Freeport senior Shea Wagner races up the field as Presque Isle sophomore Gage LeTourneau tries to keep up during the teams’ Class B state final Saturday night. The Falcons couldn’t hold a two-goal lead and dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker in double-overtime.
Eric Maxim / Times Record photos.
More photos below.
HAMPDEN—There will be no happy ending for the 2018 Freeport boys’ soccer team.
Even though the Falcons certainly deserved one.
Saturday evening at Hampden Academy, with the rain falling and the wind howling, Freeport positioned itself to end a 40-year championship drought when it took a 2-0 lead over Presque Isle in the Class B state final, but the Falcons let the lead slip away, then came within inches of winning the game in overtime before dropping a gutwrenching decision in the second extra session, leaving them one goal shy of the ultimate prize.
Freeport carried play most of the first half and was rewarded in the 33rd minute, when senior Owen Patrick played a long ball ahead and junior Will Winter headed it into the goal.
When Winter scored on another header, this one from junior Jesse Bennell, with 35:25 to play, the Falcons appeared destined to prevail, but the unheralded Wildcats roared back.
Presque Isle got some momentum with exactly 33 minutes on the clock, when senior Kyler Caron scored out of a scrum off a free kick to cut the deficit to one.
Then, with 12:54 to play, the elements conspired against the Falcons, as a long boot from sophomore Conner Michaud got caught up in the wind, then landed in front of senior goalkeeper Atticus Patrick and bounced over the goalie and in to improbably tie the score.
Freeport appeared to win the game in the first 15-minute, “sudden victory” overtime, when Bennell got the ball to bounce off Wildcats senior goalie Mason Young and off the crossbar and in, but with the Falcons unleashing a celebration four decades in the making, the goal was waved off as it was ruled that the ball hit the football goalpost, not the soccer crossbar and the game went on.
It went on until 9:32 remained in the second OT, when the ball got played into the box, Patrick collided with a Presque Isle attacker and the ball came to senior Drew Cameron, who finished his chance to give the Wildcats the title, 3-2.
Freeport’s finest season in decades ended at 12-4-2, as Presque Isle finished 15-1-2, won a state championship for the first time and ended the West/South’s 24-year stranglehold on Class B in the process.
“We turned this into an underdog story, 25 years for the North, and we capitalized on that story,” said Wildcats coach Joseph Greaves. “We got a lot of messages saying, “Bring one home for the North.” Presque Isle never had a state championship in soccer and our boys didn’t have a Gold Ball in any sport, but we do now.”
Freeport dominated Class B to the tune of three successive championships between 1976-78, but the Falcons hadn’t been able to return to the state game since.
This fall, everything changed.
The Falcons lived up to billing and then some as a top contender, going 9-3-2, losing only to Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth and York and tying Greely and Yarmouth. The Falcons finished with the No. 2 seed in the region and handled seventh-ranked Leavitt, 5-0, in the quarterfinals, then beat third-seeded Greely, 3-1, in the semifinals, and edged No. 4 Cape Elizabeth in a 3-2 thriller in Wednesday’s Class B South Final (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).
Presque Isle went 11-1-2 this year, losing only to eventual top-seed Caribou and tying Caribou and Fort Kent. As the No. 2 seed in Class B North, the Wildcats advanced with wins over No. 7 Old Town (4-0 in the quarterfinals), sixth-seeded Brewer (6-0 in the semifinals) and No. 5 Washington Academy (2-1 in the regional final).
Presque Isle lost to Yarmouth in the 2005 and 2008 Class B state finals, in its only prior state game appearances.
Freeport, meanwhile, entered 3-0 all-time on the big stage.
Saturday evening, with the wind raging and the temperature starting at 55 at kickoff and dropping, the Falcons seemingly did enough to win, but they couldn’t finish off their fairy tale campaign with a coveted championship, as instead, the Wildcats became the first East/North team to win a Class B crown since Ellsworth in 1993.
Freeport came out strong and looked to score first, but senior Shea Wagner missed just wide, senior Eriksen Shea had a low shot saved by Young, Wagner was denied by Young and both Bennell and junior Gabe Wagner were taken down, but no call was made.
Presque Isle’s first good look came in the 21st minute, but Caron’s left-footed bid rolled just wide of the far post.
At the other end, Bennell shot just high and Winter missed wide.
The first goal came with 7:39 remaining before halftime and it came suddenly.
Owen Patrick booted the ball up the field, Winter caught up to it and with Young off his line, Winter headed the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead.
“We talked at the beginning of the game and we knew we had to score the first goal,” Winter said. “We knew the wind would help us in the first half. We like to play long. I didn’t think the ball was coming to my head, the wind took it a little bit, but the wind also carried it over the goalkeeper’s hand.”
Freeport had a 5-2 edge in shots on frame and had the only two corners of the first half, but four big saves from Young kept the Wildcats close.
The Falcons came out for the second half looking to take a stranglehold on the contest and after Bennell had a shot blocked in the box and Winter missed just wide, Bennell crossed the ball to Winter, who beat Young with another header and with 35:25 remaining, Freeport had a 2-0 advantage.
And any coach will tell you that a two-goal lead is the worst lead you can have.
Sure enough, Presque Isle answered almost immediately, as off a free kick, the ball was batted around in front before Caron knocked it home to make it a 2-1 game with 33 minutes on the clock.
“From the get-go, we knew it would be a tough game, so we wanted to keep fighting and hopefully get one in,” Cameron said. “We got one and saw they had their heads down and we took advantage and continued to attack.”
“I think we were a little too comfortable after that (second) goal,” said Winter. “We didn’t play the way we wanted to play.”
The Wildcats then looked to tie, but Atticus Patrick saved a free kick from senior William Bridges and sophomore Gage LeTourneau missed wide.
The Falcons then nearly went back on top by two again, but Shea Wagner missed just wide, sophomore Ethan Prescott had a shot saved by Young and after Winter was injured, Young denied Shea Wagner three successive times before saving a shot by Shea and leaping to again rob Shea Wagner.
And then, Presque Isle drew even.
Michaud got the ball near midfield and sent it on target. The ball landed well in front of Patrick, but it took a huge hop over the keeper and before a shocked Patrick could recover, the ball was in the net and with 12:54 to go in regulation, the Wildcats had tied it up, 2-2.
“We knew they were a direct team and they didn’t want to play through the midfield,” said Freeport first-year coach Bob Strong. “The weather made it difficult for us to handle those direct balls.”
Late in regulation, Bennell missed just wide, Shea Wagner had a shot tipped out for a corner, Winter had a shot tipped wide and with 2:06 to go, Bennell set up Shea Wagner for the apparent winner, but Young robbed him to send the game to overtime.
“Mason is an incredible goalie,” Cameron said. “I can’t thank him enough for his incredible performance.”
In the first of a possible two 15-minute “sudden victory” overtimes before the game would have to be decided on penalty kicks, the Falcons continued to pepper Young looking to end it, but despite a very close call, it wasn’t to be.
Just 33 seconds into OT, Bennell tried to be the hero, but his shot was tipped just wide of the far post.
With 13:18 left in the first overtime, Bennell unleashed a strong shot which Young got a hand on. The ball then struck the frame, bounced down and ricocheted off the goalie and across the line.
Freeport raced on to the field to celebrate the apparent title-clincher, but the goal didn’t count.
The officials ruled that the ball had hit the yellow football crossbar, meaning it was out of play for a corner kick before it bounced back and hit Young.
“I saw it hit off the crossbar and hit the goalie and go in,” said Winter. “I thought it was a goal, but you can’t argue with the call.”
“The ball hit the yellow post,” Young said. “It hit my fist, went up-and-over, hit the post, hit the back of my calf and went in and I thought it was over. It was a relief when they waved it off.”
The Falcons’ ensuing corner didn’t result in a shot.
Freeport continued to press, but Young saved a shot by Shea, robbed Shea Wagner after his brother Gabe Wagner set him up, then Bennell missed high.
After Falcons junior back Sam Larochelle blocked a shot by Cameron, Owen Patrick frustrated Cameron as well.
Late in the first overtime, freshman Owen Howarth made a nice run before passing to Bennell, whose shot was saved by Young, and Shea missed just high.
The contest would go to a second OT and there, we would get resolution, just not in the way Freeport would have hoped.
The Wildcats sent the ball on frame off the opening kickoff and Atticus Patrick had to leave his feet to secure it.
After Shea Wagner hit the net just on the outside of the near post, Young beat Wagner to Prescott’s through-ball.
Presque Isle then transitioned to offense and into destiny.
A long ball was played ahead for junior Connor DeMerchant, who collided with Atticus Patrick, allowing the ball to squirt out to Cameron to Patrick’s left. With the keeper out of the play, Cameron calmly took a touch, then with 9:32 on the clock, at exactly 8 p.m., he fired a shot into the net and gave the Wildcats a 3-2 victory.
“It feels unreal,” Cameron said. “I can’t believe it. I’m so happy. I can’t fathom it. I saw that Connor DeMerchant attacked the goalie and that’s how the ball came out. The ball bounced out and came right to me and I just did what we do in practice, hit it low and hard and it went in far post. I laid on the ground and got swarmed by my teammates. It was insane.”
“Our striker broke through and the ball got deflected wide to Drew, who had an open net,” Greaves said. “Those are easy to miss in a big game, but he picked his head up and tucked it in. It’s a dream come true.”
Presque Isle then had a huge celebration.
“This means everything,” Young said. “We rewrote history. It was a complete emotional roller-coaster. We fought to the end. It was hard to hold them off.”
Freeport, which thought it had the game won twice, up two goals in regulation and again on the disallowed goal in overtime, finished with an 18-8 edge in shots on frame, got five saves from Atticus Patrick and held a 10-1 advantage in corner kicks, but went home with the runner-up plaque, not the shiny Gold Ball.
“We didn’t want it to end this way, but it’s our best season in 40 years,” Winter said. “It’s been a historic season. I’m really proud of the team, the fans, all the support we got.
“Congratulations to Presque Isle,” Strong said. “I’m so proud of these guys and the season they put together. Certainly, this game did not define our season. It was reminiscent of the Cape game (in the regional final), up two goals, and we knew it could change and it did. It was just a couple bad bounces. This game could have gone either way.
“They were a very aggressive team and they challenged every ball. They made it difficult for our boys to get any momentum. It’s been amazing for the kids to have the school and the community behind them.”
Freeport graduates 15 players, including many standouts. That senior class elevated the program to a level it hadn’t attained in decades.
“It’s an amazing group of seniors,” Strong said. “It’s hard to see them so down right now. I want them to think back to all of the things they accomplished this year.”
As painful as Saturday’s result was, the Falcons have gotten a taste of success and will hope to build on it in 2019.
“We’ll be back next year,” Winter said. “We have a solid core coming back.”
Freeport junior Jesse Bennell handles the ball as Presque Isle senior Jacob Sjoberg defends.
Freeport junior Gabe Wagner boots the ball away from Presque Isle senior Zechariah Morse.
Sophomore Ethan Prescott handles the ball.
Freeport 2 Penobscot Valley 1
Freeport 2 Schenck 1
Freeport 2 Fort Fairfield 0
Yarmouth 1 Presque Isle 0
Yarmouth 3 Presque Isle 0