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Flyers soar to first Class C title

Sports

Flyers soar to first Class C title

HAMPDEN—The 2011 Waynflete boys' soccer team now belongs to the ages.

The Fabulous Flyers, who had to scratch and claw to get out of their region, got an even more excruciating 98-minute battle Saturday evening in the Class C state championship game against underrated upstart Houlton at Hampden Academy.

But when all was said and done, perhaps the finest team in the program's storied history, prevailed, 2-1, on senior William Cleaves' goal three minutes, one second into the second overtime to win Class C for the first time and end a three-year run of agonizing postseason dismissals.

After a tight and scoreless first half, the Flyers went on top early in the second when junior Kevin Kanakan banged home a ball which deflected off a defender, but less than two minutes later, the Shiretowners evened the score. Waynflete controlled play in overtime, but with penalty kicks looming as a distinct possibility, Cleaves finally brought the curtain down as Waynflete finished a program-best 14-1-3 and ended Houlton's year at 14-3-1.

"This team just plays so hard," said Cleaves. "I love them for that. I've been on great teams before, but we keep fighting. We believe in ourselves. The captains really get us going. It's been a great season. This is a perfect ending."

"It's a first for the program," added longtime Flyers coach Brandon Salway. "These guys have left their mark. It was a great regular season. For this team to finish it off like this is tremendous."

Rich history

While Waynflete had never won Class C, it has an impressive trophy case when it comes to boys' soccer.

The Flyers made it to the state final for the first time in 1990 (in Class D), but fell to Machias, 1-0. Two years later, they returned, but were denied again, this time by Jonesport-Beals (3-1). Finally, in 1993, Waynflete got over the hump with a 2-1 win over Ashland. It took the Flyers eight years to return to the state game and in 2001, they won their second title, 3-1, over Van Buren. They did it again in 2002, 1-0, over Van Buren, but hadn't reached the pinnacle since.

There were close calls in 2003 (a 2-0 state final loss to Machias) and 2004 (a 2-1 setback to Van Buren in the state game). Waynflete moved up to Class C the following season and by 2008 had embarked on an improbable run from the No. 11 seed to the state final, where the magic carpet ride ended with a 2-1 loss to Washington Academy.

That ushered in the era of painful near-misses. In 2009, the Flyers fully expected to get back to states and win it all, but they were stunned at home in the quarterfinals by Georges Valley, 1-0. Last fall, Waynflete made it to the regional final and hosted North Yarmouth Academy, but was upset again, 1-0.

This season, everything came together for the Flyers as they won 10 times, highlighted by a 2-1 triumph at NYA Oct. 1 and a first-ever victory over traditional power Cape Elizabeth (1-0 at home Oct. 11). Waynflete lost only to visiting Fryeburg, 4-0, and settled for three ties: two 0-0 draws with Sacopee Valley and 1-1 at home against NYA to wind up 10-1-3, good for second in Western Class C.

The Flyers began their playoff run with a 3-0 quarterfinal victory over Wiscasset, then were pushed to the brink in the semifinals against No. 3 Hall-Dale. The game was scoreless through regulation and two overtimes, necessitating penalty kicks, but Waynflete prevailed, 1-0 (4-2 in the shootout). In Wednesday's regional final, the Flyers got a delicious taste of revenge as three first half goals led to a 3-1 win over NYA.

Houlton went 11-2-1 in the regular season and finished third in Eastern C. The skilled and tenacious Shiretowners, then downed Dexter (4-1), Madawaska (1-0) and Orono (3-1) to advance to their first ever state final.

Saturday night, Waynflete's resolve was tested time and again, but by the end of the night, the Flyers left the rest of Class C green with envy.

Not surprisingly, both teams were a little tentative early and neither could score in the first half.

Houlton had four corner kicks to three for Waynflete and each team had chances.

In the 10th minute, Shiretowners sophomore goalkeeper Cole Buzzeo had punch away a header from Flyers sophomore Henry Cleaves on a long throw from junior Paul Runyambo.

In the 17th minute, Houlton junior James Fitzpatrick, who made his presence known all evening, had some room in the box, but Waynflete senior captain Mitch Newlin got over in time to block the shot, leading to a corner kick. On the ensuing corner, the ball was free in front before a Flyers' defender smartly headed it away.

With 24:20 to go in the 40-minute first half, Shiretowners sophomore Nick Guiod shot high after a corner kick.

At the other end, Runyambo took a free kick, but it was blocked.

With 20:07 remaining in the half, a cross from Waynflete sophomore Carter Burrowes to Kanakan resulted in a header that Buzzeo snared.

In the 28th minute, a Burrowes shot was blocked. A minute later, Henry Cleaves fired a blast just wide.

With 8:23 to play, Houlton junior Brandon Ward fired a shot that deflected off a defender, leading to a corner kick.

With 2:28 left, a Burrowes left-footed shot went wide.

With time winding down under 20 seconds, Flyers junior Peabo Knoth was fouled just outside the box, setting up a free kick, but the Shiretowners headed it out and the teams went to the break without a score.

Play picked up immediately in the second half and it wasn't long before both teams had a '1' in their score column.

Just 33 seconds in, Waynflete junior goalkeeper Zander Majercik bobbled a long Houlton free kick and a rebound was kicked right into him before a Flyers defender cleared the ball from harm's way.

Waynflete then transitioned and took the lead.

William Cleaves got things going with a long run down the right sideline. After deking a defender, he sent a cross which ricocheted off a Shiretowners defender right to Kanakan, who buried the shot to make it 1-0.

"We've practiced the low crosses," Cleaves said. "It was a deflection. The goalie came out with a bad angle. It was a great finish by Kevin at the back post."

Waynflete had all of 92 seconds to celebrate as Houlton pressured and took advantage of a mistake to draw even.

The tying goal came on a cross from Fitzpatrick that appeared to be traveling harmlessly across the goalmouth until a Flyers defender got a foot on it and instead of clearing the ball, put it into the net. Fitzpatrick was credited for the score and just like that, it was a 1-1 contest.

"They were similar goals," William Cleaves said. "We got one quick off some bad marking on the back post. Same thing (on theirs). We were struggling a little bit. We've fought back all year. We've gotten down before. You have to keep fighting."

The rest of regulation was nervewracking for both squads and their fans, but wouldn't result in any more scoring.

Just three minutes after the tying goal, Knoth eluded two defenders as only he can before a left-footed blast went wide.

With 32:08 to go, Henry Cleaves managed to fire a low shot under pressure, but Buzzeo made the stop.

With 14:35 showing, the Shiretowners almost went ahead when Fitzpatrick's free kick was bobbled and sophomore Gage Hunt got to the rebound, but Hunt's follow up shot was high.

At the 10:06 mark, Runyambo launched a 35-yard bid that forced Buzzeo to make a leaping save.

With 8:11 remaining, a free kick from Houlton junior Brandon Ward forced Majercik to come out and snare the ball just before freshman Kyle Bouchard could knock it home.

Waynflete got a corner kick with 45 seconds left in regulation, but it didn't result in a shot and the game went to overtime.

In Maine high school playoff soccer, teams play up to two 15-minute "sudden victory" overtime periods and if no one scores, the game is settled on penalty kicks.

It was clear from the onset of OT that the Flyers were going to go all out to end the game as soon as possible.

"The morale was kind of bad, heads were down (after regulation), so I came over and said, 'We're not in a hole. We're even with them. I think we're a better team,'" William Cleaves said. "We had to show it."

"I'd say we were confident," said Wiener. "We talked in the huddle how we were going to play to win, not play to defend."

Waynflete had four corner kicks (it had an 11-4 advantage for the game) in the first overtime and had all the chances, but couldn't finish.

With 11:13 to go in the first session, Kanakan appeared primed to end it when he took a pass from sophomore Elyse Bayizere and one-timed a low blast, but Buzzeo made the save of the game, kicking the ball off-line in one fluid motion.

"Their goalie was great," William Cleaves said. "He was the backbone of that defense. He got to a lot of balls."

With 9:32 left, senior captain Daniel Wiener grabbed a rebound and sent a 30-yard rocket that appeared ticketed for the upper 90, but Buzzeo again came up huge, tipping the ball out of bounds.

"I just missed," Wiener said. "I got the rebound and put it on net. It was almost a goal."

That resulted in a corner kick which resulted in Bayizere shooting wide.

With 5:45 remaining, Henry Cleaves had a shot deflected, but Buzzeo made the save. Less than a minute later, a free kick resulted in a chance for Henry Cleaves, but Buzzeo beat him to the ball and the game would go to a second OT.

Just 28 seconds into the final overtime, Knoth's low shot with his right foot was saved by Buzzeo.

With 12:53 to play before penalty kicks, a Wiener free kick resulted in a header high and wide by Runyambo.

Then, with 11:59 to go, it ended.

After a foul, Wiener played a free kick in from the side, about 30 yards out. The ball glanced off Henry Cleaves' head, bounced off Knoth's shoulder and there, like a Christmas present come early, the ball awaited William Cleaves' foot to deliver his team's destiny.

At 8:15 p.m., Cleaves' shot was true as Buzzeo had no chance to stop it. The ball tickled the twine and bedlam ensued.

Waynflete 2 Houlton 1.

"The ball had been going through (on free kicks) all game," said Cleaves. "I thought I'd get behind it. It was my lucky day. I put it through. It might have been deflected. I'm not really sure. On those plays, things happen fast. It's at your feet, put it in. It's everyone's dream. We definitely had a lot of chances. I was fortunate to put one in.

"I was here my freshman year after we went on a miracle run, but I didn't see the field. We lost, 2-1. We've been so close. For me as a senior to come back here and win this is amazing."

"Wiener played the ball and I headed it on," said Henry Cleaves. "I was just trying to put it in a dangerous spot. It bounced off Peabo's shoulder and fell to William. It's amazing."

"It was unbelievable," added Salway, the normally stoic coach who was visibly emotional following the win. "William was on his back one second, the next second, I turned around and he was putting it in the back of the net. It was a great play. I thought we were a little tentative through all of regulation, but in overtime, I thought we got more aggressive and pressed the issue a little bit. We got a lot of chances. It's all about chances. Eventually you'll knock one in.

"William talked a lot about how we needed to win it. We needed to make plays in the box. We kept fighting. The guys found a way to win all year.  I've been on this field a few times where great teams couldn't finish it off, but this is probably the best team we've ever had. We had a lot of big wins. To finish it off is huge. The seniors had some tough losses, but we have great chemistry, a great group of kids. I'm happy for them."

For the players, the culmination of nearly three months of hard work brought a combination of disbelief and ecstasy.

"It's a lot of fun," said Henry Cleaves. "I never thought we'd be here. My older brother (Sam) was here as a junior and is in college now. Now (William and I) have bragging rights around the household. Our captains got us over the hump. They're excellent role models in the classroom and on the field."

"It's incredible," said Majercik. "There's no other way to describe it. We got a little tense when they tied it up. I think we expected if we ramped it up and played the way we were supposed to play and have played all year, together, we knew it would happen. At the start of the second overtime, we really knew we had to do it. We couldn't let it go to PKs. I was very nervous. It was cold. I got a little numb. I knew I had to keep it tied."

"It feels great," Wiener added. "It's a great way to go out senior year. For me, it's three years of hard work. For others, it's four years of hard work. I didn't go to Waynflete my freshman year. I went to (the 2008 state championship) game and watched it. For William, this just completed the circle. To score the winning goal is huge. It came right down to the wire tonight. We've had a lot of games like that. We just pull through. Coach told us (Houlton would) come out hard and they did. They put up an incredible fight. They didn't let up for the entire game."

Waynflete celebrated this state championship win long into the night (one report had the Flyers singing en masse on the bus ride south).

Once more?

Looking ahead, Waynflete will certainly miss the presence of William Cleaves, Newlin and Wiener (a Western Class C all-star selection this fall), along with fellow seniors George Johnson, Max McKendry, Sam Martin and Addison St. Onge-May, but several underclassmen played key roles on this year's squad and will return hungry to spearhead a repeat run.

Leading the way will be the battle-tested Majercik in goal, Henry Cleaves (who only figures to get bigger and stronger, a frightening thought for the opposition) and the creative and dangerous Knoth (who was also named to the regional all-star team), along with Bayizere, Kanakan, Runyambo, (junior) Mohammed Suja and gritty sophomore defender Joe Schnier, who showed his grit Saturday night, playing on despite a late leg injury.

Look for the likes of Burrowes and freshmen Harry Baker-Connick (who scored a goal in the regional final) and Clancy Mitchell to play bigger roles. There figure to be roster additions as well.

Now that the Flyers have made it to the Class C mountaintop, they'll do all they can to repeat.

"We have just as good a chance as this year, if not better," said Henry Cleaves. "We have Peabo, Paul coming back. Suja coming off the bench. He led the team in assists. We should be fine."

"We'll be excited about next year, but for now, we're going to enjoy this," Salway said. "We talked about taking advantage of the opportunity we had this year since you never know when it will come again."

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Photo: courtesy E. E. Saface Kanakan

Moments after senior William Cleaves' goal gave Waynflete a state title, the players celebrated the championship.