It's Portland, in PKs…Bulldogs one win from first title

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Somewhere in this mass of humanity is Portland senior goalkeeper Rowan Daligan who made a save and forced another miss in penalty kicks as the Bulldogs beat Gorham in Wednesday’s Class A South Final, 2-1 (4-2 on PKs). Portland will seek its first championship Saturday morning against Lewiston.

Joe Carpine / 365digitalphotography.com photos.

More photos below.

GORHAM—The House of Horrors became a Field of Dreams and now, Portland’s boys’ soccer team has just one hurdle left to clear to make history in the sweetest way imaginable.

Wednesday evening, Portland, the No. 4 seed, made the return to trip to defending regional champion Gorham to battle the third-ranked Rams for the second year in a row in the Class A South Final.

A year ago, the Bulldogs left the field in agony and frustration after a 1-0 setback.

This time around, Portland rolled on the ground in exhilaration after a victory that needed 80 minutes of regulation, 30 more of overtime and four rounds of penalty kicks to become official.

The Bulldogs, who have struggled scoring in key spots this year, got a quick jump in the seventh minute when junior Pedro Fonseca scored, but Gorham answered in the second half, when senior Kyle King converted a header with 21:40 to play.

After neither team could finish good chances the rest of regulation or in a pair of 15-minute, “sudden victory” overtimes, it came down to penalty kicks, where Portland enjoyed its finest hour.

After sophomore Alex Millones started the high-stakes, pressure-packed festivities with a goal, Bulldogs senior goalie Rowan Daligan dove to make a save. Senior Manny Yugu and sophomore Tahn Tiparos then made their kids to counteract made shots by the Rams. 

Then, when senior Zekariya Shaib converted, Gorham had to make its shot to keep its season alive, but it drifted wide and Portland advanced with a 2-1 victory, 4-2 on penalty kicks.

The Bulldogs improved to 13-3-1, ended the Rams’ season at 13-3-1, won their third all-time regional title and advanced to meet Lewiston (13-2-2) in the Class A state final Saturday at 10 a.m., at Hampden Academy.

“It was a great game,” said longtime Portland coach Rocco Frenzilli. “Credit to Gorham. They represented the number three seed well. We were just fortunate. There were times we had to bend and not break. I’m so pleased for the players. They’ve been through a lot. They’ve worked hard. Guys who had no minutes, guys who had every minute, they worked in practice for each other. They like being around each other. It’s a fun group of kids. I’m pleased we’re representing our conference and getting a trip to states.”

Sweet revenge 

A year ago, Gorham got a second half goal from then-junior Sam Burghardt and a late foul in the box on then-Portland-junior Manny Yugu didn’t result in a call for a penalty shot as the Rams prevailed, 1-0, en route to the Class A Final, which they lost to Bangor, 2-1.

This fall, Gorham was its usual stellar self, tying South Portland and losing to Portland and Falmouth, but beating everyone else to earn the No. 3 seed in the region. The Rams then held off visiting No. 6 Cheverus, 3-2, in the quarterfinals before avenging one of its losses with a 1-0 victory at No. 2 Falmouth in Saturday’s semifinal round.

Portland started the year 4-0, lost in overtime at Falmouth, then rattled off five more victories. The Bulldogs then endured an 0-2-1 stretch as the offense dried up, but a 2-1 come-from-behind victory over visiting Thornton Academy in the finale gave Portland a 10-3-1 record and the No. 4 seed in the region.

After edging visiting No. 5 Scarborough, their longtime nemesis, 1-0, in the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs outlasted No. 8 Thornton Academy, 2-1, in the semifinals to advance.

In the teams’ regular season meeting, Sept. 9, Portland got first half goals from sophomore Tahn Tiparos and freshman Gracien Mukwa and that was enough even though Gorham got a second half tally from senior Alex Ousback.

Wednesday, on a chilly evening, not much separated two excellent teams, but the Bulldogs managed to find a way to advance.

Both teams had good chances in the first half, but Portland got the goal, as Shaib set up Fonseca for a 1-0 lead.

The Rams amped up their attack in the second half and drew even.

Gorham had a couple corner kicks early and twice the Bulldogs almost ended up giving up an own goal, but both times, Daligan was in the right spot. 

With 32:18 to play, King fired a low shot which Daligan saved. 

With 28 minutes to go, Daligan punched out a cross from junior Kevin Mollison. The ball came to sophomore Andrew Rent, whose shot was blocked before Daligan came up with it.

After Rams senior Nolan Brown missed just wide, junior Cooper Lyons shot high and a long bid from senior Garrett Higgins was punched away by Daligan, Gorham drew even.

With 21:40 remaining in regulation, junior Brenden Waterman served a cross in front and King leaped over the defense and headed the ball over Daligan’s outstretched hand to make it 1-1.

That awakened the Bulldogs, who looked to retake the lead, only to see Fonseca shoot just wide after a nice rush, Millones have a shot saved by Rams junior goalkeeper Trevor Gray and Gray beat Fonseca to a feed from senior Sam Mermin.

After both squads failed to convert corner kicks, Portland senior Quinn Clarke took a corner kick just outside the box, but shot high, junior Samuel Nkuruziza’s shot deflected wide, Shaib just missed with a header and in the final minute, Gorham got a shot from King, but it was blocked and the game went to overtime.

In the playoffs, teams play two 15-minute, “sudden victory” OTs and if no one scores, the game is settled by penalty kicks.

Each squad would have chances to win in the extra sessions, but couldn’t finish.

The first OT chance went to Shaib and he nearly ended the game, taking a pass in transition from Nkuruziza, before shooting just high. 

The Bulldogs then had a corner kick and the ball came out to junior Tyler Lemay, who shot wide.

With 8:25 left in the first overtime, King took a free kick just outside the box, but missed wide.

A minute later, Higgins crossed the ball to King, who headed it to Burghardt, who again hoped to deliver a game-winner against Portland in the playoffs, but his header was saved by Daligan.

In the second overtime, senior Nick Sturtevant had a long shot saved by Daligan, Fonseca’s header was saved by Gray, King’s header was saved by Daligan, Bulldogs junior Berrick Bobe headed the ball over the crossbar, Shaib shot wide and a late free kick by Gorham junior Michael Knight was cleared and that did it for normal play.

After a short break, it was on to penalty kicks and Portland went first.

With all eyes concentrated on one end of the field, Millones stepped to the line and with Gray diving to his left, Millones shot the ball into the other side of the net.

King then tried to tie it, but Daligan dove to rob him.

“I was going to my right originally, but I saw how he was moving and I went for it,” Daligan said.

Yugu then buried a shot into the upper left corner, but Rent countered with a shot just inside the right post, making it 2-1.

Tiparos kept the pressure on, burying a shot in the upper 90, but Sturtevant answered, making it 3-2.

Shaib then stepped to the line with a chance to all but ice it and he didn’t waver, scoring low inside the near post.

“There was pressure, but I wanted to put it in the right side and I did,” Shaib said. “It’s a great feeling.”

Lyons had to make his kick to keep Gorham alive, but with Daligan guessing correctly and diving to his left, Lyons tried to squeeze the ball inside the right post, but missed wide and at 8:25 p.m., after a palpitating marathon, Portland finished with four made PKs to the Rams’ two and won the regional title.

“I didn’t even know it was the last shot, but I saw my team running to me and I kind of fell down,” Daligan said. “I still can’t believe it. I’m really excited. This is history. I love my team so much. They always come through. It was intense, but it’s so nice to be with my friends and have the whole school here to support us. I’ve thought about last year all season. I wanted to come back here and win. All the skill players stepped up. We have the most fun team. We’re so tight and that allows us to have amazing chemistry.”

“I’m very happy to come back and win on this field,” Shaib said. “I’m very proud of my team and the confidence we had. We remembered last year. Most of us were here. We wanted to come back and win. It was a very good game. Gorham did a great job defending and so did we. We were very confident (in PKs). We trust our goalie.”

“In PKs, it’s a crapshoot,” Frenzilli added. “We go through our routine at the end of practice. We missed one day and I thought it would be the kiss of depth, but when Rowan made that first save, that gave us help. The four shooters were spot-on. I don’t know if it was the two or three they took at the end of every practice, but they got the job done.

“Coming up here, I knew it would be a low scoring, close game. I knew it would be back and forth. When Pedro knocked that first one in, it felt great, but they tied it up, then both teams had good chances. Their energy picked up, then our energy level picked up. We weathered the storm and got through it. I love these kids. Some do nothing but cheer and work. I love that they buy in to our program and our system. It’s all positive.”

Daligan kept his high school career alive by making 13 saves.

“I felt the pressure, but I also weirdly felt numb and tingling,” Daligan said. “I was praying a little bit too.”

In case you were wondering, Clarke was poised to take the fifth PK if he’d been needed.

Eighty minutes to glory

Portland has twice before played for a Class A championship, but lost, 1-0, to Mt. Ararat in 1994 and in 2010, the Bulldogs suffered a painful and controversial 3-2 loss to Bangor, when the Rams produced the winning score on an indirect kick which was never touched.

This time around, Portland will meet a Lewiston squad which won Class A just two years ago and upset defending champion Bangor, 2-1, in its regional final Wednesday.

The teams met in the preseason, with the Bulldogs winning a shortened contest, but Portland knows that the rematch will be much tougher.

These Bulldogs are ready to make history, however.

“We played Lewiston in the preseason and we won,” Shaib said. “That gives us confidence. I know how they play. It will be a good game. We look forward to it.”

“It will be a very tough game,” Daligan said. “They’ll be one of the best teams we’ve played. They’re fast, good and athletic, but we’re ready. I’m ecstatic that we’re going.”

“Emotionally, I’m still numb,” added Frenzilli, who first started coaching Portland in 1976 (he took the years 1998-98 off before returning in 1999). “This program, all the Bulldogs, this is what it’s all about. I told the boys they’re part of a tradition. We’ll see how it goes on Saturday. It was back and forth when we played in the preseason, but it’ll be a different atmosphere (in Hampden). I’m proud we’ll step off the bus and play for a championship.”

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

Portland senior Manny Yugu serves the ball.

Portland junior Samuel Nkurunziza boots the ball.

Portland junior Pedro Fonseca, who scored the game’s first goal, goes up for a header as Gorham junior goalkeeper Trevor Gray and senior Garrett Higgins defend.

Portland senior Manny Yugu tries to get past Gorham junior Cooper Lyons.

Gorham junior goalkeeper Trevor Gray guesses wrong on one of Portland’s made penalty kicks.

Portland’s cheering section showed up in large numbers Wednesday.

Portland senior captains Quinn Clarke, left, Rowan Daligan and Sam Mermin show the regional championship plaque to their fans.

The regional champions show off their hardware.

Prevous Portland stories

Season Preview

Portland 1 Deering 1 (tie)

Scarborough 1 Portland 0

Previous Portland-Gorham playoff results

2016 Class A South Final
Gorham 1 Portland 0

2010 Western A Final
Portland 2 Gorham 1

2005 Western A quarterfinals
Gorham 3 Portland 0

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.