LEWISTON — The game prompted frayed nerves and rushed plays.
With a trip to the Eastern A final at stake, Lewiston and Bangor faced off in back-and-forth semifinal battle of anxiety and near misses Friday. As the game went on, the stakes got higher and the nerves got thinner.
When Lewiston’s Abdi Shariff had an opportunity late in regulation, he tried to find calm and patience.
“I just needed to be composed and take my time and make sure I buried it,” the junior forward said.
Shariff delivered Lewiston to a thrilling 1-0 win over the Rams. The Blue Devils advance to a third consecutive Eastern A final next Wednesday. They’ll play the winner of Saturday’s semifinal between Hampden Academy and Brunswick.
“We had some really great chances that went just wide or just went over a little bit,” Lewiston coach Mike McGraw said. “That’s our (modus operandi). If we can find one or two chances and our defense can play good enough, there’s not a game we’re not going to be able to win.”
Bangor (10-3-3) gave the Blue Devils one of its toughest challenges of the season. The Rams did a superb job defensively and had Lewiston (15-0-1) struggling to get its game on track. Lewiston’s ability to put continuous pressure on the Rams defense eventually won out.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything more from our guys,” said Bangor coach Billy Shannon, whose team lost to Lewiston 2-1 late in the season. “They did a tremendous job. We had a great group of kids. The senior class, I have to tip my hat to them. They’re a great bunch of leaders on and off the field. It’s tough to come away from a game like that with a loss, but we can leave the field with our heads held high because they gave it everything they had.”
The game-winner came off a run made by Abdulkarim Abdulle. He won the ball in the midfield after getting fouled. The play was allowed to continue and Abdulle made a rush ahead. He had space and Shariff to his left. He dished the ball to Shariff, who cut back right, toward the middle, and around a defender. He caught keeper Stanley Clarke charging out of the net and had an open goal. He got the open look and put it home with 6:40 left in regulation.
“We kept battling the whole game,” Shariff said. “We didn’t give up. I missed a couple of chances in the first half. I didn’t let that bring me down. I kept going.”
Shariff had had a similar opportunity a few minutes earlier. Abdulle sent the ball ahead. Shariff made a similar cut to the middle but had to get around two defenders. He never had the open look he wanted for a shot.
“What happens when its a back-and-forth game, in a situation like that, is that the defense gets a little bit stretched out,” Shannon said. “They got an opportunity and they put it away.”
Bangor put on a furious attack at the end in an attempt to produce the equalizer. Lewiston even had two players hobbling with injuries in the final minutes but were determined to fend off the Rams and preserve the shutout. Ibrahim Hussein and Mohamed Khalid were banged up by the end of the game. Khalid was even helped off the field.
“The guys were pretty courageous,” McGraw said. “I’ve never seen guys do down like that Khalid and Ibby. (Hussein) was recovering and getting back up and limping. That was phenomenal.”
Lewiston struggled to get its game going. Bangor came out strong and put some immediate pressure on the Blue Devil defense. Keeper Austin Wing had a nice punch out and Lewiston slowly started to settle in.
“We definitely had to pick it up,” Wing said. “We were kind of on our heels the first five minutes. After we got our passing down, we started to play a lot better.”
The choppy field conditions didn’t help matters, neither did the stellar play of Bangor’s defense. Lewiston struggled to get its passing attack going and seemed out of sync to start the game.
“Bangor is one of the best teams we’ve played this year,” Shariff said. “They keep the ball down. They switch fields. They’re just a great overall team. They had possession for awhile but we kept pushing.”
Lewiston started getting chances late in the half. Hassan Mohamed had a great cross that was deflected wide. Shariff had a shot go over the net and Maulid Abdow took a Mohamed cross and fired it on net.
“We talked to the guys at halftime and told them that the best way to show respect for your opponent is to go out there and get after it,” Shannon said. “That’s what we did in the second half. We got chances and created some opportunities to score but just could do it. We didn’t have the gusto to put it in the back of the net.”
Bangor did a great job fortifying the middle and forced Lewiston to the outside. That limited the rushes down the middle and the space to create a shot in front.
“I would rather us play to the outside,” McGraw said. “On this pitch, it’s a little nicer. They’re certainly going to take the middle away because we’re very strong there. But I thought we had some very good chances from the outside that didn’t pan out.”
Abdulle and Abdow each had a pair of shots early in the half. Shariff had a shot off a Mohamed cross that went wide. Then he had the chance that Abdulle set him up with with 8:17 left.
Bangor’s Eli Clein had a chance with an open net but had the shot blocked. His best bid was a turn-around shot that Wing dove to save. Carson Atherly had a try that went over the net.
“Nate Bach is a tremendous player,” McGraw said. “Our guys did a great job surrounding him and not letting him dominate. Eli and (Javon Myers), they’re superb players. They had some chances but we held strong and did what we had to do defensively.”
Mike Wong was also stellar on defense as was Zakariya Abdulle. They held Bangor to just six shots and bought Lewiston’s offense time. It was the sixth shutout for the Blue Devils.
“Soccer starts with defense and our defense has been playing fantastic all season long,” Shariff said. “All the credit to the defense for keeping them from scoring.”