PORTLAND—Sometimes, a tie can feel like a win.
That was certainly the case for the South Portland boys’ soccer team Thursday afternoon at Boulos Stadium.
Facing the talented host Cheverus Stags, the Red Riots fell behind 1-0 in the first half, but drew even 35 seconds into the second. Neither team would score again and it was on to overtime, where Cheverus appeared to have the game won when senior Elliot Maker broke in alone on goal.
But then, South Portland senior goalkeeper Shawn Shannon made one of the biggest saves of the season, stopping Maker cold, and the teams settled for a 1-1 draw.
The Red Riots are now 6-2-2, while the Stags are 7-2-1.
“It was a great game,” said South Portland coach Bryan Hoy. “Cheverus is a really good team. We’re a good team. It showed today. I thought they actually outplayed us. We did a good job to stay in the game.”
Cheverus and South Portland entered the 2011 season expected to be contenders in a region that’s deeper than it’s been in years.
The Stags won their first three games, lost at home to powerhouse Scarborough, 4-0, then downed Windham and Kennebunk to improve to 5-1. A painful 3-2, double overtime loss at Portland followed, but Cheverus bounced back by defeating Westbrook (4-2) and Thornton Academy (4-0).
The Red Riots had to open at Scarborough and lost that one, 3-0. South Portland then rattled off a 6-1-1 stretch, with the only blemishes being a 3-2 home loss to Windham and a 2-2 home tie with Westbrook. Most impressive in that stretch were 2-0 victories at Deering and Kennebunk.
Last year, the host Red Riots blanked the Stags, 3-0, in the season finale, which marked their third straight win in the series, but since 2001, entering Thursday’s game, Cheverus held a 7-3 advantage.
The Stags were seeking their first win over South Portland since a 1-0 home triumph on Sept. 27, 2007. They’d have their chances, but in the end had to settle for splitting the Heal Points with the Red Riots.
In the second minute, South Portland got the first good look when junior Damjan Draskovic broke in on the left side, but his shot was saved by Cheverus sophomore goalkeeper Charlie Mull.
Shannon first made his presence felt in the 15th minute, diving to save a shot off the foot of Stags junior Jim Campbell. The ball stayed in play and a shot was put on goal, but a heads-up Red Riots defender was there to kick the ball away.
After a pair of bids from South Portland senior Andy Mills were denied by Mull, Draskovic shot just wide.
In the 33rd minute, Cheverus’ goal finally came.
Just seconds after a long shot from junior Andrew Rose was tipped over the crossbar by Shannon, the ensuing corner kick saw senior Nick Melville serve a ball that junior Jason Rubinoff headed into the net for a 1-0 lead.
At the start of the second half, the Red Riots came out with a vengeance and tied the score.
Just 35 seconds in, senior Jack Lano passed to senior standout Nemanja Kaurin, who ripped a shot past Mull into the top left corner to make it 1-1.
The rest of the game would see near misses.
Five minutes after the tying goal, Maker headed a pass from Melville toward the goal, but South Portland junior Caleb Elsemore headed the shot out of harm’s way.
With 30:44 to go in regulation, Melville’s shot was deflected, but Shannon was able to snare it. At the other end, Draskovic looked for the lead with a low blast, but Mull dove to save it, setting up a corner kick, which was cleared.
In the 51st minute and again in the 58th, Maker sent low shots on goal that Shannon stopped. With 17:33 to play, Campbell’s left-footed rocket from 20-yards out went just high. A minute later, the ball was loose in the Red Riots’ box before it was cleared away.
Down the stretch, Cheverus senior Alexander Hoglund took a cross from Maker and headed a shot wide, South Portland senior Will Bushey got into the box for a low shot that Mull saved and Melville put a shot on goal from the middle of the field that Shannon stopped.
It was on to overtime.
Teams play two five-minute “sudden victory” overtimes in the regular season with the game being called a tie if neither scores.
It looked like 10 minutes wouldn’t be necessary when Maker, blanketed by three defenders, somehow got to a long pass, blew past two defenders and then senior Nate Fox (who stumbled) before breaking in alone on Shannon.
The game almost certainly looked over, but the goalie raced out, cut off Maker’s angle and braced to block the shot.
“It was do or die,” Shannon said. “I went all out after him. I didn’t hesitate. As soon as I saw (Nate) go down, I was ready. He took two extra touches and right there, I knew he was going to either deflect it off me and have it go in or just go off me. Luckily for me, it hit me in the chest and landed right in front of me. I got the ball, so he couldn’t get the rebound. Maker can blow anyone away on our team when it comes to speed. He’s quick and can turn on a dime. He can shoot from anywhere.”
“Nate lost his footing and fell down,” said Hoy. “I think that’s the first breakaway we’ve given up all season. Nate’s done such a good job back there protecting Shawn. We knew Shawn could come up big, but we didn’t know he could come up that big. Obviously, it was a game-changing save. It was a goal and he took it away. He’s fantastic. That’s why we have him back there.”
“It was just a great save,” lamented Cheverus coach Bill LeBlanc.
In the final minute of the first overtime, Rose’s shot was deflected. As time wound down, the Red Riots had a corner kick, but it was cleared.
The only good look in the second OT came off the foot of Kaurin, who shot wide.
The clock wound down and the teams settled for the draw.
“It was just two really good teams,” said Shannon. “Their goal, we’ve never had anyone that close on a corner kick. One goal was too many. It would have been a win for us if we had someone back there.”
“It was a great effort by my guys,” Hoy said. “By both teams, actually.”
While South Portland appeared happy with the tie, Cheverus felt it should have earned a win.
“We just couldn’t score today,” LeBlanc said. “I thought we had 70 percent of the play. We had more than (Maker’s) chance in overtime too. It’s frustrating. (South Portland’s) a good team. They’ll be there right in the middle with us. We could have easily won the game, but they could have easily won the game. I thought we played well. We were a little flat coming out of the half. Hopefully, we’ll get on the winning side of one of these overtime games.”
With the season winding down, both teams are bound for the playoffs, but where they finish and if they can get a home game is still undecided.
South Portland (eighth in the Western Class A Heal Points standings as of Friday afternoon) has another huge test Saturday, when it hosts No. 6 Gorham at 6 p.m. The Red Riots also have games at Thornton Academy and Marshwood sandwiched around a home tilt with defending regional champion Portland. They’ll have their chances to move up.
“I think we’re putting it together right now,” Shannon said. “We realize where our ability is and where we should be. We work hard in practice. Everyone’s getting in. We’d like to win out. We have to keep working hard in practice. Whatever happens in the game reflects on practice.”
“I think we’re in good position,” Hoy added. “We have to iron a few things out. We have to play a little more physical. The skill’s there, the passing’s there. We have to stay focused on what we’re doing. I think we should be right there at the end. This league is just treacherous this year. We’ve competed night in, night out, but we still have a ways to go. Gorham’s a big game for us, obviously. A win will move us right up. Other than the first 10 minutes of the Windham game, we’ve played well all season. We’d welcome playing anyone again.”
Cheverus (fifth in the Heals) has games next week at Massabesic and Deering, then closes at home against Bonny Eagle and Gorham.
“We’ll see before Gorham where we’re going to fall (in the standings),” LeBlanc said. “We’re good. The younger kids are getting better and better.”