PORTLAND—Nobody saw this coming.
A highly anticipated Class C boys’ lacrosse state final rematch between longtime rivals North Yarmouth Academy and Waynflete that instead of turning into a fight to the finish proved to be just the opposite.
Resulting in a Flyers coronation, as this time, no extra time would be necessary.
In fact, top-ranked, reigning champion Waynflete seized control by racing to a 5-0 lead after one quarter, stretched it 10-3 at halftime and thanks to some key saves from senior goalie Avi Israel in the third period, went up by as many as 10 goals before cruising home to a 14-6 victory.
The Flyers got 15 saves from Israel, five goals from senior Seth Cloutier and three goals and three assists from senior Roan Hopkins, whose early determination set the tone, as they finished 15-2, closed on an 11-game surge, ended NYA’s season at 11-6 and in the process, captured Class C for the third year in a row and won the program’s fifth all-time title.
“I was expecting a similar game to last year,” said Waynflete coach Andrew Leach. “You always worry about senioritis with this many seniors, but with this group, I never had those worries. The fact they were able to come out here and dominate is amazing.”
Last June 18, Waynflete and NYA produced debatably one of the finest state games ever seen in Maine, indisputably the longest, as a last-second Panthers’ rally forced overtime, but in the second OT, then-sophomore Jacob Woodman played the hero, as his goal gave the Flyers a 9-8 victory and their second consecutive championship (see sidebar for previous state game results for both schools and previous playoff NYA vs. Waynflete playoff results).
With almost everyone back, the Flyers wore the favorite’s bulls-eye this spring and wore it well (see sidebar for links to previous game stories), losing only at eventual Class B state champion York and at home to eventual Class A state finalist South Portland (by a single goal). Waynflete won its other 12 games by an average of over seven goals. The Flyers beat Class A contenders Cheverus, Gorham and Windham, Class B powers Greely and Yarmouth and their top Class C competition, Freeport, Oak Hill, NYA and Wells.
Waynflete opened the playoffs with a 13-0 blanking of No. 9 Gray-New Gloucester in the state quarterfinals, then ousted No. 4 Oak Hill, 13-6, in Wednesday’s state semifinals.
NYA, which left Fitzpatrick Stadium last June vowing to come back to hopefully face Waynflete again with a title on the line, was just 3-3 at one juncture, then won six straight before closing with losses to Yarmouth (in overtime) and Waynflete.
The Panthers dominated No. 6 Lincoln Academy (17-1) in the state quarterfinals, then held off No. 2 Wells (7-5) in the semifinals, avenging a regular season loss in the process.
The teams met in the regular season finale June 3 in Portland, but due to bad weather, were only able to play 20 minutes and 36 seconds and when recurring thunder caused the contest to be called prematurely, the Flyers were up, 3-1, and deemed the winner.
The teams hoped to meet again and after a 48-hour delay due to another bout of bad weather, they squared off Monday.
Waynflete had won three of four prior playoff encounters, including last year’s victory.
NYA sought its first championship since 2019 and its fourth all-time, but it would be Waynflete celebrating for the third consecutive season and for the fifth time in program history.
Thanks in large part to a sizzling start.
The Panthers had the game’s first look, but freshman Gavin Thomas was denied by Israel.
Then, with 8:03 to go in the opening stanza, Hopkins set the tone with an unassisted goal to put the Flyers in front for good.
“The coaches prepare us really well,” Hopkins said. “I think we have the best coaching staff in the state. They prepare us from stretching and throwing and catching to now. We came to play. We come to the field and we were ready. The shooters came to shoot today.”
NYA tried to counter, but Israel denied junior Nate Oney, then senior Brayden Warde hit the post.
Cloutier then scored for the first time with 4:41 on the clock, scoring unassisted after a turnover.
After Israel saved another Warde shot, Hopkins fought through the defense for an unassisted goal with 1:58 remaining.
With Waynflete gaining more confidence by the minute, Hopkins set up Cloutier for a goal with 54.8 seconds showing, then just before time expired, with 1.7 seconds on the clock, Woodman scored unassisted, top shelf, and the Flyers had a commanding 5-0 advantage.
“I knew we wouldn’t overlook NYA, because it’s a great rivalry,” Leach said. “It was great to see the guys come out here and absolutely own the matchups all over the field and really impose their will. We didn’t anticipate getting early success on offense. We thought we’d be trading goals, but the offense took off for us. All season, they got better and better and they did a tremendous job setting the tone and making their defense uncomfortable.”
“(The Flyers) were excited and ready and we were excited, but not ready,” lamented NYA coach Peter Gerrity. “If I knew what it was, we wouldn’t have come out like that.”
The Panthers tried to rally when the second half began, as Thomas scored unassisted with 9:46 left in the half, but the Flyers shook it off and scored four quick goals for even more breathing room.
First, with 8:55 on the clock, Hopkins found Cloutier, who caught the deflected pass, and finished.
“The ball movement on offense is where we took advantage,” Cloutier said. “Jacob and Roan are creators and I just had to finish.”
A mere 23 seconds later, junior Haven Savory Kreis scored unassisted.
With 7:37 remaining in the half, junior defenseman Fletcher Polsky got in on the fun, racing in and scoring to make it 8-1.
“It was great to get involved in the offense,” said Polsky. “It’s a confidence thing. Poles here are meant to carry it up and shoot. No hesitation. We have the green light all the time. Credit to the coaches for encouraging that.”
“Our defense started it all for us,” Cloutier said. “I think we have the best defensive unit in the state. They came out strong and gave us easy transition looks. They all can score too. They’ve done that all season.”
“Our defense had a tremendous season,” said Hopkins. “They put the ball on the ground, so we could come down to the other end and score.”
(Our poles) can be some of our most dynamic offensive players,” Leach added. “It’s been a long time since I’ve had a defensive group like this. It’s a long time since I’ve seen such a talented group of poles and they carried us on both sides of the field.”
Then, with 5:24 left, after Cloutier hit the crossbar, he set up senior Cole Isherwood for a 9-1 advantage.
“A lot of the season, it’s been a big defensive effort to maintain leads and win games, but the offense stepped up big today,” Israel said.
“We broke out in the first half,” said Polsky. “Our offense was the reason the game went the way it did.”
NYA got a goal back with 4:02 remaining, as junior Grey Perham set up sophomore Zach Leinwand for a shot Israel couldn’t stop, but again, Waynflete responded, as Hopkins scored unassisted with 2:16 left.
Perham set up senior Nolan Pecora with 42 seconds left, but Waynflete was feeling good at the half, up, 10-3.
The Panthers tried desperately to rally in the third period, but Israel didn’t let it happen and instead, the Flyers opened it up even more.
Just 46 seconds in, Woodman scored unassisted while tumbling to the turf.
Israel then saved shots from Thomas, Oney and Leinwand.
Cloutier added an unassisted goal after a nice spin move with 7:16 on the clock, then with 4:30 to go, Hopkins found Isherwood, who made a nice catch before finishing, to stretch the lead to an improbable 13-3.
Late in the quarter, Israel denied senior Wyatt Thomas twice and Perham once.
“I have to give a lot of thanks to my defense for giving me shots I could save,” said Israel. “When I play well, they play well and when they play well, I play well.”
“Avi is incredible,” Polsky said. “He made (All-Conference) second-team, but this game was a case for first-team.”
The fourth period was one long Waynflete coronation, but NYA fought to the bitter end.
The Panthers ended a 13 minute, 9 second scoring drought when Gavin Thomas took a feed from junior James Brogan-Provencher and finished with 9:27 to play, then with 6:21 remaining, after a Flyers’ turnover, Brogan-Provencher set up Leinwand to make it 13-5.
NYA kept coming and 33 seconds later, after another turnover, Warde was the beneficiary of a Brogan-Provencher assist, as he scored what proved to be his and his team’s final goal of the year.
With 1:12 to go, Cloutier fought through the defense and finished man-up for the coup de grace.
Then, at 2:07 p.m., the final horn sounded and Waynflete was able to celebrate its 14-6 victory.
“It feels really good to win it the third year in a row,” Cloutier said. “It means a little more as a senior. Last game on this field, we gave it our all. I think we embraced (being the favorite) this year. We struggled a little bit against higher class teams, but we were still competitive with them. I think that showed a lot.”
“It’s amazing,” Polsky said. “I’ve been with this team the past three years and I love these guys. They mean the world to me. Everyone on the defensive end was just incredible today. We have, in my opinion, the best defense in the state and we took care of business.”
“I never thought those guys were out of the game,” said Israel, who plans to play Club lacrosse next year at College in Minnesota. “You can never discount them. They went on a little run at the end, but I knew my team would protect it. I’m really glad my boys pulled through for me. We came out here fired up. This says a lot about our grit, to come through injuries and show the state we’re legit.”
“It’s awesome going out with a bang,” said Hopkins, who will attend Bates College next year and could walk-on for the lacrosse team. “I love the boys so much. Nothing better than to go out like this. Part of it is we’re an older team. I’ve been here three times. (Senior) Jasper (Curtis) has been here three times. (Senior) Liam (Anderson) has been here three times. We know how state games go. You have to bring your ‘A’ game and put everything out there. We’ve been a building program. It started with Harry (Millspaugh). He gave us a pep talk before the game, talking about losing to NYA (in 2019) and what it meant to him.”
“I’m so happy,” Leach added. “I’ve had these guys since seventh grade. Coaching them has been a pleasure. They’re such great kids. We played an aggressive regular season schedule. We got better and better. Having those matchups was huge for us. These guys performed in the toughest moments against the best opponents. When we started this and we won (in 2021), I mentioned to the coaches, ‘I don’t want to jinx it, but there’s a chance we can go on a run.’ We knew how talented those sophomores were. They stayed consistent and never got complacent. I’m so happy to send them off the right way. They’re incredible young men.”
Waynflete’s offense was unstoppable, as Cloutier had five goals, Hopkins added three, Isherwood and Woodman both scored two and Polsky and Savory Kreis had one apiece.
Hopkins also had three assists, while Cloutier had one.
Israel bowed out with 15 key saves.
“Avi had a terrific game,” Hopkins said. “He’s come so far. He saved us last year with a foot save and today, he just played out of his mind.”
“Avi was incredible,” Leach said. “He really set the tone in the first quarter. He did an amazing job in both halves. He knew across the field, Jack’s a tremendous goalie, so he had a lot to prove out here and he proved it.”
“We made him feel good early, then he was on fire the rest of the game, stopping basically everything,” Gerrity said. “He played an incredible game.”
Jasper Curtis had a team-high five ground balls and Anderson collected four.
The Flyers overcame 23 turnovers.
NYA got two goals apiece from Leinwand and Gavin Thomas and one each from Pecora and Warde.
Brogan-Provencher had three assists, while Perham set up two goals.
Jack Curtis made seven saves in his swan song.
The Panthers won 15 of 21 faceoffs, had a 34-23 advantage in ground balls (Brogan-Provencher had a game-high six) and out-shot the Flyers (33-28), but committed 27 turnovers and couldn’t dig out of an early hole.
“In the middle of the season, we tried to put together four quarters because when we put together four quarters, we’re a great team,” Gerrity said. “We did that against Wells. Today, we didn’t. Playoffs are weird. We’re sad we lost and that the season is over, but now we’re thinking about next year and thinking about thanking the seniors for what they did for us and what we can take from them going forward.”
NYA loses nine seniors, but will make another run at the title in 2024.
“We lose a lot and Waynflete and Wells lose a lot,” Gerrity said. “It’ll be very a different landscape next year, but we like our chances.”
No end in sight
Waynflete graduates a huge number of contributors and might come back to the pack, but don’t rule out another Flyers’ coronation a year from now.
“I have high hopes for next year’s team,” Hopkins said. “I’ll be back to watch.”
“We want to keep this going,” Polsky said. “We have a lot of guys on offense coming back. Defense is the place where we have to rebuild. We’ll look for some midfielders to pick up poles. We’ll adapt like always. We’ll be ready.”
“The cupboard is not bare,” Leach added. “We have plenty of talent coming back. To do this without (injured juniors) Nils (Burton-Johanson) and Nico (Kirby), is pretty incredible. We’ll have them back. We might have to be a co-op if we don’t get enough kids, but for us, the sky’s the limit.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected].