PORTLAND—Westbrookers Cooper Mullett and Chris Irakoze combined to push the Blazes out front of the Stags 2-0 early in the first half on Thursday afternoon, Sept. 20. But Cheverus – Jack Mullen in the lead with a hat trick – staged a voracious comeback across the remainder of the action, emerging victorious in the end 5-2.

The action played out at Cheverus.

“For 65 minutes it was really competitive,” said Westbrook head coach Vince Aceto. “You just can’t afford [to let down] against a top-eight team.” Cheverus is currently ranked third in A South.

“Once Cheverus tied it,” Aceto said, “everything just kind of when ‘yikes.’”

Westbrook began the game with a clear plan in mind: play the long ball, get the ball ahead. And at first, the Blazes focused well on that aim; it even produced two pretty goals for them – Mullett’s and Irakoze’s, both of which were assisted by Yahya Altaie.

Aceto described Mullett’s strike:

“Cooper scored the first goal,” he said. “[Yahya] played the ball through, and Cooper struck the ball from about 20 yards out. Just what we said – just fire it at the keeper and see what we can get.”

“The second goal was set up,” Aceto continued. “More pressure, more balls over the top to try to beat their backs. Ball went to the goal line – again, Yahya on a second assist, served it up over the box and Chris came in for the header.”

Despite Westbrook’s scoring first – and second – Cheverus ultimately turned the game around. The Stags applied consistent pressure as the game unfolded, and pressure usually produces the desired result.

Cheverus’s efforts paid some its first dividends, slicing Westbrook’s advantage in half, in the 22nd minute of the uphill half. Mullen, cutting right-to-left in front of the Blazes’ cage, fired hard and beat keeper Jakob Lynham.

Westbrook pushed back a bit following Mullen’s first notch, and in the 23rd minute Altaie crossbarred a ball following a throw-in by Liam Cooledge. Crossbars aren’t goals, however.

The Stags soon powered forward on the attack once more, churning out a couple of near misses in the 32nd minute. The game slipped into a back-and-forth stretch after that, but it was Cheverus who next lit the lamp: Mullen hashed his second of the afternoon with a dash up the right side and a low roller of a shot across to the left corner of the Blazes’ net.

The Stags maintained the momentum through much of the second half. Aceto felt his boys drifted away – or perhaps had been thrown off – their game plan by Cheverus’s successes.

“Second half, we fell back to the passing, we fell back to – things that look good on the field, but aren’t effective this year without putting it over the top or through,” Aceto said. “We kept abandoning the game plan.”

“They got their third goal, and I said, ‘Guys, you’ve got to go back to the long ball, the served hard through-ball,” Aceto went on. “They did, and they contained. And then we pulled guys up.”

Michael Nason assisted Owen Burke on the Stags’ go-ahead tally, which the team posted roughly 16 minutes into the second half.

“[Cheverus] didn’t do anything different,” Aceto said, asked about the momentum swing. “They just started, it getting stolen and getting it picked…And then the second half, they got the goals – we put a forward up, that’s why they really got the extra goals, is we took a guy out of the back and went up to striker.”

“That’s a risk,” Aceto said of the Blazes’ moving a defender forward. “And it almost got rewarded a few times.”

Westbrook’s handful of close-but-no-cigar moments included an Irakoze near-miss just wide right of the Cheverus net with 13:20 left on the clock. The Blazes continued to battle admirably, but the day’s final two goals belonged to the Stags. Jack Mullen completed his hat trick with 12:02 to play on an assist by Will Mullen, and Ethan Hammond pounded home his own rebound roughly nine minutes later. 5-2 the final.

Aceto expressed satisfaction with his defense, who played well overall. “They did do the job we needed them to do,” he said. He also applauded a number of his boys by name:

“Jacob Thornton,” he said. “Mohamed Mohamed; Beni Lapika played a great offensive role as the outside back, bringing the ball up. Devin Cyr, he was locked down for 80 minutes back there, [5-foot-7] marking a kid [6-foot-2]. He’s by far one of the best backs in the conference.”

Westbrook slipped on the loss to 1-6. The Blazes struck out against No. 1 Gorham by a score of 5-0 to start the season, before falling to No. 13 Massabesic 5-1 a few days later. They then picked up a skin-of-their teeth, 2-1 win over No. 15 Noble, and succumbed 1-0 to No. 5 Windham and No. 4 Falmouth 5-0.

However, the team improved to 2-6 on Saturday the 22nd when they secured a massive upset, 2-1 over second-ranked Kennebunk – so perhaps further happy outcomes are headed their way.

The Blazes host No. 12 Bonny Eagle on Tuesday, Sept. 25, and travel to No. 7 Portland on Thursday the 27th.

“As the program goes,” Aceto said, “we’re mentally good. I reinforced to them that we average just under 16 years of age. You’re playing in the toughest conference in the State of Maine, and you’re a group of kids that’s sophomore- and junior-based. You’re starting lineup is two seniors.”

“The whole entire program is coming back next year,” Aceto said. “And their goals aren’t erased for going forward to the end of this year. They should look at today and look at what they’re capable of. If they can knock off – basically everybody’s ahead of us, so everybody’s a point. So I said, ‘Maintain focus on that, and you don’t know what can happen.’”

Cheverus, meanwhile, improved to 5-1-1 with the win. The Stags travel to No. 6 Marshwood on Tuesday and welcome No. 10 Deering two days later.

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

Westbrooker Devin Cyr harrasses Cheverusite Jack Mullen.

Liam Cooledge heads a ball for the Blazes in their loss to Cheverus.

Nathan Tshibemba heads a ball for the Blazes.

The Blazes’ Sabri Lomomi clashes along the sideline with a Cheverus opponent.

Cheverus’s Tommy Gordon gets up close and personal with an airborne ball; Westbrooker Yahya Altaie pressures.

Jacob Thornton dumps a ball toward the Cheverus net from near the sideline.

Westbrookers Jacob Thornton (left) and Nathan Tshibemba (right) sandwich Cheverusite Ethan Hammond, midair.

Westbrook’s Cooper Mullett harangues Cheverus’s Jacob Sargent.

Westbrook junior Captain Chris Irakoze heads a ball.

Blaze Yahya Altaie and Stag Nolan Doherty clash over an airball.

Mohamed Mohamed settles a ball for Westbrook.

Blaze Sabri Lomomi pushes ahead vs. Cheverus.

Westbrooker Mohamed Mohamed connects with the ball.

Beni Lapika boots the ball cross-field for Westbrook.

Additional photos can be found here:

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