Waynflete gets revenge, beats NYA for regional title
PORTLAND—The Waynflete boys' soccer team had seen this movie before.
In each of the past three years, the Flyers had the goods and an opportunity to produce a happy playoff ending, but each year the end result was just the opposite, downright agonizing.
This time, the hero got the girl and rode off into the sunset.
After the past three postseasons ended with gutwrenching losses, the Flyers got a highly desired victory in the best way possible, over their biggest rival, Wednesday evening at Fitzpatrick Stadium in the Western Class C championshp game.
Facing North Yarmouth Academy, in a rematch of last year's regional final, the Flyers earned the last laugh, getting an early icebreaker goal from junior Peabo Knoth, a second from freshman Harry Baker-Conick, then a jawdropping, highlight reel tally from Knoth to take a 3-0 lead into halftime. Waynflete then held off the anticipated Panthers' rally in the second half to prevail, 3-1.
Waynflete improved to 13-1-3, ended NYA's year at 9-7-2 and advanced to meet Houlton in the Class C state game Saturday at 5:30 p.m., at Hampden Academy.
"This is great," Knoth said. "It feels good. We talked about coming and scoring in the first 15 minutes. That was part of the game plan."
Waynflete lost in the Class C state final to Washington Academy in 2008, was upset at home by Georges Valley despite being a high seed the following year and suffered a 1-0 loss to NYA last fall in the regional final.
This fall, the Flyers went 10-1-3 and earned the No. 2 seed in Western C. Waynflete advanced to the regional final by virtue of a 3-0 home win over No. 7 Wiscasset in the quarterfinals and a 1-0 home win over No. 3 Hall-Dale in the semifinals, in a game that came down to penalty kicks (the Flyers converted four to the Bulldogs' two).
NYA made it to the regional final as a seventh seed in 2009 (losing at St. Dom's), then got to the state game last fall, falling to Ft. Kent, 2-1, and despite another low seed, persevered again in 2011.
The Panthers were the ninth and final squad to make the regional playoffs, but eliminated No. 8 Mt. Abram (5-0), No. 1 St. Dom's (3-2, on a goal with 5.5 seconds left in regulation) and No. 4 Lisbon (2-1, on a goal with 13 minutes to go).
The Flyers and Panthers played to a 1-1 tie Sept. 14 in Portland. Sixteen days later, in Yarmouth, Waynflete eked out a 2-1 decision.
This time around, in a game moved to Fitzpatrick Stadium due to poor field conditions and a lack of parking at Fore River Fields, the Flyers came out and delivered a first half haymaker.
After NYA just missed scoring a minute in when senior Ryan Rousseau couldn't quite get his head on a free kick, Waynflete started to apply pressure.
In the seventh minute, Knoth crossed a ball to junior Kevin Kanakan, but he shot just wide.
The next opportunity led to a tally.
With 32:32 to go in the first half, junior Paul Runyambo threw the ball in from the side and somehow it bounced twice, directly to an unmarked Knoth right in front, who buried the shot for a 1-0 lead.
"It was a throw in and the ball just fell through everyone right to me," Knoth said.
"Breathing room was huge," added Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. "The longer it stays close, the longer the other team believes."
The Panthers looked to draw even in the 11th minute, but senior Asad Dahia's cross to Rousseau was just out of reach. Two minutes later, Flyers junior goalkeeper Zander Majercik had to punch away a cross. In the 15th minute, NYA junior Jacob Scammon managed to release a low shot, but Majercik made the stop.
Then, with 12:08 left before halftime, the Flyers got another goal.
On a corner kick, Knoth played the ball to junior Mohammed Suja, whose shot bounced off a defender and landed at the feet of an alert Baker-Connick, who put home the rebound and Waynflete had the all-important second goal.
"One of the guys on the line kicked it and it came right to me," Baker-Connick said. "It was awesome. One of the best moments of my life so far."
"Harry was my sub," said Flyers senior William Cleaves. "He got that finish. He played really well. He joined the team late. He was injured in preseason. He's played to his full potential. We just had to be focused. After we scored the first one, we knew we had to stay focused. Soccer games are long."
NYA was shellshocked.
"It was a very disappointing start, just what you don't want," said Panthers coach Martyn Keen. "Two goals almost replicated. That's not allowed to happen. When it does happen you pay and we paid."
If that wasn't impressive enough, what transpired with 10:47 remaining left everyone, from players, fans and even those watching in the press box, in awe.
After a goal kick from Panthers senior Ryan Salerno was short, Knoth bounced on the loose ball left one defender in his wake with a gorgeous individual move, turned the corner on another, then ripped a shot with his left foot that beat Salerno to his left.
Just like that, the score was 3-0 and the regional title was within reach.
"The goalie took a goal kick that went a little short and I took it," Knoth said.
I didn't really see anyone to pass to so I just went with it. I practice dribbling and my touch."
"I never expected three goals in the first half," Cleaves said. "Peabo can spark the team. Sometimes we need a spark."
"Peabo's goal was one of the best individual goals I've seen in 22 years of coaching," Salway added. "It was just a terrific play."
After scoring, Knoth received a yellow card for taunting and had to sit out the balance of the first half.
NYA began to show life and pressured as the first half wound down, but Majercik fell on a loose cross in the box in the 38th minute and with 53.9 seconds to go, Dahia shot wide with his left foot to keep the deficit 3-0 at the break.
"I thought the first half was one of the better first halves we've had in awhile," Salway said. "We put together 30 tremendous minutes in the first half and that was enough. Even at 3-0, I told the kids at halftime (NYA) wouldn't quit and they didn't. Anytime you can jump out like that and give yourselves a cushion, you can make mistakes. We put ourselves in a great position."
NYA was the aggressor in the second half, but had dug itself too deep of a hole.
With 28:54 left in regulation, Rousseau's rush was broken up by Waynflete sophomore Carter Burrowes, leading to a corner kick (NYA had a 6-4 advantage for the game), that was cleared.
With 25:16 to play, Dahia's low shot was saved by Majercik. Two minutes later, Dahia got his head on a corner kick from Rousseau, but Majercik made the stop. In the 60th minute, Dahia's shot was blocked. A minute later, Panthers freshman D.J. Nicholas fed Rousseau, whose shot was wide. The rebound was followed up by senior Forrest Milburn, but his bid was punched away by Majercik, leading to another corner. Two more corners followed in close succession, but none produced a goal.
"There was still time, but Zander made some good saves, like he has too many times against us," Keen said. "Zander made some technically difficult saves on ground balls where had he coughed up a rebound, we could have put it in."
Finally, with 17:06 remaining, NYA got on the board as Nicholas pounced a failed clear and blasted a shot that Majercik had no chance to stop.
From there, however, Waynflete's defense tightened up significantly and the only good Panthers' chance came with 9:47 remaining when Rousseau attempted to feed Nicholas, but the pass was just out of reach.
From there, the Flyers ran out the clock and celebrated the long-awaited 3-1 victory.
"It's really exciting," said Baker-Connick. "It's fun to be part of this team. Especially for (senior captains) Mitch (Newlin) and Daniel (Wiener), I went out and tried my best. It was really important for them. With pure energy and excitement we held them off."
Cleaves admitted he had mixed feelings about playing NYA.
"You kind of do want to play them and you kind of don't," he said. "They're a really good team. I feel every year, we're the two best teams in Class C. We had to prove it this year. I was confident. It seems like no matter how good each side is, we both get up for these games. That's how it should be. We're rivals. I haven't been to states since freshman year. We're doing it for the guys who played before and for the program. It's a huge step for the program. To show we deserve to be there. It's huge for Brandon."
Salway was happy and relieved to advance.
"Part of us would have liked to have played this game on our homefield, but conditions prevented us from doing that," Salway said. "It was fitting and means a little more to beat a team that's made quality runs deep into the postseason the past few years. Not only did we get to beat them, but they're a tough out. It's a good, quality win. Especially when you consider we're playing on turf.
"I feel like (the guys) may feel like they redeemed themselves or some other teams, but it's not easy to get to the finals. Ask all the teams that aren't playing Saturday. You can have the best team and not make it. It happens every year. Soccer's a funny game. The ball can take a bad bounce or someone scores an early goal."
Not this year
Meanwhile, NYA's magical run came to a screeching halt.
"The kids are disappointed because they know their first half performance was woeful compared to where they have been," Keen said. "It's another case of what might have been. The hole we put ourselves into was just too deep. I'm proud of the second half, disappointed in the first half, for the guys more than for me. The seven seniors wanted to get back to the state final."
Despite the setback, the Panthers once again produced an abundance of late-October and early-November thrills.
"It's been a lot of fun," Keen said. "It's been a blast. I thank the kids for that. They just can turn it on when they need to. I'm proud of them."
NYA should be right back in the title hunt in 2012.
"We have some good kids coming back and some good eighth graders coming through," Keen said.
Waynflete will face a Houlton (14-2-1) squad Saturday which survived the Eastern Class C crucible.
The Flyers have no history with the Shiretowners.
Waynflete is one step from winning its first ever Class C title and isn't about to rest on its laurels.
The Flyers are hoping for one more happy ending.
"We have to come out early again and score in the first half and keep them on their heels," Knoth said.
"We'll try our best," said Baker-Connick. "It'll be a good game."
"Hopefully we'll take advantage Saturday," Salway added. "I know nothing about (Houlton). With our region, I couldn't look past any opponent. I'll do a little bit of homework on who we play, but more important, we'll focus on being ready physically and emotionally. This team can make their mark Saturday. I think they already have, frankly. To finish it off would be something that no team has done. It would be a tremendous win for our team and our program."