PORTLAND—Entering the 2013 season, consensus held that the North Yarmouth Academy boys’ soccer team, long a playoff staple, was going to have a down campaign.
Even coach Martyn Keen feared he and his charges were in for a long year.
Fast forward to Oct. 2 and the Panthers aren’t just surprisingly good.
Wednesday afternoon, under sunny, warm skies that made it feel as if the calendar was turned back a month, NYA traveled to Fore River Fields to take on longtime rival Waynflete, a team which dominated the Panthers a year ago.
This time, however, NYA carried the day.
After dominating the first 15 minutes, but having nothing to show for it, the Panthers finally broke through with 27:57 to play, when senior Jackson Cohan-Smith scored an improbable goal to break the ice.
NYA’s defense and senior goalkeeper Austin Kidder did the rest and the Panthers continued their magic carpet ride with a 1-0 victory, improving to 9-0, while dropping the Flyers to 5-2.
“There’s incredible chemistry with this group,” Keen said. “They like each other and work hard for each other. They’re great kids. Of all my years coaching, and this is now my 15th year in high school, they’re by far the nicest group. They work together so hard and they like each other.”
Both squads have been up to their usual dominance this fall, although the Panthers’ success has been unexpected.
NYA opened with a 2-0 win at Traip Academy, handled host Gray-New Gloucester (6-2), won at Wells (4-1), beat visiting Traip (5-1) and Wells (8-0), blanked host Richmond (5-0), then defeated visiting Sacopee (5-0) and Freeport (3-0).
Waynflete opened with a 5-0 win at Traip, then held off host Fryeburg, 2-1, blanked visiting Lake Region, 8-0, and came from behind to win at Gray-New Gloucester, 3-1. A 3-0 home loss to Western B power Yarmouth ensued, but the Flyers won at Poland Friday, 2-0.
Waynflete and NYA have both enjoyed great success in recent seasons, ratcheting up a rivalry which has featured postseason meetings in each of the past three straight years.
Entering the game, since the start of the 1999 season, NYA had won 12 meetings, Waynflete nine and five other games ended in ties (please see sidebar, below), but since the start of the 2010 season, the Flyers had captured seven of nine meetings (which includes one tie).
Wednesday, the Panthers turned the tide.
The temperature was 79 degrees at kickoff and NYA came out red-hot.
It took just 42 seconds for the Panthers to register a shot, as senior Mitch Rand did the honors (Waynflete sophomore goalkeeper Milo Belleau made the save).
In the sixth minute, a shot by Rand hit the side of the net. Four minutes later, Belleau made a save on a Rand shot. In the 12th minute, dangerous NYA junior D.J. Nicholas got free for a shot which forced Belleau to make a sprawling save. Seconds later, a Nicholas rush was broken up by Flyers senior Boni Kabongo. Belleau then twice came out to beat Nicholas to a loose ball. The Panthers kept the pressure on as Nicholas sent a header wide and a Chicoine header sailed high.
And that was in barely 20 minutes of play.
Late in the half, the Flyers got a good look when sophomore Jack Weston sent a header wide. Belleau had to make a save on a shot from NYA senior Michael McIntosh and with 8:17 to go before the break, the host’s best chance resulted in a shot just high from junior Harry Baker-Connick.
In the first half, the Panthers outshot Waynflete, 10-4. Belleau made six saves.
Keen was frustrated that his team couldn’t break through.
“We started to get a little impatient,” Keen said. “D.J. drifted to the wings, where’s he far less dangerous. He does his damage in the box. We knew they’d mark him tight. He’s struggling. He’s been really sick, but he still gave us everything he had for 80 minutes.(Senior captain Jackson Cohan-Smith’s) so talented. I want him to take the ball on and score. We knew Milo’s inexperienced. We wanted to put a lot of shots on him, but we really didn’t. “
Early in the second half, the Flyers pressured, as Baker-Connick got to a misplayed ball in the box, only to have his shot blocked, a free kick by senior Henry Cleaves sailed high and another Cleaves free kick soared over the cage.
At the other end, Rand had a shot saved by Belleau and Waynflete sophomore Tommy Silk had to clear away a loose ball. After Belleau stopped a Nicholas shot, NYA earned its first corner kick with 28:25 remaining.
The serve was headed away, but the ball came to Chicoine on the left side about 20 yards out. Chicoine served an innocent looking ball toward the goal that looked to be going high before it suddenly appeared on target. Belleau leaped to make the save, but juggled the ball as he hit the ground and it trickled into the net for a 1-0 Panthers’ lead.
“I wasn’t really getting frustrated because I knew that the goals were going to come,” said Chicoine. “It just took us some time on this field. It’s always a tough game over here. I was trying to get it on goal. It had good spin on it. It went right on the goal line and the goalie couldn’t keep it out. I didn’t think at first it had a chance, but it kept dipping, dipping, dipping and it went in.”
“It wasn’t exactly pretty, but they don’t give style points,” said Keen. “Put the ball on target and good things can happen. If you don’t take a shot, it won’t happen. We preached at halftime that (Milo) was inexperienced and in the pressure of a big game anything can happen. It wasn’t even a good shot, but it was on target and we’ll take it.”
“Defensively, before they scored, we were lunging way too much, so it was only a matter of time,” lamented longtime Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “It was an unlucky goal because Milo’s played so well. It’s unfortunate that was the goal we gave up.”
The game was far from over, however.
Just three minutes later, Waynflete earned a corner kick and it dropped right in the box, but NYA was able to clear it.
With 21:47 remaining, Cohan-Smith forced Belleau to make a sprawling save.
At the other end, junior Clancy Mitchell took a pass from Kabongo and got off a shot, but Kidder made the save.
With 17:23 to go, Flyers senior Elyse Bayizere sent a shot wide.
Four minutes later, freshman Khalid Suja set up Bayizere with a long lead pass, but Bayziere shot wide.
With 11:17 left, Bayizere had a shot saved, but the ball went out of bounds, giving Waynflete a corner kick. On the corner, Kidder knocked the ball out to Baker-Connick, but he shot wide.
With 8:11 to play, Cleaves raced for a through ball, but Kidder came way to out to beat him to the ball.
“Coach always tells me to be aggressive on the ball,” Kidder said. “When they take a touch in front of me, I know I can come out and get at their feet. They get scared when I approach them. We just had to keep the ball out. I know I can save a straight-on shot. It’s really about the guys in front of me.”
Two minutes later, a Baker-Connick rush was broken up by NYA senior Wesley Bright.
With just over 2 minutes left, a Waynflete corner was headed out and an ensuing serve into the box by Suja was cleared.
The Flyers earned a free kick and a bid from the side by senior Joey Schnier was cleared.
Waynflete’s last chance came with 1:18 showing, but Baker-Connick’s header off a throw went wide.
The Panthers ran out the clock from there and were able to celebrate their 1-0 victory.
“Everyone had to drop in the box at the end, but we held on,” Chicoine said.
“The kids worked hard,” said Keen. “We don’t have a lot of depth. The majority of them had to play 80 minutes. We were tired at the end. The older guys know about the tradition and history between the clubs. We won a Western Maine Final on this field. Last year they were a superior talent, no question. We took our lumps. Seven of my kids had never played against them.”
The beat goes on for NYA.
“We have a bunch of great freshman,” said Chicoine. “We’ve played great as a team. D.J. is scoring a ton of goals. Kidder is unbelievable in goal.”
“We’re not worried about last year, we’re focused on this year,” Kidder said. “It’s a new team. We’re playing as a team. It wouldn’t work with one player being really good.”
“We’ve had a few freshmen surprises,” Keen added. “One of them, Jeremy (Thelven), played golf at first, then watched our practices, saw how much fun we were having, and wanted to play.”
The Panthers finished with a 21-16 shots advantage (14-5 on frame). Kidder made five saves and broke up several other chances.
He continues to excel and his presence has been an added bonus, as his availability this season was in doubt.
“I had a concussion last year and I wasn’t allowed to play sports,” Kidder said. “I was just cleared the first week of preseason.”
“I always feel safe with him back there,” said Keen. “That’s a big bonus having him back. Our defense is solid too. (Junior) Chase (Gendron) wins everything in the air. (Freshman) Xander (Bartone) is so fast. If they do get through, Austin’s just solid. He made a save earlier this year that’s one of the best I’ve ever seen. He’s so athletic. This is our sixth shutout. The four goals that went in, one was an own-goal, one was a penalty kick, one was a mistake by the backup keeper. The one we did let in was a nice header and Austin almost kept that one out.”
Waynflete got 13 saves from Belleau and had a 4-3 edge in corner kicks.
“It took us awhile to get our legs,” Salway said. “I was really proud of how we responded after they scored. We played our best after they scored. We played with more intensity. I saw (NYA) play a month ago and thought they were really good. They’re dangerous. I think they have two of the best players in the conference in Jackson and D.J. I’m not surprised (by their success) at all. We were a little undermanned today. Honestly, I thought we’d have to play really well to beat them. They might be the favorite going forward. I hate to lose, but I really liked what I saw and how we responded. It will motivate us going forward.”
Salway singled out a couple of his defenders, Schnier and sophomore Aaron Lee, for their play.
“Two years in a row now, Aaron’s drawn those (top) assignments,” Salway said. “Aaron was really solid on D.J., who has really improved. Joey gave him a lot of help. Joey’s been sick, but he was unbelievable today. We’ve spent a lot of time since the Yarmouth game going back to basics on defense. It’s getting better, but we’re still not there. We have brief periods in matches where we lunge too much and make it easier for teams.”
The Flyers (now seventh in the Western Class C Heal Points standings) visit Sacopee Valley Friday, then have four straight at home: versus Freeport, Gray-New Gloucester, Sacopee and Traip, before closing at NYA and two-time defending Class B champion Falmouth.
Despite this setback, Waynflete will be heard from in the weeks to come.
“We are getting better,” Salway said. “There’s a lot of youth on this team. I like us going forward. They’re fun to work with. Their attitudes are great. Hopefully we get healthy.”
NYA (which is now in the top spot in the region) has another test Friday, when it goes to Fryeburg.
“Fryeburg’s a really tough place to go,” Keen said. “It’s a long drive, an early kickoff. These kids are tired and sore. It will be four games in six days by the time we play Fryeburg.”
The Panthers host Poland Tuesday, then welcome Lake Region, go to Sacopee and close at home versus Waynflete Oct. 18.
This team looks to keep the good times rolling.
“We have to keep scoring and keep playing well,” Chicoine said. “We have to keep playing hard.”
“I’d love to keep having success, but no matter what, we’ve already had a great run,” Keen said.
NYA senior goalkeeper Austin Kidder comes way out to collect the ball before Waynflete senior Henry Cleaves can score the tying goal.
NYA junior Chase Gendron slides in an attempt to kick the ball away from dangerous Waynflete junior Harry Baker-Connick.
Waynflete sophomore Aaron Lee and NYA junior D.J. Nicholas were never far apart Wednesday. Lee helped neutralize the high-scoring Nicholas.
NYA senior captain Jackson Cohan-Smith races upfield with Waynflete senior Serge Nyirikamba in hot pursuit.
Waynflete senior Joey Schnier fights off NYA senior Forrest Chicoine. Chicoine had the game’s lone goal.
@ Waynflete 2 NYA 0
Waynflete 1 @ NYA 0
NYA 1 @ Waynflete 0 (Western C Final)
Waynflete 4 @ NYA 2
NYA 1 @ Waynflete 0
@ Waynflete 1 NYA 1 (tie)
@ NYA 2 Waynflete 1
@ NYA 3 Waynflete 0
NYA 5 @ Waynflete 2
@ Waynflete 2 NYA 2 (tie)
Waynflete 4 @ NYA 2
@ Waynflete 1 NYA 1 (tie)
@ NYA 5 Waynflete 0
NYA 2 @ Waynflete 0
@ NYA 3 Waynflete 1
NYA 5 @ Waynflete 1
@ NYA 6 Waynflete 0
NYA 1 @ Waynflete 0
@ NYA 3 Waynflete 0
NYA senior Forrest Chicoine (arms raised) is congratulated by his teammates after scoring the lone goal of Wednesday’s 1-0 victory at Waynflete.
Brian Beard photos.
More photos below.