YARMOUTH—North Yarmouth Academy’s boys’ soccer team is saving its best for last.

This season and more specifically, Thursday afternoon.

Hosting Gray-New Gloucester at Lewis Field, the Panthers fell behind midway through the first half when senior Max Kenney scored for the Patriots and with under five minutes to play, despite having some golden opportunities, appeared destined for a disappointing defeat.

But with 4:19 remaining, off a corner kick, senior Cooper St. Hilaire headed the ball home to tie it up.

The game went to overtime and after a first five-minute “sudden victory” session didn’t produce a goal, NYA won it early in the second, as senior Rodgers Crowley finished a feed from senior captain Wyatt Thomas and the Panthers prevailed, 2-1.

NYA won its fourth game in a row, improved to 6-5 and in the process, dropped Gray-New Gloucester to 3-7-1.

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“Never a doubt with these guys,” said Panthers’ first-year coach Branden Noltkamper. “I couldn’t be happier for them. Their work ethic and spirit means they never give up on anything and it showed today.”

Better late than never

After opening with a 6-0 setback at three-time reigning Class C champion Waynflete and a 1-0 loss at Richmond, NYA beat host Wells (4-1), took two-time reigning Class B champion Yarmouth to the wire in a 2-1 road loss, then blanked visiting St. Dom’s, 1-0. The Panthers lost at home to Traip Academy (4-2) and Waynflete (4-1), then rattled off victories over visiting Lake Region (3-0) and Richmond (3-0) and at Sacopee Valley (5-0).

Gray-New Gloucester won three of its first four contests, but only had a tie versus Freeport as a positive result in its last six outings.

Last fall, the teams played to a scoreless tie in Gray.

Thursday, on a beautiful early-October afternoon (72 degrees), the Panthers continued their recent strong play while once again, the Patriots suffered an agonizing loss.

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North Yarmouth Academy senior Wyatt Thomas boots the ball away from Gray-New Gloucester senior Max Kenney during the Panthers’ 2-1 double-overtime win Thursday. Hoffer photos.

Gray-New Gloucester came out strong and just 30 seconds in, senior Aidan Loignon set up junior Ben Cobb for a great look, but his shot was saved by sprawling NYA senior goalkeeper Tanner Anctil.

After the Panthers’ first shot, from junior Ethan Brochu, was denied by Patriots senior keeper Drew Reynolds, the visitors got on the board.

With 17:25 left in the first half, junior Aidan Hebert won the ball on the right side, dribbled in and crossed it in front where Kenney was waiting to bang it home for a 1-0 advantage.

Gray-New Gloucester then nearly doubled its lead, but Anctil saved a blast from junior Luka Rosolino after a turnover, freshman Carter Davis missed high on a shot in the box and a Rosolino free kick was saved by a leaping Anctil.

Four Anctil saves kept NYA in the game at halftime and in the second half, the Panthers would turn up their attack and eventually be rewarded.

NYA senior Daxton St. Hilaire keeps the ball away from Gray-New Gloucester freshman Carter Davis, while senior Max Kenney (7) also defends.

First, the Patriots had their chances to add to the lead, but Anctil denied Hebert, robbed Davis and Hebert sent a one-timer just wide.

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Midway through the half, Reynolds denied a header from senior Jack Byrne, then Byrne had a great look stopped by a defender and Thomas’ rebound forced Reynolds to dive and make the stop.

Off a corner kick with 15:38 remaining, the ball came to Brochu, but his blast was stopped by a sliding Reynolds.

After freshman Gavin Thomas headed a corner kick high, NYA finally pulled even with just 4:19 left in regulation.

Off another corner, Wyatt Thomas served the ball right in front and St. Hilaire was there to head it home.

“We’re a good set piece team and we score on a lot of them,” said Crowley. “Cooper got us fired up.”

“Coop’s dangerous,” said Noltkamper. “I’ll be honest, I still can’t tell Cooper and his twin brother (Daxton) apart. I thought at first it was ‘Dax,’ but I’m happy for Coop.”

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The Panthers then had two great chances to win it in regulation, but a shot from Crowley was saved by a diving Reynolds and seconds later, a great look from Byrne rattled off the far post.

“I credit Jack Byrne for keeping our energy high,” Crowley said. “He was so unlucky, he almost won it for us.”

The Patriots earned a corner kick in the waning seconds, but couldn’t manage a shot and it was on to overtime.

In the first OT, Brochu threatened to end it, but Reynolds dove to deny him.

In the final minute, NYA had a corner kick, but it didn’t generate anything.

With five minutes left to earn a win, the Panthers went out and finished it off.

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The goal came with 3:41 remaining and was set up by a great serve down the field from Wyatt Thomas. Crowley managed to run the ball down, fight off a defender, move around Reynolds who came out to challenge him, then he buried it to play the hero.

“Wyatt got the job done today,” Crowley said. “I had the defender beaten. I kind of held him off. If I were the keeper, I would have come off my line a little further to cut off the angle. I just took advantage of what I was given and slotted it home. I told my coaches at full time that I’m never going to score, so it was pretty exciting.”

“We looked at Rodgers and said, ‘You’re going to be the guy to do it’ and sure enough, he creates things,” said Noltkamper. “He’s a handful to deal with. It was a great ball from Wyatt and you get Rodgers inside the 18, not many people can stop him. That was good for his confidence.”

At 5:26 p.m., NYA celebrated its exhilarating 2-1 victory.

The celebration begins after Crowley’s goal.

“We needed a run of some less difficult opponents to get the wheels turning,” Crowley said. “This game was our hardest win so far.”

“That’s a great moment for the kids and the program,” said Noltkamper. “We’ve talked about what the second half of our season needs to look like and we’ve trained really well lately. We met after the Waynflete game and talked and now we’ve won four games in a row and conceded only one goal.”

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The Panthers out-shot the Patriots on frame, 13-7, got six saves from Anctil and took nine corner kicks to Gray-New Gloucester’s five.

The Patriots got 11 saves from Reynolds, but suffered their third overtime setback of the season.

“It (stinks) to be on the losing side of things in a close game like this,” said Gray-New Gloucester coach Will Burdick. “We know how it feels. It’s happened too many times. We’ve had a hard time maintaining a lead this year. You have to give credit to (NYA). They wanted it more than we did in the box and in their third, they wanted it more than us in the second half and overtime. We have a talented team. It’s a great group of guys. The scoreboard has just been rough.”

Three left

Gray-New Gloucester is home versus Class B South top-ranked powerhouse Cape Elizabeth Tuesday, then finishes with games at Lake Region and Poland. The Patriots are currently ranked 12th in the region and need some victories to guarantee a playoff spot.

“We have to get back at it in practice tomorrow and figure out how we’re going to get some results,” said Burdick. “All three games we have left are big for us. We haven’t played our best yet and I think we can get there for our final games. We’ll be prepared and hopefully, we’ll get on the other side of things.”

NYA (which is currently seventh in Class D South) hopes to make it five wins in a row when it welcomes Sacopee Valley Tuesday. After playing at St. Dom’s next Thursday, the Panthers close at Traip Academy Oct. 18.

“We need to get into good position for playoffs so we can host,” Crowley said. “If I’m not mistaken, I don’t think any other Class D South teams play on turf. We want to play here.”

“Momentum has changed for us,” said Noltkamper. “We’re all bought-in. We’re going in the right direction.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

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