(Ed. Note: This story originally appeared June 21, 2007)
PORTLAND—The Brunswick boys’ lacrosse team has knocked on the door of a state championship for many years.
At 11:38 a.m. Saturday, at Fitzpatrick Stadium, the Dragons finally kicked it down.
Brunswick capped its first perfect season with the ultimate prize, racing to a 10-3 halftime lead, then holding off a furious Portland Bulldogs rally to win it all, 12-9, in the Class A state title game.
The Dragons were paced by the scoring of seniors Josh Aldred and Kit Smith and the absolutely mindboggling goalkeeping of senior Henry Mills, as they reached the pinnacle at last.
“It’s awesome,” said Smith, who won the Travis Roy Award as the best Class A hockey player in the state back in the winter, an award he said paled in comparison. “This is bigger by far. I’ve never won states in my four years and to win it with this group of players is amazing. We weren’t the most skilled team, but we played like a team. We moved the ball. We play well together and work hard.”
“This team is incredible,” Brunswick coach Don Glover added. “We’ve been in the hunt for quite awhile. It was a great game. Back and forth.”
Brunswick has been a top contender throughout Glover’s reign as coach and has been mighty close to winning it all in the past. The Dragons reached the state final for the only previous time in 2002 and lost to a powerhouse team from Cape Elizabeth, 15-7. A year ago, Brunswick enjoyed a solid 10-2 regular season, but was upset by eventual state finalist Lewiston in the semifinal round.
This spring, no one would touch the Dragons.
Brunswick went 12-0, outscored its foes by a whopping composite margin of 148-20 and after easily defeating Lewiston (9-4) in the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference title game, earned the top seed for the Eastern A postseason.
The Dragons had a bye into the semifinal round, then continued their dominance with one-sided wins over No. 5 Edward Little (17-2) and No. 2 Messalonskee (9-2) to earn a berth in the state game.
The Bulldogs, meanwhile, took a little more challenging route to their first regional crown. Portland went 9-3 against a brutal regular season schedule (losing only to defending Class A state champion Scarborough, eventual Class B champion North Yarmouth Academy and eventual Class B runner-up Kennebunk). The Bulldogs did become one of the few programs (Brunswick’s another) to beat Cape Elizabeth. They also downed Cheverus, Deering and South Portland en route to the No. 2 seed in Western A.
After a 22-5 pounding of No. 7 Marshwood in the quarterfinals, Portland enjoyed a surprisingly easy 16-9 decision over No. 3 Deering in the semifinals. The Bulldogs then went to Scarborough, a team which had punished them 15-5 May 1 in Portland. The regional final appeared to be more of the same when the Red Storm took a 5-2 lead, but senior All-American Sam McAdam roared to life and led his team to a 12-10 upset win.
Portland and Brunswick had never met in the playoffs prior to Saturday’s Class A state final, but Glover and Bulldogs coach Eric Begonia are good friends and the latter expected a battle.
Thanks to Mills, the Dragons would keep the good times rolling.
The Bulldogs got off to an ideal start. Brunswick won the opening faceoff, but turned the ball over. Portland then raced down and took a 1-0 lead when sophomore sensation K.R. Jurgelevich took a pass and scored exactly a minute into the contest.
Mills then singlehandedly turned the tide.
After winning the ensuing faceoff, the Bulldogs had a plethora of chances to extend their lead. First, McAdam sent a bounce shot just over the crossbar. Junior Tanner Howard was then denied by Mills. McAdam had a bid saved seconds later. With 8:33 to go in the first, Jurgelevich tried a scoop shot that went just wide. McAdam then attempted the same thing with the same result. A moment later, McAdam sent a shot wide and the Dragons finally got possession and a chance to respond.
Did they ever.
Once Brunswick got the ball in the Portland end, it quickly tied the game. Sophomore Derek Beaulieu fed Aldred, who beat Bulldogs junior goalie Jeremy Finney to make it 1-1 with 7:28 to go in the first. Just 40 seconds later, Dragons junior Blaine Cardali struck and Brunswick had the lead for good. Twenty-six seconds after Cardali’s goal, the Bulldogs turned the ball over and Brunswick senior Demetri Rosette beat Finney through a screen for a 3-1 advantage.
The Dragons kept the pressure on and after a couple of misses, took a 4-1 lead on Aldred’s unassisted goal. Aldred got a fortunate bounce on a ground ball, turned and beat Finney one-on-one. With 1:46 to play in the period, Smith (an All-American this spring) got in on the act for Brunswick, taking Beaulieu’s pass and scoring to give his team a stunning 5-1 lead.
“The first quarter was especially tough,” Begonia said. “No surprise really. We expected a great team to come in here. I have the highest respect for Don Glover. They were very well coached and very sportsmanlike. They weren’t undefeated by accident. We weren’t quite ready to play at their tempo early on. Some of our guys got put back on their heels.”
Portland appeared to get some momentum back when junior Mitch Pierter (from McAdam) scored with 42.1 seconds left in the quarter (ending a 10 minute, 18 second scoring drought and a 5-0 Dragons’ run), but the second period would prove to be more of the same.
With 9:43 left in the half, Smith scored unassisted. A little over a minute later, Aldred did the same and it was 7-2. McAdam (unassisted) got his first goal with 6:34 to play in the half, but Aldred (unassisted) and Aldred (from Beaulieu) responded for a 9-3 lead.
With time winding down in the half, the Bulldogs desperately looked to score, but a turnover gave Brunswick one final possession and the Dragons capped one of the finest halves ever seen in a lacrosse state game when Smith scored unassisted with 0.8 seconds showing for a commanding 10-3 advantage.
“We came out and we didn’t play our game,” McAdam said. “We had a really rough first half. They capitalized. We had a quick goal, but they have a great team and a great goalie. He was huge today.”
While the teams were pretty even in the major statistical categories, Brunswick simply buried every good scoring chance it had, while Mills broke Portland’s heart on several occasions.
“I just wanted to go shot by shot and that’s what I was saying to myself,” Mills said. “That was my strategy. You can’t get caught up in the score and time. It can be hard to keep your focus.”
“Mills is the backbone of this team,” Glover added. “He made 14 saves in the first half alone. That’s pretty impressive. He’s going to Williams College next year and I’m sure he’ll have a great college career.”
Everyone on hand expected a new and inspired Bulldogs team to take the field for the second half and to the Western Maine champions’ credit, they were.
Portland dominated the third period of play, but could only get back within four.
With 9:12 to go, Pierter (from junior Johnny Sengelmann) scored to give the Bulldogs some life. At the 8:11 mark, McAdam scored unassisted. With 4:25 to play, Howard (on a pretty pass from Jurgelevich) found the mark and suddenly it was a 10-6 game.
Finney then stepped up his game, robbing junior Colin Schafer and Smith on back-to-back bids. Mills continued his strong play, however, saving shots from McAdam and Jurgelevich and it remained a four-goal game.
“The defense in front of me was absolutely amazing,” Mills said. “We had an excellent game plan. The coaches set up a game plan to handle their two great players, K.R. and Sam. We knew Sam would dodge hard. He’s a big, strong kid. The coaches designed a game plan to neutralize him. Since he’s so big, we had to slide very early and risk leaving other people open on the far side. Fortunately, that pass didn’t always get there. He still had a great game. He’s unbelievable.”
With 1:22 to go in the period, Brunswick snapped a 10 minute, 39 second drought when Schafer scored unassisted. That gave the Dragons an 11-6 lead entering the final stanza.
“Portland started out strong and made some adjustments in the second half,” Glover said. “They have great athletes. We knew they’d pop a few goals in. We couldn’t stay back on our heels. The team responded really well and played with heart the whole game.”
The fourth quarter began with Finney robbing Schafer on the doorstep. At the other end, McAdam fed Pierter for a goal and it was 11-7. Undaunted, Brunswick answered again as Mills robbed McAdam and Pierter before junior Tyler Cohen fed Smith for the team’s final goal with 7:37 to play.
Portland continued to keep the pressure on and made it 12-8 with 5:08 to play on an unassisted strike from McAdam, but the goals weren’t coming quickly enough to really make the Dragons sweat. With 2:29 left, McAdam scored the final goal of his sensational high school career, but the unassisted tally only cut the deficit to 12-9.
Mills made a couple more saves down the stretch and McAdam was stripped of possession in the final minute, allowing Brunswick to run out the clock on its impressive 12-9 victory.
“We knew they?’re a second half team,” Mills said. “They came back. Coach Glover told us to pick it up. We kept pushing and fighting. The defense held out. This means so much to me to win this for coach Glover. He’s been with the program for so long. He’s an unbelievable man. It means a lot for the alumni.”
“We had a scouting report on them that was pretty helpful,” Smith said. “They’re a great team. The best team we’ve played all year. We came out and surprised them a little bit. We knew they’d make a run, but we held on. We’ve had tradition in the East and now we’ve proved ourselves in the state.”
“We knew this was their homefield, but we wanted to get a good pace going at the beginning,” Glover added. “We preached hard dodges to the net and working as hard as we could one-on-one. We were able to capitalize on the key matchups early. They countered in the second half and we had to rely on our defense.”
Portland regretted its slow start.
“A seven-goal deficit is pretty hard to come back from,” Begonia said. “We knew they’d slow it down a little and go zone. Our offense is actually designed to go against a zone defense. We tried to get it back one at a time. We made a run to make it respectable. Hats off to their goalie. We had good looks, but he made saves and there were no rebounds.”
Mills wound up with 27 saves.
“He was huge,” Smith said, of his goalie. “Henry’s been the key all year. He was phenomenal today.”
Offensively, the Dragons (15-0 when all was said and done) were paced by five goals from Aldred (all in the first half) and four from Smith. Cardali, Rosette and Schafer each scored once. Beaulieu had three assists. Cohen added one.
While Portland was disheartened in the wake of its loss, thoughts quickly turned to how much magic this group accomplished and to taking the final step a year from now.
“This is the most fun I’ve had in my life,” said McAdam, who will play with his brother Garrett at Clark University next year. “It was a great group of guys. Great coaches. Great program. Great support from the community. The alumni and everybody. It’s a strong program with a lot of unity. It’s been an honor to play with these guys. I’m going to miss them. I’d like to see them do it next year. I’ll be here to support them.”
Begonia believes that the Bulldogs will respond and that it’s only a matter of time before his team is the one dancing on the field, celebrating a title.
“We have a great nucleus of kids coming back,” the coach said. “We only started two seniors today. We talked about how this will hurt and sting for a little while, but the bar is set pretty high and the goal is pretty obvious. We want to win a state championship. Now that we’ve been here, we’ll aim high next year. It’s a great goal.”
McAdam wound up leading the Bulldogs with his four goals. He also had a pair of assists. Pierter, who emerged as a star late in the season, added three goals. Howard and Jurgelevich each had one. Jurgelevich and Sengelmann both had one assist. Finney made eight saves.
“It was a great season,” Begonia said. “We had a great run. It’s a disappointing ending for our seniors.”
Brunswick is now the defending champion for the first time. The Dragons will be a very different team in 2008 as nine stalwarts (including Aldred, Mills, Rosette and Smith) from this squad move on.
Their legacy will last as long as Brunswick plays lacrosse.
“What an incredible group of seniors,” Glover said. “They’ll be a big loss. They didn’t just bring athletic ability, but they preached team over individual play from the start. They have a great work ethic and sportsmanship.”
With that said, don’t write the Dragons off. This program is as good as any at reloading. Now that Brunswick has reached the mountaintop, don’t be surprised if it returns on a regular basis.
Saturday‘s Class A boys‘ lacrosse state championship game turned into the Henry Mills Show. Mills made 27 saves in all, many of them highlight reel material, as he led his Brunswick Dragons team to its first-ever title, a 12-9 win over the Portland Bulldogs.
Portland senior sensation Sam McAdam had little breathing room during the Bulldogs’ 12-9 Class A state championship game loss to Brunswick Saturday. On this play, Dragons junior Tyler Cohen attempted to stop McAdam’s drive.