PORTLAND-The eight seed proved to be a great seed for the North Yarmouth Academy boys’ soccer team.
Wednesday afternoon at Fore River Field, the Panthers capped a stunning run through the regional tournament by upsetting No. 3 Waynflete, 1-0, in the Western C Final.
After fending off nearly non-stop pressure for the first 30 minutes of the contest, NYA leveled the playing field and got the game’s lone score with 22:21 to play when senior Niklas Narvanmaa scored off a corner kick. The Panthers then held on behind the goalkeeping of senior Jordan Haskell and advanced to meet Fort Kent in Saturday’s Class C state game (time and location had yet to be determined as of Wednesday night).
“We’re very pleased,” said NYA’s second-year coach Martyn Keen. “The kids have worked so hard. It’s been a tough season for adversity. We were 3-5 going into the second week of October, but I never lost faith. I’m really happy.”
Better late than never
NYA was in danger of missing the playoffs at the midpoint of the season, but the Panthers saved their best for last, going 4-0-1 down the stretch to wind up 7-5-1 and eighth in Western C.
Last Wednesday, in a veritable deluge at top-ranked, undefeated Wiscasset in the quarterfinals, NYA sprung a 1-0 upset when junior Forrest Milburn scored in overtime. Saturday, at No. 5 Hall-Dale in the semis, NYA took an early 2-0 lead behind goals from Milburn and junior Matt Michaud. The Bulldogs would rally and made it a 2-1 game late in the first half, but the Panthers didn’t allow another and advanced.
Waynflete, meanwhile, enjoyed a 10-1-2 campaign. The Flyers earned the No. 3 seed for the Western C playoffs and quickly dispatched No. 6 Mt. Abram, 4-0, in the quarterfinals behind two goals from senior Tucker Geoffroy, another from senior Omar Abdille and one from senior Sam Murphy. Saturday, at No. 2 St. Dom’s, in the semis, the game was scoreless until Geoffroy scored with 1:49 left.
Wednesday’s regional final marked the first ever playoff game between the rivals. NYA lost twice to the Flyers this fall, 2-0, in Portland Sept. 16 and 1-0 at home Oct. 2.
The third time would be the charm as Waynflete dominated early, but just couldn’t convert.
Just two minutes in, off a corner kick, Flyers junior Mitch Newlin got off a weak shot, but Haskell had to dive to make the save.
Twenty-five seconds later, Tubby shot just high and wide from a tough angle.
With 28:55 to play in the 40-minute first half, Haskell punched the ball away from sophomore Peabo Knoth off a lob from Abdille.
The Panthers got their first shot on goal with 25:20 showing, but Michaud’s long bid was saved by Waynflete sophomore goalkeeper Zander Majercik.
Four minutes later, Geoffroy sent a through ball to Murphy, but Murphy’s shot was denied by Haskell.
With 17:55 left in the half, sophomore Paul Runyambo served the ball toward classmate Kevin Kanakan, but Haskell got there first. Two minutes later, after a corner kick (Waynflete had six to NYA’s one in the first half), Newlin shot just wide.
With 8:17 remaining, Abdille beat two defenders and set up Murphy in front, but his shot was saved.
Then, momentum slowly turned toward the visitors.
With 3:14 to play before halftime, Michaud beat a defender to a shot which necessitated a diving save by Majercik before a rebound squirted wide.
NYA got its first corner kick with 1:30 to go in the half and 20 seconds later, freshman Noah Seely blasted a shot just high.
“(The first half disparity) was my fault,” said Keen. “We changed formation. I out-thought myself. We’d lost to them twice. Two of their players had scored 85 percent of their goals. We changed from our normal way of playing to trying to eliminate their style of play and minimize the damage. It meant we had no offense at all. With about 10 minutes to go in the first half, I changed the formation and from that moment on, it changed. We had four or five good chances at the end of the first half. The second half was a little more even.”
In the second half, the Panthers would eventually break through.
First, Geoffroy had another nice rush broke up, just 1 minute, 45 seconds in.
With 26 minutes to play in regulation, Abdille played a ball through to Geoffroy, but Haskell again got to the pass first.
NYA struck with 22:21 to play. Off a corner kick, Rousseau sent the ball on net and out of nowhere swooped Narvanmaa, a Finnish exchange student, who headed it home.
“I sent it in near post and Niklas came in and got the header and finished it,” Rousseau said. “That was that.”
“We’ve been threatening on corners the last few weeks,” said Keen, who predicted the goal right before it happened. “(Niklas and senior Matt Kibler) have been dominant in the air on corners. We knew if we had enough chances, we’d put one in.”
“It happened so fast,” said longtime Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “They had a kid make a really good play.”
The hosts had chances to answer.
With 19:33 to go, a Runyambo serve was headed away. Five minutes later, Wiener shot just high with his left foot off a corner.
The golden opportunity to tie the score came with 10:47 left when Geoffroy took a pass and beat a defender. Haskell coolly came out of the goal and got a hand on the shot, however, sending it high and setting up a corner.
“(Tucker’s) a good player and he’s strong and quick,” Haskell said. “I have hockey goalie instincts. I just put my hand up.”
On the ensuing corner, Tubby got his foot on the ball in the box, but couldn’t put enough on it.
With 8:31 left, Haskell had to scramble back to corral a high bouncing shot that appeared ready to go over his head into the goal. With 3 minutes to play, Waynflete earned a corner kick (it had a 10-3 edge for the game), but the ball was cleared.
At the other end, Michaud had a chance to ice it when he raced in on goal, but Majercik cut down the angle and Michaud barely missed to the right.
The Flyers had one last chance as time wound down, but Abdille’s free kick from the side was saved and Haskell ran down most of the remaining seconds before booting the ball away, bringing down the curtain on the Panthers’ stunning 1-0 victory.
“It’s amazing,” Rousseau said. “We beat the No. 1 seed and beat the No. 3 seed. We played well the whole game. We played together as a team and believed we could win and we did. It was tough early on, but we had our chances too.”
“We kept working hard,” Haskell said. “We’re a good team. We kept going even though we lost some games. We got in. We had a tough schedule.”
“Waynflete’s a very good team and on another day, they could have won,” Keen added. “They created more opportunities, but my rookie goalie came up big. He started to dominate his box. One of our coaches, Alex Pilitsis, is a D1 goalkeeper and he had a chat with him at halftime.
“It’s a nice bunch of kids. Eight seniors came out who don’t play soccer, but wanted to be part of it. We only have three seniors starting, so it’s a relatively young lineup. We knew we’d be competitive. These kids found they could push back with their backs to the wall.”
Another painful exit
For the second year in a row, Waynflete’s season ended in surprise and agony on its home turf (last year, the Flyers were eliminated by lower seeded Georges Valley in the quarterfinals).
“We talked before the game that it’s all about capitalizing on opportunities and kicking in the door,” said Salway. “Their keeper made some big plays and they played well defensively, but I thought we had chances throughout the match. Omar was tremendous today. He played with a torn meniscus. He gutted it out. We’re disappointed, but I couldn’t be more proud of a group that has been great to coach.”
The Flyers go home with a 12-2-2 record and a regional runner-up trophy.
“All you can do is try to be successful every year and get to a point where you’re in the tournament,” Salway said. “We won the conference again. You keep putting yourself in position and eventually it will happen. To win two playoff games and get to the finals is an outstanding achievement. No one picked us a the start of the year. I think this group earned a lot of respect this year. Great group of kids. Fun to coach. Serious group, but able to be pretty loose most of the year.”
While graduation, as always, will take its toll, Waynflete will be in the hunt in 2011.
“I’m already thinking about next year,” Salway said. “No one will pick us next year after the seniors we lose. I think about the kids we have coming back. Our goal is to win it every single year.”
NYA (10-5-1) last won a Class C crown in 2005 and has eight in its history. The Panthers have never faced Fort Kent (13-1-3). Saturday, they will look to play their game and let the chips fall where they may.
“We’ll play hard,” said Haskell.
We have the momentum and the heart,” Rousseau said. “We can do it.”
“Obviously, we’re thrilled to be there, but we’d love to bring the trophy home,” Keen added.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
NYA junior Matt Michaud and Waynflete junior Daniel Wiener battle for possession Wednesday afternoon.
NYA sophomore Noah Seely plays the ball ahead while Waynflete junior Mitch Newlin looks on.
NYA junior captain Ryan Rousseau fights off Waynflete sophomore Paul Runyambo.
NYA senior Michael Ianno can only watch as Waynflete’s standout senior, Tucker Geoffroy, launches a second half shot.
Waynflete sophomore Peabo Knoth falls into the goal, but unfortunately for his team the ball doesn’t join him as NYA senior goalkeeper Jordan Haskell punches it away. Haskell fended off countless Flyers’ charges to pitch the shutout as the Panthers advanced to meet Fort Kent in Saturday’s Class C state final.
The North Yarmouth Academy boys’ soccer team exults after upsetting Waynflete, 1-0, Wednesday to win the Western C championship.
More photos below.