TOPSHAM — Parity is the name of the game in Eastern Maine Class A boys’ high school soccer this year. The top six teams in the Heal Point Standings — Lewiston, Bangor, Brunswick, Mt. Ararat, Hampden Academy and Edward Little — may just be the team heading to the State Class A Championship come Nov. 8.
So, when two of the “Big Six” have a chance to get it on, points, a solid place in the standings and pride are on the line.
Such was the case on Tuesday when Lewiston visited rival Mt. Ararat in front of an enthusiastic crowd, with the Blue Devils coming away with a hard-fought 2-1 win.
The winning goal came with just 2:24 remaining in regulation when the ball ended up in the net off a scramble in front of Eagles goaltender Jon Roux. Abdulkarim Abdulle was credited with his second goal of the game, a tally that left Lewiston at 9-0-1. Bangor (7-0-2 pending Tuesday’s contest with Cony) will visit Lewiston on Friday at 6 p.m.
Meanwhile, Mt. Ararat, which lost to Lewiston on Sept. 8, 4-1, fell to the Blue Devils for the second time and visits Brewer on Friday sporting a 7-2-2 mark. Plus, the Eagles host Hampden Academy and visit Brunswick next week, two key games to determine who gets to stay home and who hits the road for the Eastern A quarterfinals.
“They didn’t give up, and these kids just don’t get the little things, like never giving in, giving up, and Lewiston played to the end,” Mt. Ararat coach Rick Renaud said. “We didn’t control the game like we should have. Against them if you play kind of scared, like our backs playing back, you get beat. When they go, they go hard.”
“It never ceases to amaze me that when we play them, you could play a thousand times and there will always be something different,” Lewiston coach Mike McGraw said. “This time we got one, and on this field it is huge. This was worth everything to them and everything to us. We needed to come into this stadium and win this against a team that knows how to play pressure soccer in October. You can’t rule them out, especially in October.”
With normal starter Austin Wing nursing an injured ankle, McGraw went with Ibrahim Hussein, who started his first game in goal for the Blue Devils. Though he was only forced to make one save, a diving stop on Mt. Ararat’s Jimmy Pelletier late in the first half, Hussein twice punched dangerous balls away from his goal in the second frame, allowing his teammates to break out.
On the other end, Roux was busy. He made eight saves, most coming on shots from the dangerous Abdulle and Hassan Mohamed, nicknamed “Speedy.”
Scoreless throughout most of the opening frame, Abdulle put Lewiston on the board with 1:19 remaining until halftime. Michael Wong sent a long pass, with the wind pushing the ball toward the Mt. Ararat goal. Roux came out, waiting for the ball to get to the top of the 18. He decided at the last second to clear the ball with his foot, but Abdulle timed his run and managed to tip the ball behind Roux and into the vacated cage.
Lewiston outshot Mt. Ararat 9-2 in the first half, but the Eagles used the wind to their advantage to take over the territorial advantage in the second.
The Blue Devils, coming off a 2-2 draw with Brunswick when the Dragons recovered from a 2-0 halftime deficit, felt the pressure, with Mt. Ararat scoring the tying goal with 16:41 remaining.
“I think we wanted to play a better second half, and we knew with the wind that Ararat was going to punch it down and get territorial advantage,” said McGraw after watching Eagles forward Trevor Mayo dig the ball out of scrum in front of the Lewiston cage before depositing a shot into the back of the net. Chris Pepin picked up an assist.
Mt. Ararat had several chances in the second half from direct kicks, corner kicks and long throw-ins by Andrew McCracken.
But, it was Lewiston that found the game-winner. Abdulle gained control along the sideline and managed to get a step on the Eagles defense along the end line. His first shot was stopped by Roux, with the ball bouncing around in front of the goaltender’s cage. Abdulle kept battling, with the ball deflecting off of Roux and in for a 2-1 Lewiston lead.
Mt. Ararat went for the equalizer again, but game-long standout Wong made one final clear as the time ticked away.
“We stopped pushing,” Renaud said. “We got a little bit tired, but you can’t not push. The teams that go (far) are the teams that play through that. It was a good game, but these guys are just lacking that little bit of ‘we’re not going to lose.’ We need to get through this. If they work hard for 80 minutes, they will be fine. That just have to learn that they have to work hard.”
Lewiston finished with a 17-6 shots advantage and a 5-4 edge in corner kicks.