LEWISTON—For two months, Cape Elizabeth’s boys’ soccer team was the class of Class B South.

But now, with the calendar reading November, it’s the Yarmouth Clippers’ time to shine.

Once again.

Wednesday evening in a memorable regional final at Don Roux Field, the third-seeded Clippers and top-ranked Capers both demonstrated what they do best and why they’re worthy of capturing a Gold Ball, but in the end, it was the defending champs who were just a little too strong.

Cape Elizabeth, which beat Yarmouth by three goals in the teams’ last meeting four weeks ago, shot to a quick lead in the eighth minute, when junior Grant Kelley set up senior Sebastian Moon for a breakaway goal and a 1-0 lead.

The Clippers answered midway through the first half, as junior Justin Dawes scored his latest big goal, but with just 2:11 remaining before the break. Capers senior Eddie Caldera finished a feed from Moon for a 2-1 advantage.

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Cape Elizabeth then came out strong in the second half, earning four corner kicks in the first four minutes while putting Yarmouth junior goalkeeper Ian O’Connor and his defense under steady pressure, but Yarmouth didn’t buckle and stayed in the contest.

The Clippers then tied the score with 33:33 to go, as senior Wyatt Anderson set up junior Zach Turkel for a shot that Capers’ senior keeper Dimitri Coupe couldn’t stop.

Both teams then had chances denied before Yarmouth scored its biggest goal of the season with 8:10 left in regulation, as off a throw from junior Jonny Fulton, the ball deflected off senior Stevie Walsh and came to senior Adam McLaughlin, who sent it home.

Cape Elizabeth couldn’t answer and the Clippers held on for a palpitating 3-2 victory.

Yarmouth won its third straight regional title, improved to 13-2-2, ended Cape Elizabeth’s superb season at 15-1-1 and advanced to the Class B state final Saturday at a time to be announced at Hampden Academy, where it will take on John Bapst (16-0-1).

“This is 100 percent one of the sweetest wins we’ve had,” said longtime Clippers’ coach Mike Hagerty, after capturing his 12th regional title in 26 seasons. “The fact we had to come back from two deficits is so impressive. That’s what these guys have done all year. They never stop working and they never think they’re out of a game.”

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Two exceptional teams

Since playing to a 1-1 draw in the season opener Sept. 3 in Yarmouth, it was clear that the Capers and Clippers were the best teams in the region.

Cape Elizabeth ran the table from there, enjoying the program’s best regular season in three decades (see sidebar for links to previous stories), out-scoring the opposition, 58-6, in its final 13 games. As the top seed, the Capers were able to dispatch No. 8 Greely in the quarterfinals (4-1) and No. 5 Gardiner in Saturday’s semifinals (2-0).

Yarmouth has been the gold standard in Class B over the past decade and enjoyed another strong season, tying Cape Elizabeth and Freeport and losing to Cape Elizabeth and Class C power Waynflete, while winning its other 10 outings. As the No. 3 seed, the Clippers had to get through rival No. 6 Freeport in the quarterfinals, but did so with ease, 5-1, then they held off No. 7 Fryeburg Academy, 1-0, in Saturday’s semifinal round.

In the teams’ first meeting, Caldera scored for the Capers and junior Zach Kelly tallied the Clippers’ goal. In the Cape Elizabeth win, Caldera, Moon and junior Sam Cochran all scored.

The teams had met four previous times in the playoffs, with Yarmouth prevailing on three occasions (see sidebar). In last year’s regional final, Tiernan Lathrop scored early to give the Capers upset hopes, but the Clippers rallied to win, 2-1, behind goals from Steve Fulton and Walsh.

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Wednesday, on a warm second day of November (61 degrees at kickoff), in front of a boisterous gathering, Cape Elizabeth again went on top, twice in fact, but once again, Yarmouth had the answers and saved its best for last to punch its ticket to the state game once more.

The Capers took it to the Clippers right away and 45 seconds into the game, sophomore Tully Haydar launched a shot which O’Connor saved.

At the other end, Dawes produced Yarmouth’s first shot, but Coupe made the save.

In the sixth minute, off a free kick from senior captain Truman Peters from the side of the box, the ball bounced to Anderson, who sent it on frame, but Coupe stopped that as well.

Cape Elizabeth then struck first in sudden fashion with 32:48 remaining in the first half, as Kelley got some room in the middle and played a through ball ahead to Moon, who got free behind the defense. O’Connor came out too late and Moon flicked it over him from about 25 yards out and the ball rolled into the goal to put the Capers on top, 1-0.

“We pressed and we tell our center-backs that one of you has to float up with their striker, but we gave (Kelley) time to turn,” Hagerty said. “He could have tied both his shoes, said hi to his Mom and played the through ball. That goal was just a loss of focus by us, then we didn’t lose focus again for the next 70 minutes. I was so proud of the fact we didn’t make that mistake again the rest of the game.”

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The Clippers then pushed for the equalizer and after Walsh sent a blast just wide, Anderson’s header off a Walsh cross went just wide and Coupe came out to intercept a Walsh through ball to Kelly.

Yarmouth got an emotional life with 23:30 left in the half, as senior Liam Hickey, who was sidelined by a hip injury since the last Cape Elizabeth game, entered the contest.

“Getting Liam in the game was unbelievable,” said O’Connor. “He’s been grinding to get back and we’re so glad to get him back. Everyone just feeds off his positive energy.”

“It’s so nice to have Liam back,” said Fulton. “He’s one of my best friends. He’s a great teammate and a great guy. He brings such a great vibe to the field.”

“Getting Liam back was a huge emotional boost,” added Hagerty, who is also Hickey’s uncle. “When he got the got the note from the doctor saying he was released, everyone cheered. He was tired and I was nervous. The coach part of me wanted him on the field, but the uncle part of me was worried because he’s still not 100 percent and we don’t want him to get hurt and ruin his other seasons.”

With 18:36 left in the half, Yarmouth pulled even, as Peters served in a corner kick to the left of Coupe and after it deflected on frame, Coupe couldn’t handle the ball and waiting by the near post, Dawes knocked it in to make it 1-1.

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The Clippers then tried to go on top, but a long shot from junior Max Gilbert was saved by Coupe, McLaughlin just missed Hickey with a long free kick and Hickey headed a Peters free kick high.

At the other end, after O’Connor denied Cochran, the Capers closed the first half on a high note.

With 2:11 to go, Moon crossed the ball to Caldera at the far post and Caldera had time to settle the ball, then kick it into the net for a 2-1 advantage.

Cape Elizabeth appeared to have momentum at the break and came out on fire to start the second half, looking to add to its lead, but Yarmouth weathered the storm.

Just seconds in, Caldera crossed the ball in front where O’Connor knocked it out, but the rebound landed at the feet of junior Alex van Huystee, who missed just wide.

The Capers then had four corner kicks in four minutes, but couldn’t convert, despite one great look off the foot of Cochran which O’Connor had to tip over the crossbar.

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“I thought I was going to be a lot more nervous than I was, but once we started playing, everything fell into place,” said O’Connor.

“We put the ball in dangerous spots and had people in the right area, but we couldn’t get a goal,” lamented Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond. “We had some great opportunities. We had corners that went off the goalie, went off the post, he pinned one against the bar. We just couldn’t get to the right spot.”

The Clippers then returned to the attack and with 33:33 to play, after a nice run and spin move by Anderson, the ball deflected right to Turkel, who ripped a shot that Coupe couldn’t stop and just like that, the game was deadlocked again, 2-2.

“How about Wyatt Anderson?” Hagerty said. “That run he made up the sideline, to keep possession tight, to do the ‘Tornado’ and find Zach. I don’t know how he found Zach. Wyatt was frustrated how he played the first Cape game, but he’s gotten so much better and I’m so proud of how he’s developed. He’s had one of the best senior years we’ve ever seen.”

As regulation wore on, it felt like “sudden victory” overtime had come early, as one more goal would likely be the difference.

Three minutes after Turkel tied it, Moon nearly put the Capers back on top when he served the ball in on a corner kick, but it tipped off O’Connor and off the crossbar and the rebound was cleared from harm’s way.

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After O’Connor bobbled then saved a shot from van Huystee, Cochran sent a rocket just high and after Haydar sent a perfect pass to Caldera down the left side, Caldera’s shot was denied by a lunging O’Connor.

With 15 minutes on the clock, Cape Elizabeth junior Keegan Lathrop got to a ball in the box and one-timed it, but O’Connor got his hand up just in time to knock it away.

Then, it was Yarmouth’s turn to go on the attack.

Off a Fulton throw, the ball came to Peters, but his shot was saved by Coupe and a rebound bid from Turkel was knocked out for a corner kick.

Fulton would get another chance to throw the ball in and this time, it found its way into the net.

From Coupe’s right, Fulton threw the ball into the box where it hit the head of Walsh and ricocheted right to McLaughlin waiting at the far post and all McLaughlin had to do was sent the ball into the net to put the Clippers ahead for the first time.

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“We had the momentum for awhile, we just needed a little space to get that goal,” said McLauglin. “Jonny threw it in, it got flicked it on and I just got to the back post and tapped it in.”

“(Liam’s) given me some tips on throws and ways to improve it,” said Fulton. “I knew it was my turn to make the throw. I threw it and Stevie had a great flick. I saw the ball going back post and I knew Adam would finish it off.”

“I thought we’d get three goals today because we’ve been getting chances,” Hagerty added. “All season, we’ve struggled on finishing runs. We know where the ball will be and we want kids to be in the right spots. We’ve been a little bit shy this year, but we were in the right spot tonight. Adam had some poor corner kicks tonight, but that goal made up for it.”

Not surprisingly, Cape Elizabeth gave all it had to rest of the way to rally, but the Capers couldn’t extend the game.

With 5:36 remaining, Fulton was able to break up a rush from Moon in the box.

Seconds later, Moon tried to serve the ball in to Caldera, but O’Connor got there first.

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Then, with 2:35 left, the ball was served in toward Cochran, who gave up his body and managed to connect on a bicycle kick which sailed off the crossbar.

“We marked Sam most of the first half, then we played straight up,” Hagerty said. “Once we started winning, we marked him again immediately. He’s so good all over the field. I do think he’s their most dangerous all-around player.”

The Capers never got another chance and with time winding down, McLaughlin, fittingly, cleared the ball away and at 5:40 p.m, the Clippers were able to celebrate their 3-2 victory.

“It feels amazing,” said McLaughlin. “It’s the best feeling. We had a strong end to the season after we lost to Cape and it really boosted our confidence coming into playoffs. We wanted to leave everything on the field because it could have been our last game. We kept our heads and stayed organized at the end. We made some mistakes in the first half, but we cleaned it up in the second half and our goalkeeper did really well. It was tough to hold them off.”

“We’re used to being down, unfortunately, and this was our first time being underdogs in a long time, but we wanted to prove everyone wrong and we really stepped up,” O’Connor said.

“It’s definitely one of the best moments of my life,” Fulton said. “I think that the confidence from our last two playoff games and knowing our chemistry is unmatched, we know we can out-hustle anyone and we have the heart to win. They’ve got some strong strikers and midfielders and I knew they’d keep pushing. We managed to out-hustle them and keep them out.”

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“Cape’s so good offensively, they’re never out of a game,” Hagerty added. “You can’t give them shots.

“We knew a lot of kids would have to play new roles this year. We’ve had some great classes the past few years, so this year’s seniors hadn’t had to do much but follow. We’ve scored so many late goals in games. We’ve scored from behind. We never quit. That’s a testament to their leadership. It just took a little bit longer than normal to figure it out this year.”

O’Connor dazzled with eight saves and he got some big-time help from his defense, led by Fulton and junior Sam Lowenstein.

“Everyone stepped up,” said O’Connor. “When I mis-cleared it, the backs were there to get it out. Sam and Jonny have been amazing. These last three games have been the best games I’ve seen them play and the backs in general. We’ve tightened it up.”

“Ian made some big saves,” Hagerty said. “He was the player of the second half. He stayed strong and focused. Kudos to him and (assistant) Coach (Dale) Wing. We’re so lucky to have Coach Wing training our goalies every day. There’s a reason we’ve had good goalies consistently the last 20 years and it’s Coach Wing. Ian got the game ball tonight because he was that good.

“Sam and Jonny have been rocks for us. Jonny made a play near the end, where he stripped Caldera in the corner. That was amazing. His composure has improved so much.”

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A bitter end

Cape Elizabeth enjoyed a 10-7 advantage in shots on frame, got four saves from Coupe and had an 8-5 edge in corner kicks, but its season ended in abject agony.

Despite a heroic effort.

“I thought we played well the entire game,” Raymond said. “Yarmouth’s a very good team. They’re very dangerous on free kicks and that’s where they had some success. Credit to them. They cashed in on their opportunities. I think they had better chances than we did in the first half, but in the second half, we did a better job keeping them in check. The difference in these games is who decides to do something great. They had guys at the right place at the right time.

“We talked about how this game doesn’t define our great season. All the time you spent together on the field, being the regular season champions, there’s a lot to be said for that. That’s being at your best every single game, not just once in awhile. The kids knew what we wanted to do and we knew how we wanted to do it. We pretty much executed what we wanted, the ball just didn’t bounce our way when we needed it to and it bounced their way, as it often does.

“I don’t know if it’s a missed opportunity. All we can ask for is an opportunity. We had an opportunity that most teams don’t have. We didn’t miss the opportunity, it just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to. That’s part of it. That’s the great thing about high school sports. There’s going to be a winner and there’s going to be a loser and being on both sides of that teaches you a lot.”

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The Capers have to say goodbye to a number of senior standouts who made an indelible impact on the program and nearly brought Cape Elizabeth back to the promised land.

“The seniors were talented without a doubt and they’re great leaders and great men,” Raymond said. “They set the tone every day and did a great job of doing that all season long.”

The 2023 Capers will look to channel this year’s heartbreak into a title run and they could be on the brink of finally breaking through.

“I think we’ll be good next year,” Raymond said. “The guys will be motivated. Hopefully they’ll get another chance.”

Going for another one

Yarmouth, which is going after the 15th championship in its history, a state record, has never met John Bapst, which downed reigning Class B North champion Winslow, 2-0, in its regional final Wednesday.

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The Clippers, who have made a habit of capturing hardware in November, don’t care who they square off against. They believe that if they follow their formula and play with poise and confidence, another Gold Ball accompany them home Saturday.

“We have to really focus and practice hard for the next couple days,” McLaughlin said. “We’ll go in confident, but not over-confident.”

“We have to maintain our focus and our work ethic,” Fulton said. “I think we have in it us. We just have to play our game and keep our great team chemistry.”

“We need to do what we did tonight and maybe clean up a few mistakes,” said O’Connor. “If we do that, we’ll be ready.”

Yarmouth’s girls are also going for a Class B state title Saturday and that isn’t all that’s happening in the soccer-mad community.

“I loved the fact that the girls were here tonight and so many youth and middle school students were here too,” Hagerty said. “This weekend, my daughter’s U-14 girls’ team is playing for a state title, the U-14 boys, U-13 boys and U-12 boys are all playing for state titles. Of the six state titles in youth sports this weekend, four involve Yarmouth teams.”

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

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