The city of Portland will be the showcase for some of the best boys’ soccer in the state Wednesday.
That’s because two local teams, Portland and Waynflete, advanced to their respective regional finals.
The Bulldogs, the No. 2 seed in Western A, extended their win streak to 13 with playoff wins over No. 7 Cheverus, 6-0, and No. 3 Cape Elizabeth, 2-1, in overtime, to set up a showdown with fourth-ranked Gorham.
The Flyers, ranked third in Western C, downed No. 6 Mt. Abram, 4-0, then edged No. 2 St. Dom’s, 1-0, to earn a home date against rival No. 8 seed North Yarmouth Academy.
Portland started 1-1-1 this fall, then caught fire, winning its last 11 to finish 12-1-1, second behind Scarborough in Western A.
Wednesday, in the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs scored early and often, getting two goals from junior Alan Tuyishime and a goal and two assists from senior standout Fazal Nabi, and rolled, 6-0, over visiting No. 7 Cheverus, which wound up 7-7-1 after its second playoff loss to Portland in as many years.
“We lost before we got on the bus,” said Stags coach Bill LeBlanc, who explained that his team was shorthanded due to disciplinary issues.
Cheverus, which was 7-2-1 at one point this season, will look for better results in 2011.
Saturday, in the semis, the Bulldogs had to contend with a traditional powerhouse in Cape Elizabeth, which had won four of the previous six playoff meetings between the schools. (Portland did capture the most recent, 3-0, in the 2003 quarterfinals). The teams don’t meet in the regular season.
Saturday night, amid chilly but dry conditions, the Bulldogs somehow found a way to triumph again.
Portland gave up a first half goal and appeared doomed when Nabi was robbed a penalty kick with just over 20 minutes to go by Capers’ senior goalkeeper Cam Brown, but Nabi found some rare space with 13:46 to go, turned and fired a left-footed blast that Brown couldn’t handle to tie the score.
“We kept working hard,” said Nabi. “We knew we had the game. We gave it everything we had. The ball came to me and I had space, so I turned and launched it with the left foot and hoped it went in.”
The game would go to overtime where the Bulldogs ended it 11 minutes, 11 seconds in. The game winning sequence began innocuously when Nabi prepared a free kick from about 40-yards out. With the Cape Elizabeth defense primed for him to send a blistering shot on goal, Nabi instead flicked the ball to junior Brett O’Kelly on the right wing and O’Kelly ran up the sideline before crossing it into the box where Tim Rovnak awaited.
The sophomore did the rest, heading the ball toward the far post. Brown had no chance, but it was unclear whether the shot would hit the post and bounce back on to the field or ricochet in. It was the latter and pandemonium broke out as the Bulldogs celebrated their palpitating 2-1 win.
“Fazal passed it to Brett off the dead ball and Brett just found me at the right place,” said Rovnak. “I headed it because of instinct. I watched it the rest of the way. When it went in, it was a great feeling. It was nice that we pulled it out at the end and got the win. It’s fun to be a part of this team. We have great chemistry and love each other to death. It’s a great feeling to know people care about you.”
“We had momentum, but give Cape credit,” said Nabi. “They had the early goal, but at the end, we gave it everything we had and we got the result. It’s exciting.”
“Our pregame speech was think about the people who have given everything they have to get you guys to a point where you can make a difference,” longtime Portland coach Rocky Frenzilli added. “I knew Cape would be tough. They’re physically very powerful. They’re well skilled tactically. It was a great game all the way.
“(Assistant coach) Bobby Brittingham sent Brett up on that cross. I thought he wanted to send him up for a header. Instead, Fazal gave him the ball and he crossed it. It was a great game.”
The Bulldogs advanced to meet Gorham in the regional final, Wednesday at 6 p.m., at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The Rams downed No. 5 South Portland (2-1) and No. 8 Kennebunk (3-1) to advance.
Portland has never won a state championship. The Bulldogs made it to the 1994 Class A Final (losing, 1-0, to Mt. Ararat), then got to the regional final the next year (falling, 1-0, to the Capers). Prior to this year, Portland hasn’t been back since.
In the regular season, the Bulldogs won, 1-0, at the Rams on Sept. 23. The teams’ lone prior playoff meeting came in the 2005 quarterfinals (a 3-0 Gorham victory).
Portland is up for the challenge.
“Gorham’s a great team,” Rovnak said. “They played hard last time. We’ll have to play our game and hope things turn out our way.”
“We had goals at the start of the season to make it to the Western Maine championship,” Nabi said. “It’s really exciting. Gorham’s a good team. It’ll be a tough game. We played them at their place and scored in the last minute. We like our chances.”
“For these kids, I was just hoping we could make it,” Frenzilli added. “They made the difference. This earned us another game. We’re looking forward to our opponent. Gorham’s playing very well. It’ll make for a good one. We’re excited.”
Flying high again
Two years ago, Waynflete came from nowhere to win the regional crown before losing to Washington Academy in the Class C state final. In 2009, the Flyers appeared primed for a title run, but were upset by Georges Valley in the quarterfinals.
This fall, Waynflete has dazzled again, losing only to defending Class B champion Falmouth in a 10-1-2 campaign. The Flyers earned the No. 3 seed for the Western C playoffs and quickly dispatched No. 6 Mt. Abram in the quarterfinals behind two goals from senior Tucker Geoffroy, another from senior Omar Abdille and one from senior Sam Murphy. Senior Lukas Tubby and junior Daniel Wiener had assists and sophomore goalkeeper Zander Majercik stopped two saves for the shutout.
Saturday, at No. 2 St. Dom’s, the game was scoreless until Geoffroy scored with 1:49 left as Waynflete advanced.
The winner came off a shot where Abdille hit the crossbar and Geoffroy pounced.
“It was a melee,” Geoffroy said. “Omar took a shot. It went off the bar. It went off one of our player’s heads and off the goalie. I was just there to pick up the pieces. I saw the ball drop and there was the whole side of the net open.”
“The ball didn’t find Tucker a couple of times earlier, even though he was unmarked,” said Flyers coach Brandon Salway. “Omar beat several defenders down the left side and his shot hit the crossbar, deflected off a defender and bounced to Geoffroy. He one-timed a right footed shot and beat the keeper. I thought if it squirts to him, he’s going to bury it.
“We’ve been in tough games all year. This was like 75 percent of our games, back-and-forth. You’ve got to be on your toes every second because it could come down to that one play.”
Majercik made seven saves for his 10th shutout of the year.
“Our defense played phenomenal for what’s been like the fifth game in a row now,” said Geoffroy. “Hats off to (senior) Tommy Ryan, our sweeper. He really held the defense together.”
“Tommy Ryan, Daniel Wiener, (sophomore) Charlie Laprade and (sophomore) Paul Runyambo had strong games,” Salway added.
Wednesday (3 p.m.), Waynflete and NYA will meet in the playoffs for the first time. The teams met twice in the regular season, with the Flyers winning at home (2-0) Sept. 16 and at Yarmouth (1-0), Oct. 2.
“We don’t view NYA as the eighth seed. Really they were second in our conference and they played a tough schedule, so it’s not a surprise that we are facing them,” Salway said. “Both of our games with them were really tightly contested and could have gone either way. Hopefully we can continue to make big plays when the game is on the line. We’ve scored three times in tie games with under two minutes left to win games, I think this group will be confident against NYA, but we also respect them and their ability.”
The state finals for all classes will be held Saturday. Class A and B are expected to be contested at Falmouth High School. Classes C and D will likely vie for glory at Hampden Academy.
Sun Journal staff writer Kevin Mills contributed to this story.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Cheverus senior Raphael Tshamala heads the ball away from Portland junior Ben Day during the teams’ quarterfinal round matchup last Wednesday. The Bulldogs scored early and often and cruised, 6-0.
Portland junior Alan Tuyishme is mobbed by his teammates after scoring one of the Bulldogs’ six goals in the quarterfinals. Portland then rallied past Cape Elizabeth in overtime in the semis to reach the regional final for the first time since 1995.