Scarborough savors another Gold Ball
Last fall, the Scarborough boys' soccer team had its championship wrapped up by halftime of the Class A state final.
This time, however, the Red Storm had to dig deep into its reservoir of heart and pride to get the job done.
Saturday afternoon at McCann Field in Bath, Scarborough, just three days removed from a cathartic regional final romp over Portland, found itself a little more than seven minutes from heartache, trailing Hampden Academy, 1-0, but it turned out that the Red Storm was saving its best for last.
Just when all appeared lost, senior Charlie Mader tied the score in the 73rd minute. Then, 6:52 into overtime, junior Sam Ware entered the pantheon of Red Storm heroes with a blast into the net and Scarborough made it five titles in nine seasons and 10 in program history with a 2-1 victory.
"It was awesome, a classic," said longtime Red Storm coach Mark Diaz, who now has six Gold Balls to his credit. "The guys found a way to pull it out."
Rite of autumn
While Scarborough once again wound up atop the regional standings, the Red Storm found far more competition along the way than in previous seasons.
"We knew we had some good players back, but there was a lot of parity in the league," Diaz said. "A lot of games were tight. I'm not surprised no one went undefeated, including us."
After dominating visiting South Portland, 5-0, in the opener, the Red Storm was stunned at home by Portland, 1-0, but wouldn't stumble again. Scarborough bounced back to defeat host Marshwood and visiting Sanford by 4-0 scores, then crushed visiting red-hot Noble, 6-0. Scarborough then blanked host Cheverus (3-0) and visiting Massabesic (8-0) before eking out a 2-1 overtime win at Gorham on an penalty kick from senior standout Wyatt Omsberg. A 1-0 win at Deering followed before the Red Storm closed with wins over visiting Westbrook (2-0), at Biddeford (6-0) and Windham (10-0), at home over Thornton Academy (3-0) and at Bonny Eagle (7-2) to go 13-1.
After coming alive to eliminate eighth-ranked South Portland in the quarterfinals, 2-0, Scarborough was tested by No. 5 Gorham in the semifinals, facing just its second deficit of the season, but rallied to prevail, 2-1.
"The Gorham game was big for us," Diaz said. "They hit us on the chin and that taught us we could come back."
The victory was a landmark win for Diaz.
"He's got a lot of championships, but we got him his 200th win, which was nice," Mader said.
Wednesday, in the regional final, the Red Storm got the early jump and went on to avenge its lone loss with a 4-0 win over No. 3 Portland.
It took Scarborough all of 22 seconds to deliver its message, as Omsberg struck for the only goal his team would need.
"That loss gave us a lot of motivation," Omsberg said. "The coaches got us ready. We came out firing and played one of our best games of the year. I had a bunch of space and decided to take a shot and it went in. It was a relief to get one that early."
Mader added a second goal just before the half and Scarborough got tallies from Omsberg and senior Max Ornstein in the second half to cruise, 4-0, and punch its ticket to its seventh Class A Final in 11 seasons.
"The guys came out like they were down," Diaz said. "We'd prepared a lot. We talked a lot about that first game, watched a lot of film. (Beating Portland) kind of defined us and let us know we could do it. It started with the seniors. They came out and took over. We scored 22 seconds in and we kept coming. That's who we are."
Saturday marked the 12th time in program history that Scarborough took the field for a state championship game (please see sidebar, below).
The Red Storm won Class A every year from 1973 through 1976, beating Nokomis (2-0), Ft. Kent (1-0), Madawaska (4-0) and Ellsworth (2-0) in that stretch.
Scarborough wouldn't return to the final for 23 long years, when it made its lone Class B state game. That year, the Red Storm had to go four overtimes against Ellsworth, but capped a stunning run from the No. 9 seed to give Diaz a title in his first season, 2-1.
Scarborough got to the brink of a title in 2003, but lost to Mt. Ararat in painful fashion on penalty kicks, 1-0. Two years later, the Red Storm returned and went to PKs versus the Eagles again, but this time prevailed, 1-0. Scarborough hoped to repeat in 2006, but lost to Bangor, 1-0, in double overtime. The teams met again two years later and the Red Storm returned the favor with a 1-0 OT victory. In 2009, Scarborough managed to go back-to-back with a 2-1 victory over Brunswick. Last fall, the Red Storm dominated the first half and cruised past Mt. Ararat, 4-0.
Hampden Academy, meanwhile, lost in its previous three state appearances: 3-0 to Cape Elizabeth in 1995, 5-1 to Greely three years later and 3-2 (after leading 2-0) to Greely in 2004.
Scarborough and Hampden Academy had never met before.
"We watched film," Mader said. "We knew they had fast strikers up top and we knew we had to contain them. We couldn't let the ball go over the top and we knew we had to contain the middle."
Saturday, the teams made some history.
The Red Storm had some first half chances, but sophomore Matt Caron twice was denied, a shot hit the post and freshman Noah Stracqualursi sent a shot wide.
Then, less than two minutes into the second half, the Broncos took a 1-0 lead on a blast from Noah Parker and Scarborough faced just its third deficit of the season (the first was in the loss to Portland and the second was early to Gorham in the semifinals).
Hampden Academy goalkeeper Isaiah Bess held the Red Storm at bay for quite awhile, before it finally broke through with just 7:19 to play.
Senior Mike Caryl’s long, high ball from midfield created a race for possession near the 18-yard line, with Mader getting there first and popping the ball over Bess and into the open net.
"We were a little worried, but we'd had chances," said Mader. "I knew we'd get a goal after they scored. Mikey had the ball and played a chip ball over the top. I got behind their center-back and their outside-back. I took one touch over the goalie. I saw him come out and knew the goal was open. I didn't really see it go in because the goalie took me out. I looked up and saw the ball in the net and everyone was cheering. It felt really good."
"It started to feel like it could be destiny for the other team," Diaz said. "With about 26 minutes to play, we switched our formation to get more pressure up top. With about 15 left, I switched it again. I had to try everything. We decided to play a little more direct and we hoped to catch them. We caught them with seven to play and we finally buried one."
The Red Storm suddenly had all the momentum.
"After Charlie scored, we started playing better," Ware said. "We'd been down so long, once we tied it, going into overtime, we had momentum."
"We had a second life," Diaz said. "We were re-energized. Some of the guys didn't know it was a 15-minute overtime, not five like during the regular season. They liked that. They wanted more time. That was their attitude, 'We'll get it done. Just give us more time.'"
With 8:08 left in the first of what could have been two 15-minute "sudden victory" overtimes, Ware ended it.
Caron received senior Chris Cowie’s kick about 25 yards out and slid a short pass to Ware, who directed his title-winning shot into the upper left corner of the net.
"Cowie played a beautiful ball over the top," Ware said. "Matty found a way to get to the end of it. I saw him go outside with two defenders, so I cut in. He played me a nice ball between the two defenders and I just tried to get it on frame. I was a little bit inside the 18. I knew I hit it well. I saw it go past the keeper and I was pretty happy. It felt great."
"It was a beautiful goal," Diaz said. "In the huddle, I always talk about not trying to be the hero and play the game the right way and that heroes will happen. I don't think it works to go outside your comfort zone. They stuck with the plan and Sam had a beautiful shot. He was playing really good defense all game. Matt gave him a great pass. Sam can hit it with both feet. He got a special one. We went nuts."
Indeed, jubilation reigned.
"I was getting worried, but we never panicked," said Omsberg. "Last year, it felt like the game was over early. This year, they made us work for it. It meant a little more."
"A lot of the seniors have played together since travel soccer days," Mader said. "We all know each other so well. We won travel soccer championships, we won last year together. It meant a lot to do it again."
"Certainly the ending was special," Diaz added. "I prefer (winning like we did last year), but the players felt it meant more being close. These guys are relentless. This one was tough. They're all tough, but we lost a lot of good players last year. This group just found ways to win. They don't like losing. Even in a tournament in the summer in a game that didn't mean anything, they'd turn it up to another level. They did it again against Gorham when we went down and did it again the last 20 minutes the other day. Charlie got run over on the tying goal. We had guys with black eyes. You're supposed to be hurt and sore after games like that. (Hampden was) very good and very athletic. Some of the guys said it was the best team we saw all year."
Scarborough outshot Hampden, 25-14. Red Storm senior goalkeeper Pat Stanton made 10 saves, while Bess made 16 stops.
Scarborough graduates 15 seniors, including nine starters, who played huge roles in producing two Gold Balls.
Mader, bound for Roger Williams University next year, got to live out a childhood dream.
"As a middle schooler, you look up to the kids," he said. "Now, I see younger kids running around the field. I think about how four or five years ago that was me."
Omsberg, who will play at Dartmouth College next year, was late to the party, transferring to Scarborough prior to his junior year, but he made the most of his two seasons.
"I'm really glad I came here," he said. "I couldn't ask for anything more. The coaches do a really good job. The team works hard every day. That speaks well to why we're successful."
Even after the graduation hits, there's an abundance of talent returning, so don't be surprised if we see the Red Storm enjoying another Gold Ball celebration next November.
"We're losing a lot of really good players, but we have a lot of young talent coming up," Ware said. "We have a deep bench. We sub so much. I'm not worried about next year. Our JV team improved all season. Some of the younger players have a lot of talent. That gives me confidence."
"We'll just try to make the playoffs like we do every year," Diaz said. "Some kids who had good playing time this year will have to step up. We'll be extremely young."
Bangor Daily News staff writer Ernie Clark contributed to this story.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.
Previous Scarborough state results
Scarborough 4 Mt. Ararat 0
Scarborough 2 Brunswick 1
Scarborough 1 Bangor 0 (OT)
Bangor 1 Scarborough 0 (2 OT)
Scarborough 1 Mt. Ararat 0 (4-2 PKs)
Mt. Ararat 1 Scarborough 0 (2-4 PKs)
Scarborough 2 Ellsworth 1 (4 OT)
Scarborough 2 Ellsworth 0
Scarborough 4 Madawaska 0
Scarborough 1 Ft. Kent 0
Scarborough 2 Nokomis 0