance to ice the win on third-and-5, he was thrown for a seven-yard loss and the Clippers had to punt.

With the Warriors bringing the house, hoping for a block, Thoma got the punt off and Eckersley-Ray wisely let the ball bounce and clock tick until the ball was downed at the Yarmouth 44.

“I was hoping not to punt, but their defense is really good,” Veilleux said. “We focused on ball security at that point. John did a good job punting. Noah was smart and let the wind blow the ball. That’s a heads-up play from a freshman. Little things like that make the difference.”

Wells was within range of pulling it out or possibly kicking a field goal to send the game to overtime, but only 23.4 seconds remained and again, the Warriors were their own worst enemy, taking consecutive false starts to push the ball back to their 46.

After Berry hit Dempsey for eight yards, Wells tried a hook-and-ladder, which worked well against Cape Elizabeth, but after Cluff caught the pass and pitched it to Hansen, it only gained four yards. With time winding down, Berry hit Cluff for 21 yards to the Yarmouth 23, but only 1.7 seconds were left and when Berry struggled with the ensuing snap before spiking the ball, the remaining time came off the clock.

At 2:59 p.m., after 2 hours and 30 minutes of breathtaking football, the Clippers were able to celebrate their 17-14 triumph.

“That was pretty nervewracking,” Beatty said. “They fought hard. They’re one of the best teams in the state. We held them off. This team’s gone through so much. We fought through adversity. The team persevered. It’s pretty cool.”

“That last minute felt like 10,” said Tillotson. “After those two big plays, it was stressful. Personally, I knew we could do it and I knew we’d pull through. We were playing on our homefield. We have a lot of pride. We were undefeated. We rallied around each other. We’re a band of brothers. That’s what got us through this. We had our backs against the wall, but we did what we had to do. Seeing Cody go down was tough, but we rallied around that and got it done for him. “

“We all picked each other up,” Snyder said. “We have a lot of grit. We didn’t want to let them score. I thought it was over when we stopped them the first time. When we came out and had to do it again, it was nervewracking. It’s been so hard. So much work on the practice field, in the weight room. It takes a toll, but it’s been our dream since day one to go to states.”

“That’s not one I want to go through again,” Veilleux added. “It’s exhilaration and relief. I was up at 3 a.m. this morning. I couldn’t sleep. I knew it would be tough. We’ve had a close Wells game before, the Cape game, this one. I don’t know how much more my heart can take. Having seniors helped. We don’t get this far without their leadership. I’ve been with them since the seventh grade. They know me, I know them.”

Yarmouth only managed 141 yards, turned the ball over three times and was penalized eight times for 80 yards, but thanks to a transcendent defensive effort, survived and advanced.

“We started playing faster and hitting harder and shut down the middle, which is what they wanted,” Tillotson said.

“I can’t take any credit for the defense,” Veilleux said. “Our defensive coordinator, Jim Werner, and (assistant coaches) Mike Gagnon, Rick (Tillotson) and Jay (Snyder), they do that. They made some phenomenal adjustments at halftime and that made the difference.”

Snyder had four catches for 117 yards and a touchdown and ran 13 times for 36 yards and a score.

Thoma finished 8 of 22 for 137 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.

Uhl was held to 1 yard on three carries.

Leblanc had two rushes for 11 yards and caught a pass for 1 yard.

Eckersley-Ray caught two balls for 15 yards and Colby-George had one catch for 4 yards.

Wells had 278 yards of offense, but was doomed by three turnovers and a whopping 11 penalties for 68 yards.

Chase ran for 61 yards on his first two carries, but wound up with only 30 on his next 10 to finish with 91 yards and two TDs on a dozen attempts.

Hansen had 21 yards on eight carries.

Berry threw 16 times, completing six for 110 yards. He was intercepted once. Berry ran four times for 14 yards.

Whitten had 36 yards on nine rushes.

Dempsey rushed for 76 yards on 11 carries and had two receptions for 21 yards.

Cluff finished with four receptions for 89 yards.

Gold Ball beckons

Yarmouth will play in the state final for the first time since 2011 and the third time overall when it meets Winslow Saturday. The teams did meet in the quarterfinals three years ago, a 50-22 romp for the Black Raiders.

Adding some intrigue to the state final, as if it needed any, is the fact that Veilleux (Class of 1992) was once a Winslow quarterback.

“It will be a bit of a surreal situation, but I went up there as (an assistant coach) in 2012,” Veilleux said. “That was weird being on the opposite sideline. Their staff is legendary. Hopefully I can keep the focus on the kids. They’re the ones who earned it and deserve it.”

Yarmouth will have its hands full with the Black Raiders, who won the Class C title a year ago and stayed perfect Friday night with a 40-21 win over Old Town in a battle of unbeatens in the Class C North Final.

As daunting as their task may be, the Clippers can’t wait to take to the big stage next Saturday.

“They have a pretty good defense,” Snyder said. “We have to come out firing.”

“We’re excited to win a conference championship and now we’re looking ahead to Winslow,” said Tillotson. “We have to stay within ourselves, keep our heads down, do our hard work in practice all week, play our style of football and I think we’ll do what we have to do.”

“It was our goal from the beginning to get to states and win it as well,” Veilleux added. “Winslow’s defense is phenomenal, but so was Wells’ and Cape’s. We’ll see what we can do to poke holes and see what we can take advantage of. We’ll try to find where they’re weak, but there aren’t a whole lot of weaknesses in that defense. Losing Cody is crushing, but we’ll make do. We have good kids. If they step up, we’ll figure it out.”

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

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