PORTLAND—The Waynflete boys’ soccer team took and passed its biggest test of the season Thursday afternoon.
Hosting the Greely Rangers, a Class A power and one of the state’s premier programs, the Flyers dictated play much of way and got a goal from senior Tucker Geoffroy in the 48th minute that proved to be the difference in a 1-0 victory, which further validated Waynflete’s claim as a top contender in Western Class C.
The Flyers improved to 9-0-2 and are closing in on homefield advantage for at least two rounds of the upcoming postseason, while the Rangers fell to 6-6-1 and are running out of time to qualify.
“It’s a great win,” said Waynflete’s longtime coach Brandon Salway. “Obviously, a program like Greely is the top of the top. For our kids to not only play with them but beat them, it’s a pretty big for our program.”
Waynflete made an improbable run to the 2008 Class C state final, then excelled in 2009 before being upset at home in the quarterfinals by Georges Valley. After losing most of their starting lineup to graduation, the Flyers weren’t expected to be as strong in 2010, but they’ve impressed since a 7-0 home win over Poland in the opener. Heading into Thursday’s battle, Waynflete’s lone blemishes were a 1-1 tie at Sacopee and a 2-2 deadlock at Richmond.
Greely, meanwhile, the 2004 and 2007 Class A champion, started 3-0 before running into three of the best teams in the state, Cape Elizabeth, Yarmouth and defending Class B champion Falmouth , all of whom handed the Rangers losses. Greely entered Thursday’s game on a 1-2-1 stretch after a 2-1 loss to visiting York Tuesday night.
While Greely and Waynflete are longtime members of the Western Maine Conference, they hadn’t met on the pitch in at least two decades. Salway, now in his 21st season, said that he couldn’t remember the Rangers and Flyers ever squaring off.
While Greely has the more impressive pedigree, Waynflete would carry the day.
The best scoring chance in the first half came midway through when Rangers senior Sean Ross’ long blast went over the head of Flyers sophomore goalie Zander Majercik, but rattled hard off the crossbar.
The hosts had good chances in the first 40 minutes, including a shot from sophomore Peabo Knoth (that was saved by Greely’s sophomore goalkeeper Jonah Normandeau who has spent much of the season as the team’s junior varsity goalie), a rush from sophomore Kevin Kanakan (broken up by Rangers senior Chase Rochon) and a cross that Geoffroy just couldn’t get his foot on.
With 32:27 to play in regulation, the Flyers got on the board.
Knoth sent a pass to Kanakan, who fed Geoffroy, who was racing toward the goal with two defenders sandwiching him. Geoffroy fought through the defense, then fired a shot that got through Normandeau and found the net for a 1-0 lead.
“It was just a bouncing ball,” said Geoffroy, who spent his freshman and sophomore years at Greely. “I used my speed and came through. I took a shot and luckily the goalile wasn’t ready for it and it slipped through his hands. Sometimes luck is what you need.”
“Only one play was made in this game today and Tucker made it,” lamented Rangers coach Mike Andreasen. “He outbattled our guy for the ball and took a hard shot. We had a guy on him, but he ran by him.”
While Waynflete was in the lead, victory was far from certain and the visitors pushed for the equalizer.
With 21:53 left, Ross sent a long, low bouncer on goal, but Majercik’s hands were true. Four minutes later, Greely’s standout senior Jonathan Coyne tried to feed senior Michael Tuller in the box, but a Flyers defender broke up the bid.
“Defensively, we were doing a good job,” Salway said. “(Junior) Daniel (Wiener) did a heck of a job marking (Coyne) most of the game. He’s done that for four or five matches now, limiting chances. I thought all the backs played well. (Senior) Tommy (Ryan) had a good game back there.”
With 11:15 remaining, Waynflete almost went up 2-0, when Geoffroy took a pass from senior Omar Abdille and broke in alone on Normandeau, but Geoffroy’s tough angle shot went just wide.
As time wound down, the Rangers got desperate and carried the play.
With 3:53 showing, a long lofting shot from senior Ben Shain was played by Majercik with an attacker bearing down. A minute later, senior Austin Spencer shot just wide from the side. Greely earned a corner with a minute-and-a-half left, but the Flyers cleared the ball. With just under a minute to play, Spencer’s cross was cleared at the last second. Finally, with time winding down, Ross attempted a free kick from 30 yards out, but it was blocked and Waynflete was able to celebrate its 1-0 win.
“It was a team effort,” said Geoffroy. “It’s always nice to beat the school you came from. Our defense played great today. It was nervewracking to play the rest of the game. It’s definitely nice to see our program accelerate through the ranks. We have a similar record to last year. We started out with low hopes, because we lost 9 of 11 starters, but it’s been a great season so far.”
“People kind of counted us out a little bit this year,” added Salway. “We hope we have bigger things to come, but for today, it’s a big win. We hope to use this as a springboard going forward.
“We’ve had some surprises. Kids came back better. People who had to step into new roles quickly acclimated to those roles and went above and beyond. I think we’re pretty strong down the middle and match up with most teams. I knew we’d be up for today.”
As has been the case much of the season, Greely just couldn’t get the job done.
“It’s been a theme for us all year, we haven’t made enough plays,” said Andreasen. “You make your breaks. We are what our record says we are. It’s a tough pill. We’re used to winning.
“Injuries have hurt. Jon’s been out a lot, Austin Spencer has been out a lot. Austin’s really our ‘oomph’ guy. He’s the guy who will run through people. Jon’s our skill guy.”
Time running short
The Rangers dropped to 11th in the Western Class A Heal Points standings with the loss (only nine teams qualify for the playoffs). Greely finishes the regular season at undefeated Yarmouth Monday night, in what has become a must-win contest.
“The league’s good,” Andreasen said. “We’re in the middle of the pack, unfortunately. Now it looks like we have to beat Yarmouth. We probably played our best game of the year against Yarmouth (a 4-3 home loss Sept. 20). We have to make sure we’re right between the ears. That’s an issue right now. If something goes wrong, we almost say, ‘what’s going to go wrong next?’ The kids are playing hard. I have no complaints about how hard they’re playing.”
Waynflete is third behind Wiscasset and St. Dom’s in Class C. The Flyers have games remaining at Poland Saturday and at home versus Falmouth Tuesday as they hope to secure homefield advantage for two rounds, if not three.
“It would be great to have some playoff games here,” said Geoffroy.
“We hope to finish,” Salway added. “We need to be consistent and play this way every game. We want homefield. Officials know you. It’s your field, no bus rides. But we proved a few years ago we can go on the road and win games if we have to.”
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com