(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared in the Nov. 11, 2005 edition of The Forecaster)
BATH—It was what neither wanted to do to get what both wanted to have.
Even as the Scarborough and Mt. Ararat boys’ soccer teams engaged in a shootout to determine last Saturday’s Class A state championship, one half expected an executioner’s drum roll to accompany each players’ slow shuffle to the penalty hash.
Make no mistake. These shootouts are grim affairs and Saturday, both teams deserved better.
Scarborough, which carried much of the play against very tough, very resilient Mt. Ararat, deserved to capture its first state championship since 1999 in regulation.
And the Eagles, who carried a perfect record into last Saturday, deserved a more dignified end.
Instead, the Red Storm, which rejoined Class A in 2001 after approximately a decade in Class B, captured its first A title since 1976 when junior Micah Abrams, who didn’t play a second Saturday, calmly tucked his penalty kick in the low right corner for a decisive 4-2 advantage and the 1-0 victory. Abrams’ clincher came in the second round of the shootout and set off a raucous celebration on Morse High School’s McMann Field that had one member of the Scarborough student body break from the pack so as to drive a wooden lightening bolt into midfield (they’re the Red Storm, get it?), right where the Eagles were still picking up their dispirited bodies off the ground. Say what you will about class in that situation-the Eagles certainly did-but at least the Red Storm themselves showed enough to make up for the shortcomings of a few.
To a man, Scarborough was grateful for its victory. Maybe that’s because many of them had been on the losing end of a shootout just two years ago and against the Eagles, no less. That included Scarborough coach Mark Diaz, who just as he did during the Red Storm’s shootout win over Greely in the regional final, refused to watch the drama play out Saturday.
“I didn’t want to do this again,” said Diaz, who was on the sidelines when the Red Storm fell to the Eagles in 2003. “I felt like we had carried the play. To have this thing end up in a shootout … I felt as though I’d failed the kids as a coach.”
In fact, Diaz helped deliver the victory by selecting Abrams as Scarborough’s fifth shooter in the second round of kicks. Considering Abrams never stepped on the pitch Saturday, the move may have appeared risky, but Diaz remembered a conversation in practice early last week that solidified his decision.
“(Abrams) is a solid ball striker,” Diaz said. “So, when I asked him about going in the second group last week, he was like, of course. Not many kids want to be in that position, especially coming off the bench. The ones who do are the ones you want taking the kicks.”
Asked how he felt before taking the decisive kick, Abrams gave evidence why he was the right choice.
“I was a little nervous, but more than anything I just wanted to be a part of this, to contribute somehow,” he said.
Did he ever, but not before the Eagles nearly wiped out 80 minutes of Scarborough domination in the second overtime. After pressing the Red Storm defense Mt. Ararat was awarded a direct kick on top left edge of the penalty area with 10 minutes remaining, prompting Eagles coach Rick Renaud to call in a designed play. Mt. Ararat fans know it well.
“We’ve scored so many goals on that set piece,” said Renaud. “I had dreams of scoring on that play in this game all week.”
They nearly did.
After senior Noah Greenlaw tapped the ball and decoyed toward the penalty area, senior Tyler Simpson tapped a sneaky pass to senior Caleb Levesque down the left side of the box. Levesque then rocketed a shot toward the far post that Scarborough senior keeper Derek Poulin barely snagged with a dive.
“We came ever so close,” said Renaud, referring to that chance and the Eagles’ bid for a flawless season. Mt. Ararat closes its campaign at 17-1.
“We almost had (the perfect season). You have to wonder if that will happen again anytime soon.”
In this age of ties in overtimes, probably not. But as dominant as the Eagles were against most of Eastern A this season, they clearly met their match in Scarborough. French exchange student Pierre Soubrier proved a tough mark for Mt. Ararat’s gritty Adam Paine, who had all he could do to keep Soubrier’s nifty distribution in check. The same applied to Mt. Ararat’s double-sweeper defense’s containment of a surprisingly quick Red Storm attack led by juniors Eddie Jones and Brent Mayo. Even Renaud, whose squad scrimmaged Scarborough to a 0-0 tie in the preseason, was caught off guard by Scarborough’s team speed.
“I didn’t remember them being that quick in preseason,” he said. “We worked really hard and got stronger as the game went on, but they were just so skilled and fast. They took it to us most of the game.”
Scarborough’s speed rocked the Eagles on their heels, and on several occasions, forced them to tug and foul. In the eighth minute that tactic proved dangerous. From 20 yards out, Soubrier bended a direct kick around Mt. Ararat’s defensive wall and hit the crossbar flush. Eagles senior keeper Ryan Vermette, who made several leaping and diving saves throughout regulation, had no chance.
Scarborough’s defense, meanwhile, wouldn’t give the Eagles a whiff of an offensive chance. Senior sweeper Taylor Sabo made sure of that, clearing away the Eagles’ uncharacteristic forays down the middle. Adding to Mt. Ararat’s frustration was a perceived unfairness in the distribution of yellow cards and fouls by the head official. The Eagles were assessed a total of five bookings, three in the first half. Scarborough was whistled for one. Overall, the Eagles were tagged for 25 fouls to Scarborough’s four, a discrepancy that drew incredulous reactions from Renaud.
“I’d never seen anything like it in a game this big,” said Renaud, who picked up a yellow himself in the second half.
“In the end I guess it didn’t matter, but it definitely messed up my substituting.”
And for the Eagles, who hoped to wear down the Red Storm, that was a big deal. Greenlaw, whose tireless work up front is critical to Mt. Ararat’s success, was hobbled with a leg injury, adding to a list that had grown larger after the Eagles’ regional final against Brunswick. Add the yellow cards, which claim a player for seven minutes, and the Eagles found themselves even more out-gunned than they already were.
All of which led Scarborough to pepper Vermette. Midway through the second half, Soubrier set up Mayo inside the box for a header that just missed. With 16:10 left, Mt. Ararat senior Matt Snider blocked a Sabo shot.
The Red Storm continued pushing for the game-winner in the first overtime, as Jones’ header with 7:53 left was tipped wide by Vermette. But the Eagles, who had survived on guts and resiliency, finally began to respond with chances of their own. Paine just missed a header with 1:40 left in the first overtime. Levesque’s bid in the second overtime was even closer.
But neither Mt. Ararat opportunities were as unsettling as the march to a shootout, a process that would have several of the Red Storm recalling their last one in a title game.
“It was crushing to work so hard and end up there,” said Sabo, who has been a part of two state championship games and three regional finals during his three years of varsity at Scarborough.
But Sabo, who buried his shot to help Scarborough force a 4-4 tie during the first round of penalty kicks, didn’t seem to mind the end result.
“It’s so sweet, the most amazing feeling,” he said. “This is the most amazing experience … I think we’re all a little overwhelmed.”
The unlikely hero gets his due: Scarborough‘s Micah Abrams (left) hits the brakes before getting mobbed by teammates. Abrams, who didn‘t play a minute during Saturday‘s Class A title match with Mt. Ararat, kicked the game-winning penalty kick in the second round of a shootout to give the Red Storm its first Class A championship since 1976.