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YARMOUTH—An improbable hero kept North Yarmouth Academy’s perfect season alive Wednesday afternoon.
After 14 regular season wins, which defied even the wildest dreams of their seasoned coach, the Panthers quickly learned in a Western Class C quarterfinal round playoff showdown with rival Waynflete, that what you do in September and the first part of October means absolutely nothing when the crucible of the postseason commences.
But in the end, NYA’s magic continued.
The Panthers met the Flyers for the fourth straight year in the playoffs, hosting them for the first time. NYA blanked Waynflete twice in the regular season, but this time around, the Flyers went toe-to-toe with the Panthers and when Waynflete scored on an own goal with 6:14 to go in the first half, the hosts were on the ropes.
NYA turned it up a notch in the second half and had several near misses, but with just over 26 minutes to play, still trailed.
Then, just like that, the Panthers struck, as senior Forrest Chicoine pounded home a loose ball and after a few more close calls by both squads, the game went to overtime.
With 1:08 left in the first OT session, senior Jackson Cohan-Smith set up classmate Michael McIntosh, a cross country runner at the start of the fall season, who showed his blazing speed, racing past the defense before firing a shot past Waynflete’s talented sophomore goalkeeper Milo Belleau to end it and give NYA a 2-1 victory.
The Panthers improved to 15-0, ended the Flyers’ year at 9-5-2 and advanced to a compelling semifinal round showdown at No. 2 Maranacook (13-0-2) Saturday at 5:30 p.m..
“It’s just a resilient bunch,” said NYA coach Martyn Keen. “A great group. I’m glad it didn’t end on this field today. I’ve been around this game a long time. It was nervewracking. It’s a little strange how the expected team usually wins in overtime or penalty kicks. If you keep the faith, there’s a psychological thing in there somewhere.”
Prior to 2010, NYA and Waynflete had never met in the playoffs, but it’s become a regular occurrence as the two teams have emerged as the finest in Western Class C.
That year, the Panthers shocked the Flyers in the regional final, 1-0. In 2011, Waynflete got a measure of revenge with a 3-1 victory in the Western C Final, in a game played at Fitzpatrick Stadium. Last fall, in the quarterfinal round, the Flyers dominated NYA from start to finish in a 7-1 triumph.
The Panthers have been a storied program for a long time, but prior to 2013 had never enjoyed an undefeated, untied campaign until this unheralded squad managed the feat. Two of NYA’s 14 wins were over Waynflete, 1-0, in Portland and 3-0 in Yarmouth in the regular season finale.
Despite going 14-0, the Panthers only earned the No. 3 seed behind defending regional champion Hall-Dale and Maranacook, but were guaranteed to host at least one round of playoffs for the first time since Oct. 23, 2007 (a 2-1 loss to St. Dom’s in the semifinals).
The Flyers, the 2011 Class C state champs and 2012 regional runners-up, played a difficult schedule and lost twice to NYA and once each to perennial powers Falmouth and Yarmouth, while also tying Gray-New Gloucester and Sacopee Valley. Waynflete’s 8-4-2 mark gave it the No. 6 seed. Saturday, in the preliminary round, the Flyers crushed No. 11 Lisbon, 7-2, to set up another chapter of this delicious rivalry.
Wednesday, both teams showed flashes of brilliance in a hotly contested affair that took nearly 94 minutes to decide.
Waynflete clearly came to play and that was first evident in the third minute when a free kick from senior Henry Cleaves landed in the box, only to be cleared by NYA freshman defender Jeremy Thelven.
The Panthers first good chance almost turned into a goal in the 14th minute, but off a corner, a header from Chicoine hit the underside of the crossbar and was cleared from harm’s way.
With 23 minutes go in the first half, a Cohan-Smith rush was broken up Flyers senior Tim Bollinger.
Waynflete transitioned the other way, but a rush from sophomore Willy Burdick was broken up by NYA senior goalkeeper Austin Kidder at the last second.
With 16:30 left, a free kick by Cleaves from just outside the box went wide.
Five minutes later, Cohan-Smith got past a defender and got taken down in the box, but no call was made.
Then, with 6:14 remaining in the half, the visitors got the first goal in stunning fashion.
Senior Joey Schnier sent a free kick from about 40-yards out into the box, where it met the head of Thelven, who headed it into the goal. Problem was, it his own goal and the Flyers had a 1-0 lead.
“Those things happen and sometimes they go your way and sometimes they don’t,” said Waynflete coach Brandon Salway. “We’ll take it.”
Keen didn’t assess blame to his defender.
“It was a good serve in, but Austin knows he should have come and gotten it,” said Keen. “There was no one around. Jeremy came to make a clear because he didn’t get the call from his keeper and he finished it off beautifully. It was just into the wrong goal.”
The staggered Panthers avoided an even steeper deficit when Kidder made a gorgeous point blank save on a Cleaves shot off a deflection from another Schnier free kick with 13 seconds to go and the score remained 1-0 at the break.
Not surprisingly, NYA came out focused in the second half and pushed for the equalizer, but it was slow in coming.
Just 38 seconds in, Panthers junior standout D.J. Nicholas weaved his way through the defense and had some room to shoot on Belleau, but he didn’t get much on his left-footed bid and Belleau made the save.
Six minutes later, Baker-Connick broke up a Cohan-Smith rush.
NYA then had consecutive corner kicks, but they didn’t result in a shot.
After Baker-Connick headed out a serve by Panthers freshman Greyson Cohen, Cohen fed Nicholas for a one-timer, but again Belleau made the stop.
NYA finally pulled even with 26:03 left in regulation, as Cohan-Smith got some room and fired a shot that deflected off Belleau and slowly rolled toward the far post. Chicoine was there to tap it in to make it 1-1.
The rest of regulation saw each team with some good bids.
With 21:46 to play, Cleaves fired a free kick rocket just high.
Two minutes later, Panthers senior Wesley Bright fired a 30-yard blast just off the mark.
With 17:55 left, Cleaves headed the ball toward senior Carter Burrowes, but Kidder got to it first.
NYA then transitioned to offense and Cohan-Smith just missed a shot past the far post.
With 15:25 remaining, Nicholas eluded the defense and fired a shot, but Belleau stood tall and junior Clancy Mitchell cleared the rebound.
“I thought D.J. was going to wrap it up when he danced through, but he didn’t quite lift it up high enough over the keeper,” Keen said.
With 10:28 left, Waynflete senior Elyse Bayizere sent a shot just wide.
Down the stretch, NYA earned a corner kick, which was headed out by Cleaves, Bright shot just high, Cohan-Smith sent a blast just high, Nicholas’ rush was broken up by Schnier, Belleau came way out to beat Nicholas to a loose ball, Schnier headed out a Bright free kick, Bright’s follow up bid was saved by Belleau and Chicoine’s shot was saved by Belleau and it was on to overtime.
“We had some long range shots, which we’re normally deadly on, but they didn’t quite dip in time,” Keen said.
In boys’ playoff soccer, teams play two 15-minute, “sudden victory” overtimes and if no one scores, the game goes to penalty kicks.
They wouldn’t be necessary on this day.
Just 22 seconds into overtime, Cohan-Smith set up Cohen for a shot which landed on top of the net.
With 11:35 left in the first OT, Kidder got to freshman Khalid Suja’s feed to Bayizere just in time.
Two minutes later, Chicoine redirected a Bright free kick just wide.
With 8:40 to go, Waynflete almost won it, as junior Cody Tiparos made a nice run down the right side and got the ball to Suja, who had a good look and sent a rocket on goal, but Kidder was there to make the save.
“I’m pretty comfortable with shots straight at me,” said Kidder. “I had no worries when he shot.”
That would be the Flyers’ final bid.
After Nicholas headed a Cohen cross just high, Nicholas shot high and wide after taking a feed from Chicoine and a Nicholas rush was broken up by Bayizere, the game came to a stunning conclusion.
NYA managed to quickly transition to offense and as Cohan-Smith played the ball up the left side, he spotted the speedy McIntosh and fed him the ball behind the defense. McIntosh took a touch, went one-on-one with Belleau and beat the goalie inside the far post bringing the curtain down on an instant classic.
North Yarmouth Academy 2 Waynflete 1.
“It was incredible,” said McIntosh. “I can’t even explain what was going through my mind. Everything went so fast. It was amazing cross from Jackson. I was just there at the right time. I usually crash the net, but the ball just came to my feet. I just put it bottom left and it went in. What an amazing feeling. I’m not a soccer guy. I’m a track guy. I scored once at the beginning of the season, but I’ll never forget this.”
“It was off a throw-in,” said Cohan-Smith. “I got it, cut past a guy and Mike made his run and I laid it off to him. He finished it well. He just got subbed in for Forrest. He was in the right place.”
Keen had a feeling that McIntosh might just come up big.
“He was on fire yesterday in practice,” said Keen. “Forrest has been the man all season alongside D.J., but I just had a hunch and sometimes you have to go with your hunch. He’s lightning quick. It was lovely to see him get success. He’s a great kid.”
The Panthers were equal parts jubilant and relieved following the victory.
“This is our biggest rival,” McIntosh said. “This means a lot to us. We knew it would be a tough game. We knew we were 14-0 and we knew we couldn’t go this far and not beat ‘Flete. We had to go in strong. They got the goal and we knew we had to come back harder and we did.”
“It was a battle,” Cohan-Smith said. “It’s always a battle with Waynflete. It was a good game. Both teams played really hard. I was a bit worried, but we’ve come back before and I knew we could do it. It’s been a lot of hard work, a great coach and some individual talent.”
“The style of play we have, I felt like it wasn’t going to end for us,” Kidder said. “I knew we’d come back. I knew we’d get at least one goal. It’s unbelievable. No describing how this feels.”
“We have been down before against Gray and Fryeburg and that’s what we talked about at halftime,” Keen added. “I felt like their psyche would be a little delicate coming in, like ours was last year going there, and if we got an early goal, it might have turned into a comfortable victory, but the own goal was freaky and they played tough all the way through. I’d expect nothing less from Waynflete. They’re a good program. Well coached.”
NYA finished with a 20-6 shots advantage (13-4 on frame) and had six corner kicks to five for Waynflete. Kidder made just three saves, but they were pivotal.
For Waynflete, which got 11 saves Belleau in a breakout performance, it was a case of coming oh so close, but falling painfully short.
“Milo was incredible today,” said Salway. “He showed how far he’s come. Sometimes it comes down to a mistake. I’m glad it wasn’t a mistake. It was a nice goal. (NYA’s) really good. They have some all-stars and good players everywhere. We were beat up, but we gutted it out. We had some chances that didn’t go in. They put pressure on toward the end. I was hoping to get to the end of that overtime. We were getting wary. I was trying to get fresh legs in there and they had a nice play.
“I’m really proud of this group. They left it all on the field. We battled the injury bug. This group played focused and intense. They played to their potential. This could have been a regional final. We lose in the quarterfinals, but I think there’s an asterisk there because we lost to a team that’s going to be a tough out. Somebody’s going to have to play really well to beat them because I think we gave them all they could handle today and they still got by us.”
Waynflete is graduating nine seniors, including several who were part of the 2011 championship team. Their shoes will be difficult to fill.
“We had a great group of seniors who are taking this hard,” said Salway. “Tough kids to replace. Not just because of what they do on the field, but their leadership. Joey and Henry especially had great seasons and are gritty, tough kids who could play for anybody. A lot of seniors played hard.”
Next up for NYA is a trip to Readfield to meet Maranacook (which beat No. 10 Wiscasset in its quarterfinal Wednesday).
The Panthers have no history with the Black Bears, who were a longtime Western B contender before moving down in class this fall.
NYA expects a battle, but will give its all Saturday in quest of win number 16.
“We have to keep practicing hard and playing hard,” Kidder said.
“We have to stay healthy, keep up the hard work and focus on improving,’ Cohan-Smith said.
“Maranacook will be a tough opponent,” added Keen. “They’re the antithesis of us when it comes to soccer style, but they’re good at what they do and they play to their strengths. We’ll take our chances. We’ll try to get on the ground and play soccer and see what happens.”
What will happen? Based on what this special squad has produced so far this autumn, it’s bound to be memorable.
Waynflete junior Harry Baker-Connick (3) and sophomore Aaron Lee team up to break up a rush from NYA junior standout D.J. Nicholas.
NYA senior Jackson Cohan-Smith and Waynflete sophomore Tommy Silk fight for possession.
NYA senior Mitch Rand tries to corral the ball in front of Waynflete sophomore goalkeeper Milo Belleau, but is stymied by Waynflete senior Elyse Bayizere.
NYA senior Wesley Bright and Waynflete senior Henry Cleaves fight for possession.
Western C quarterfinal
@ Waynflete 7 NYA 1
Western C Final
@ Waynflete 3 NYA 1
Western C Final
NYA 1 @ Waynflete 0
NYA senior Michael McIntosh, an unlikely hero, jumps for joy after his goal in overtime helped the Panthers survive a mighty scare from rival Waynflete in the Western Class C quarterfinals Wednesday afternoon. NYA’s 2-1 win sends it to Maranacook for the semis Saturday.
Brian Beard photos.
More photos below.