PORTLAND—In a boys’ soccer game between two teams who struggle to put the ball in the net, you had to figure one goal might just do the trick.
When city rivals Cheverus and Portland squared off in a Western Class A preliminary round playoff game Saturday morning at Deering High’s Memorial Field, the only question was who would score that elusive goal first.
It would be the Stags.
After the Bulldogs controlled play for most of the first half, enjoying a big edge in shots and possession, only with nothing to show for it, inside of the final minute, Cheverus pounced.
On a free kick just outside the box, senior Derek Hammond flicked the ball onto the head of junior Andrei Vile, who found the net and the Stags took a 1-0 lead to halftime.
Portland again had its chances in the second half, but in a microcosm of its season, never could tickle the twine and Cheverus went on to a 1-0 victory.
The Stags improved to 7-4-4, ended the Bulldogs’ season at 6-7-2 and most importantly, advanced to face second-ranked Falmouth (11-1-2) in the Western A quarterfinals Tuesday evening.
“In playoffs, you have to be ready to battle and compete,” said Cheverus first-year coach Colin Minte. “Portland’s a really good team. I think they carried a lot of the play, but we defended with a lot of passion. We blocked a lot of shots.”
Cheverus and Portland entered the playoffs as squads who could be dangerous to the top seeds.
The Stags won three of their first four games, then dropped two of three. Down the stretch, Cheverus endured four ties in five outings, but wound up seventh in Western A with a 6-4-4 mark as it reached the playoffs for the 21st consecutive season.
The Bulldogs were a regional finalist in 2013, but the wins didn’t come as easily this fall. Portland was ultimately hindered by an inability to score regularly, but still finished 6-6-2 and earned the No. 10 seed, marking the 15th year in a row the Bulldogs qualified for the postseason.
The teams had met five previous times in the playoffs (see sidebar, below), with Portland taking three. The most recent meeting went the Stags’ way, however, 3-1, in the 2011 quarterfinals.
The teams played to a scoreless draw Oct. 11 at Cheverus, but this time, the Stags managed to advance.
Portland came out determined and created some chances.
In the second minute, the ball came to Bulldogs junior Wade Faria with Cheverus junior goalkeeper Jake Tomkinson out of the goal, but he could’t get a shot off and the ball wound up on the foot of junior Sam Farr, whose shot was blocked.
In the fourth minute, Tomkinson had to leap to make a save on a blast from junior Josh Irving.
Irving tried again, this time with his left foot, in the ninth minute, but shot wide.
The Stags’ first shot came 10 minutes in when senior standout Mackenzie Hoglund sent the ball wide.
After Tomkinson made another leaping save on a Farr free kick, then saved a header from sophomore Alex Frank, Portland junior Brady Cyr took a pass from Manny Yugu in space and shot high, senior Haron Habibzai headed a corner just wide and a Farr blast was deflected out.
After Hoglund shot wide, Cyr got the ball on the left side and lofted a shot on target. With Habibzai waiting at the far post to tuck the shot home, Tomkinson leaped, caught and somehow held on to the ball for a critical save, keeping the game scoreless.
Then, with just under a minute to go (as best we could tell since the scoreboard had gone out), Portland was called for a foul right outside the box.
After an injured player was removed, Cheverus took the kick and executed it perfectly.
Hammond lofted it in, Vile shook a defender and soared to head the ball past Bulldogs junior goalkeeper Bobby Brittingham and just like that, despite being dominated much of the half, the Stags had a 1-0 lead.
“They were controlling possession, but all we needed was the one goal to switch momentum,” Vile said. “We slowed it down. I thought the defense wasn’t ready for that set piece we’ve been practicing for a long time now. It just came together at the right time. Derek had a beautiful cross, back post and all I needed to do was head it in.”
“We spent time talking about Andrei making a run to the back post,” Minte said. “He’s one of our better players out of the air. Fortunately, he lost his mark and put it right in the back of the net. At the end of the day, I knew it would come down to set pieces. We scored on a set piece. They had a lot of set pieces and we defended and that’s what matters most.”
Portland outshot Cheverus in the first half, 12-4, and had a 3-0 advantage in corner kicks, yet was behind thanks to a backbreaking late goal.
“Things like this happen,” lamented longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli. “You can carry play, but they got a goal.”
The second half began much as the first, with Portland pressuring, but that half ended the same as the first, with the Stags on top, 1-0.
Just 30 seconds in, the Bulldogs got a corner kick, but Tomkinson raced out to get to the ball.
With 38:20 to go in regulation, Cyr headed a shot high.
Two minutes later, on another corner, Faria headed a corner high.
After Cheverus senior back Jerry Wagner cleared a loose ball and Irving’s free kick just outside the box sailed high, Vile showed his defensive chops by heading away a corner.
Frank shot high, then Tomkinson again showed his form, saving a header from junior Pavel Bobe, getting to a cross from Farr to senior Jonathan Bobe and denying a low shot from Habibzai.
“(Jake) made a couple big saves,” Minte said. “He handled crosses and balls in the box very well. That was important.”
After a Farr free kick was headed out by a defender, Cyr sailed a shot high, Frank had a shot blocked, then tried again, but was high and finally, with 1:37 remaining, Tomkinson saved Jonathan Bobe’s shot from the side and that slammed the door.
The Stags ran out the clock from there and celebrated a 1-0 victory.
“Defensively, it’s hard to hold a lead after scoring a goal,” Vile said. “(The Bulldogs) have a strong offense, but I thought our defense matched them.”
Tomkinson made eight critical saves.
Portland finished with a 22-6 shots advantage and had a 7-1 corners edge, but just couldn’t finish.
“It’s a hard one to take,” Frenzilli said. “I feel badly for the boys. Our season’s been like this. We knew it would be tough after 0-0 the first time we played. One goal was the difference. Early first half and early second half, we controlled play. Their keeper played well and their defense came through.”
Brittingham made three saves in defeat.
Not only did Portland fail to advance, but the Bulldogs weren’t able to give Frenzilli his 200th victory with the program (he’s stuck on 199).
When the dust settled, it just wasn’t Portland’s year.
“It’s been a challenging year,” Frenzilli said. “Every game we played in, the score was close, but we couldn’t finish. I don’t know what the formula is. We practiced and practiced and practiced. Guys got opportunities. The kids worked hard. We tried to put them in positions to make things happen, but it didn’t come through.”
The Bulldogs will have the benefit of returning most of their starters next fall and should return to the league’s elite.
“We lose (senior) Connor (Bruce) out of the back, nobody in the midfield and one guy up top,” Frenzilli said. “We’ll come back. We’ll be back next year and see how it goes.”
The Stags now have the daunting task of going to powerhouse Falmouth (11-1-2) for the quarterfinals. The teams have no history.
Cheverus welcomes its underdog status.
“This really boosts us up,” Vile said. “This shows how we can play. We’ll definitely be the underdog going in, but we’ll play really hard.”
“We have to be sharper when we go out and play Falmouth,” Minte said. “They’re a top tier team in the state. They’ll bury their opportunities. It’s playoffs and anything can happen. We need clean sheets. We’ll take 0-0 and going to PKs. We’re a young team still. It has been a challenge to score goals. When you have a record of 6-4-4, that says you can’t put goals in. We haven’t had success against top teams, but hopefully we’ll get on (Falmouth’s) turf and take advantage of some opportunities.”
Portland sophomore Tim Baker gets a step on Cheverus junior Brady Levesque.
Portland junior Josh Irving launches a free kick as several Cheverus defenders create a wall.
Cheverus senior Mackenzie Hoglund heads the ball as Portland junior Josh Irving defends.
Portland junior Erick Molina-Garcia makes a move up the field.
Cheverus junior Alex Nason heads the ball away from Portland junior Sam Farr.
Portland junior Pavel Bobe tries to head in a cross as Cheverus junior John Nappi defends.
Cheverus junior goalkeeper Jake Tomkinson leaps to snare a corner kick.
Portland’s Manny Yugu fights Cheverus sophomore Will Peterson for possession.
Cheverus junior goalkeeper Jake Tomkinson is congratulated by his teammates at the final horn.
2011 Western A quarterfinals
Cheverus 3 @ Portland 1
2010 Western A quarterfinals
@ Portland 6 Cheverus 0
2009 Western A quarterfinals
@ Portland 1 Cheverus 0
2007 Western A prelimnary round
@ Cheverus 1 Portland 0
1994 Western A quarterfinals
@ Portland 4 Cheverus 1
Cheverus junior Andrei Vile (center) is congratulated by senior Mackenzie Hoglund (left) and senior Derek Hammond after scoring just before halftime of Saturday’s Western A preliminary round game versus Portland. Vile’s goal stood up and the Stags advanced to meet Falmouth in Tuesday’s quarterfinals.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.