Midnight struck for the Cinderella North Yarmouth Academy boys’ soccer team Saturday afternoon.
The Panthers, the final team to qualify for the Western Class C playoff field, enjoyed a stunning run to an improbable regional championship, but Saturday, against Fort Kent in the state final, their luck ran out and their season ended at 10-6-1 with a 2-1 setback.
“We didn’t play particularly well, but take away that initial disappointment and it was a hugely satisfying season,” Panthers coach Martyn Keen said.
Highs and lows
NYA made a surprise run to the regional final in 2009, but lost to St. Dom’s. This year, as late as the first week of October, the Panthers were on the outside looking in at their postseason hopes, but they went 4-0-1 down the stretch to wind up 7-5-1 and eighth in the region.
After upsetting top-ranked Wiscasset, 1-0, in overtime in the quarterfinals and holding off fifth-ranked Hall-Dale, 2-1, in the semis, NYA went to No. 3 Waynflete last Wednesday for the regional final. It was 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. Late in the half, momentum slowly turned toward the visitors and with 22:21 to play in regulation, the Panthers got the game’s lone goal when junior captain Ryan Rousseau delivered a corner kick that senior Finnish exchange student Niklas Narvanmaa headed home. Senior goalkeeper Jordan Haskell made a crucial save with just over 10 minutes left and NYA held on for a 1-0 victory.
“(The first half disparity) was my fault,” said Keen. “We changed formation. I out-thought myself. 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’ve been threatening on corners the last few weeks. We knew if we had enough chances, we’d put one in.”
Saturday morning, the Panthers traveled to Hampden to meet Eastern C champion Fort Kent in the state final. It was the first-ever meeting between the schools as NYA hoped to win its first title since 2005 and the ninth in its history.
It wasn’t to be.
Fort Kent took a 1-0 lead with just 37.4 seconds to go in the first half.
“We started out very confident and I thought it would be a matter of time until we took control, but then we tightened up,” said Keen. “I hoped to sort it out at halftime, but they scored. It wasn’t a great goal, but nobody was to blame.”
The Panthers came out inspired in the second half and tied the game, 1-1, just 56 seconds in when a Rousseau corner kick was headed home by senior Matt Kibler.
“At halftime, it was only the second time all season, after the first Waynflete game, that they heard me speak sternly,” Keen said. “We came out and responded phenomenally. We had good chances after the goal, but it didn’t fall our way.”
It stayed tied until the 63rd minute, when the Warriors scored again. NYA attempted to rally, but fell short, 2-1.
“I hoped we’d find a way to win,” said Keen. “The game-winning goal was a tough one, but Jordan did a great job for us. It’s a tough feeling to get to the state final and lose. Fort Kent had some good players.”
Even after the disappointment of the loss, the Panthers had plenty of positives on which to reflect.
“We showed great resiliency this season,” said Keen. “It could have faded into a nothing season. I was concerned, but never stopped believing. When the chips were down, we found a way. It’s a very nice group of kids and the parents were very supportive.”
NYA graduates 10 seniors, but several strong players return. The Panthers hope to follow the lead of Fort Kent and win a championship the year after falling in the state game.
“I think our future is extremely bright,” said Keen. “We only started three seniors. That bodes well. We have good incoming freshmen.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
The NYA boys’ soccer team celebrates its surprise regional title last Wednesday after upsetting Waynflete, 1-0. The Panthers’ title dreams ended Saturday with a 2-1 loss to Fort Kent in the Class C Final.