GORHAM—Kyle King brought the Rams even with the Bulldogs midway through the second half on Wednesday night, Nov. 1. But neither team could gain the advantage in regular play after that, and the bout devolved into penalty kicks. There, Portland ultimately pulled out a 2-1 victory to eliminate Gorham and claim the Regional title.

“They’re a group of fighters,” Rams head coach Tim King said of his boys, “and we fought right to the end. Our second half was excellent. We just couldn’t poke that gamewinner in. And we fought hard through the two overtimes. It’s two pretty evenly-matched teams. They beat us twice this year, so you have to say they’re the better team. I hate to end it on PKs, but that’s the system we have, and they beat us.”

The Bulldogs struck first, Pedro Fonseca putting his boys up quite early in the action. “Much like the first time we played them,” King said, “we came out flat. They were quicker to the ball than us, and eventually they’re going to poke one in. They just got in around us, and [Fonseca’s] a great player and he made a good play. They caught us when we weren’t prepared, earlier in the game, to meet their intensity and their quickness, and we paid the price.”

For the next 60 minutes or so, the play rolled up and down the field, each side logging a handful of decent chances. Kyle King nearly tallied with 13:50 remaining before the break, as did Sam Burghardt with 5:30 to go, but Portland keeper Rowan Daligan was good for both stops. 

“[Portland] still carried play for a good part of the first half,” Tim King said. “And then we stabilized, and had a real good second half, and created some real good chances.”

Kyle King earned good penetration once more roughly eight minutes into the downhill half, but his shot was a hard roller up the middle and no particular challenge for Daligan. Not until a mere 21:25 remained on the clock did King finally slake the Rams’ thirst, heading a ball past Daligan from 15 yards out following a feed by Brendan Waterman.

“He’s had a great season,” Tim King said of Kyle King. “We count on him for a lot in the air – he was winning a ton of balls at midfield. Brendan made a great serve, and [Kyle] just got to the head and put it in. That was a good effort by him.”

The Bulldogs pressed hard – owning the attack for several tense minutes – as regulation wound toward its conclusion. Gorham pushed back in the last minute or so, themselves applying heavy pressure. But neither outfit could convert. 

The game slid into OT, and then OT2. Again, both teams turned chances – midway through OT1, for example, Gorham’s Garett Higgins delivered a feed that Kyle King headed and Burghardt came close to knocking home – but again, neither side could capitalize.

PKs arrived. Alex Millones took Portland’s first – and beat Ram keeper Trevor Gray. King couldn’t match Millones though, Daligan somehow managing to choose the right diving direction to stop King’s shot. Emmanual Yugu then scored for the Portland, and Andrew Rent for the Rams, and Tahn Tiparos for Portland, and Nick Sturtevant for Gorham. 

The Bulldogs up 3-2, Zekariya Shaib stepped in for their fourth attempt; he delivered. Ram Cooper Lyons now needed to put his ball past Daligan for Gorham to stay alive. He couldn’t: Daligan’s instincts sniffed out the shot, let him get his paws on it, and secured for Portland the Southern Maine crown.

“You get to penalty kicks, who knows what’s going to happen,” Tim King said. “It’s an absolute crapshoot…But I’m real proud of my boys; I thought we played really well and hard in the second half, and that’s all you can ask of them.”

The Rams also succumbed on PKs in last year’s State Championship, where the lost to Bangor 2-1. Two season-ending defeats in PKs doesn’t quite constitute a curse, but it’s liable to be frustrating. King implied as much: “Unfortunately, that’s two in a row we’ve come out on the wrong end of the PKs.” 

Gorham close their 2017 at 13-3-1. The Rams entered the bracketing ranked third – a slot ahead of the Bulldogs. When the teams met in early September, however, Portland got the better of the Rams 2-1. 

Portland went on to face Lewiston – themselves an upset winner, over favored Bangor – in the State Final on Saturday the 4th. The Bulldogs fell to the Blue Devils, 1-0 in OT. They thus retired for the year at 13-4-1.

Adam Birt can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME.

Gorhamites Sam Burghardt (left) and Kyle King (right) celebrate King’s game-tying goal against Portland last Wednesday.

Gorham Captains (from left) Kyle King, Sam Burghardt, Aaron Farr and Garrett Higgins accept their Regional runners-up plaque following their loss to Portland.

Andrew Rent splits a pair of Portland defenders for Gorham.

Cooper Lyons laments his missed PK–the last shot in Gorham’s Regional Final vs. Portland.

Gorhamite Brendan Waterman goes toe-to-toe with a Portland opponent.

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