BANGOR — It’s an old mantra in which Lewiston coach Mike McGraw believes strongly.
“In every championship game there’s someone or some situation that occurs that comes up big,” McGraw told his team Wednesday.
He spoke those words not for motivation, but in celebration, after a few Lewiston players did exactly that against Bangor High School in the teams’ Class A North regional final.
Bilal Hersi scored just after halftime to tie the game, then assisted Bakar Shariff-Hassan’s winning goal midway through the second half, and goalie Dido Lumu made big saves down the stretch to preserve for Lewiston a 2-1 win over the host Rams.
The Blue Devils advance to Saturday’s Class A state championship game at Hampden Academy — their third trip to the title game in four years — where they will face A South champion Portland. The fourth-seeded Bulldogs toppled No. 3 Gorham on penalty kicks Wednesday.
Second-seeded Lewiston (13-2-2) got a measure of revenge over top-seeded Bangor (15-1-1), which defeated the Blue Devils to open the season, and again in the KVAC championship game before the playoffs started.
“It’s playoffs. Everything changes with the playoffs,” Bangor coach Garth Berenyi said.
“We’re a tough team, and for somebody to beat us three times in a season, it’s hard,” McGraw said. “The first time we played them here, the beginning of the year, and I don’t think we really knew who we were. … And then in the KVAC championship game, I think neither team was really geared up to play each other because they thought that maybe they’d play each other again.”
The Rams got on the board first 24 minutes into the game. A corner kick eventually found its way to Josh Sherwood, whose shot from just outside the box glanced off a Lewiston defender and past Lumu.
That lead stuck going into halftime, and Berenyi called the 1-0 advantage “nothing.”
“I think it was just a back-and-forth game at the half, and we capitalized on one of our opportunities,” Berenyi said. “We were happy to be up at half 1-0, but we knew we had 40 more minutes to play.”
The deficit soon become nothing, literally, about five minutes into the second half. Yusuf Mohamed found Hersi open in the box from the end line, and Hersi didn’t miss on his chance to tie the game.
“I started outside the box and then I moved towards the middle because I knew the ball always comes towards in the middle,” Hersi said. “So it just came to me perfectly, and I just slotted it.”
“I think once we scored, our kids had momentum and they had a flow of energy, and I think that resulted in the second goal because we kept that flow going,” McGraw said.
Before the Blue Devils could score their second goal they had to prevent the Rams from scoring one of their own. Henok Citenga cleared a shot off the goal line on a Bangor corner kick 15 minutes into the second half.
The game-winning goal came just over three minutes later. Hersi approached the Bangor back line inside the box and slipped a pass through the line to Bakar Shariff-Hassan, who then took on Bangor goalie Austin Conway 1-on-1 and won the battle.
“I thought it was just a really nice run-through, connect, just a really well-timed run and a good finish,” Berenyi said.
“The assist was brilliant because (Bakar) broke through and it was a beautiful pass,” McGraw said. “It was going to take something like that to beat a quality team like Bangor.”
It also took a bit of luck for the Blue Devils. Berenyi’s son, also named Garth, blasted a free kick from 25 yards out with just over five minutes left. The strike looked destined to go over the head of Lumu, but it clanged off the crossbar before getting cleared away.
“I will say that the crossbar was a good friend today,” McGraw said.
Berenyi’s chances were few through much of the game, but he did find an opening for a curling shot that Lumu got to by the right post with 18 minutes left. Lumu later denied Berenyi point-blank off a cross from David Miller.
“(Our defenders) were determined to not try to take the ball away — he’s too good — but to try to contain him and limit some of his mobility,” McGraw said. “And they did a great job with that.”
The Rams out-shot the Blue Devils 7-2 in the second half. Many of the on-target chances came with Bangor down a goal, but Lewiston was the only team to capitalize.
“We’ve never worked so hard before,” Hersi said. “We literally just put our lives on the line. Every tackle, every ball, we just went 100 percent for.”
“We bent, but we didn’t break,” McGraw said.
Lumu finished with 10 saves, while Conway had three and the Bangor defense made another on a first-half corner kick.