The most improbable soccer championship story in years produced its happy ending last week as the Cheverus boys quieted all the doubters in the most scintillating fashion possible.
By saying, “Take that!” in the form of a Gold Ball.
Cheverus, impressive at times, but inconsistent at others, went just 6-4-4 in the regular season and earned the No. 7 seed in Western Class A.
Then, the Stags were sprinkled with stardust.
Cheverus held off No. 10 Portland in the preliminary round, 1-0, then served notice it was going to be a factor by shocking second-ranked Falmouth in the quarterfinals, 2-1. After outlasting No. 6 South Portland in the semifinals, 2-1 (5-4 on PKs), the Stags went to top-ranked Scarborough last Wednesday for the Western A Final.
Cheverus faced a daunting task, as not only were the Red Storm the two-time defending Class A champion with an unrivaled recent pedigree, but Scarborough had already beaten the visiting Stags, 2-0, back on Sept. 20.
Cheverus took a 1-0 lead in the first half on Mackenzie Hoglund’s goal, but the Red Storm drew even with 22 minutes to play, then went up, 2-1, with 13 minutes to play as the clock neared proverbial midnight.
Instead of its season coming to an end, however, the Stags had Scarborough right where they wanted it.
Sure enough, on a scrum with just over two minutes to go, Andrei Vile scored his latest big postseason goal, tying the game and forcing overtime.
After one 15-minute OT session resolved nothing, Cheverus got the winner with 5:35 to play in the second overtime, when Gerry Wagner delivered one of the most gorgeous shots you’ll ever see, especially considering the circumstances, a 25-yard rocket into the upper 90, to give the Stags a breathtaking 3-2 victory.
Goalkeeper Jake Tomkinson played a huge role in the win, making 20 saves.
There was still one hill to climb and Saturday afternoon, Cheverus made the trip to Hampden Academy to battle Lewiston, the top seed in Eastern A, in the state final.
Early in the game, Tomkinson came up huge on several occasions and the Blue Devils also hit the post and instead of falling behind, the Stags would score first, as Vile found the net with 4:55 to play before halftime for a 1-0 lead.
“When (Will Peterson’s pass) bounced over my head, I knew I wouldn’t be able to head the ball in,” Vile said. “I just hoped for the best. I tried for the ‘Hail Mary’ shot. It went perfectly. (Lewiston) definitely controlled the first half. We weren’t getting a lot of opportunities, but we had known that once they got scored on, the whole momentum changes and that’s what happened.”
Cheverus was outshot, 13-3, in the first half, but had the advantage.
Then, with 31:27 remaining, Brady Levesque scored to make it 2-0.
Lewiston had a chance to get back in the game when it was awarded a penalty kick after a handball in the box, but Tomkinson (14 saves) made the stop.
“We’ve worked on PKs for awhile,” Tomkinson said. “I was going to guess that way and he ended up kicking it below me, so I was able to drop on it.”
“Jake played the best tournament for a goalie I have seen as a player or coach,” said Cheverus first-year coach Colin Minte. “He’s been absolutely unbelievable. Since the season started, he’s just gotten more and more confident. Time and time again he was tested, in games where we were outshot and at times outplayed, and he stood strong and made some huge saves. His effort against Scarborough and Lewiston was the reason we were able to win both those games.”
The Blue Devils (who had a 21-7 shots advantage) did finally solve Tomkinson with 25 minutes to go, but after coming so far, the Stags weren’t about to give it away and they held on for the 2-1 victory, marking the second time in program history (2001) that a season ended with a Gold Ball.
That squad was expected to win it all.
This one wasn’t.
“It was an amazing run by a great group of young men,” said Minte, who now has coached two different teams (Windham in 2011) to recent championships. “They always believed that we could win it and they played hard every single game. My message the entire time was play good defense, capitalize on counterattacks and set pieces and be committed to playing 80 minutes every game and that is exactly what we did. We scored on a lot of set pieces throughout the playoffs, didn’t give up any soft goals and never let any teams we played outwork us.
“Our three captains had exceptional tournaments. Derek Hammond controlled the midfield, won a lot of tackles and slowed down opposing attacks. Andrei Vile stabilized our defense and scored huge goals against Portland, Scarborough and Lewiston. Mackenzie Hoglund put ongoing pressure on opposing defenses and scored huge goals against Falmouth, South Portland and Scarborough.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my guys, for their effort, commitment and never giving up. They beat two undefeated teams in the Western Maine and state finals, which is pretty unbelievable. They are a group with great personality, extremely competitive and they just enjoy being together, on and off the pitch.”
Cheverus (which finished 11-4-4) will lose some key contributors to graduation, but after this year’s magic, you have to believe that the Stags will be right back in the hunt in 2015 and that no one will be doubting them next time around.
“It was a great accomplishment for a young team and I look forward defending our title with nine returning starters next year,” Minte said.
Sun Journal staff writer Kevin Mills contributed to this story.
Cheverus goalkeeper Jake Tomkinson dives to make one of his 14 saves during Saturday’s 2-1 win over Lewiston in the Class A state final.
Cheverus senior captains (from left) Derek Hammond, Mackenzie Hoglund and Andrei Vile show off the Gold Ball after the Stags’ victory Saturday.
Your 2014 Class A boys’ soccer state champions.