The seniors of the Freeport boys soccer team pose for a group picture during Monday’s practice. (Eric Maxim / The Times Recod)

FREEPORT — The last time Freeport High School won a regional boys soccer title, gas was 63 cents a gallon, Space Invaders launched a craze for computer video games and Saturday Night Fever was in the theaters.

The year was 1978, and the Falcons had just concluded a three-year run of winning state championships in Class B, coached by Steve York.

In 2000, 2005 and 2007, led by coach Joe Heathco, Freeport made it to the regional finals, only to come up short in each of those seasons.

This year’s Falcons may not fully understand how long 40 years is, but they totally understand what it took to reach this year’s regional final.

“I honestly don’t think they know,” head coach Bob Strong said of his team’s perception of 40 years. “They know these are important games and what it means to get to a state championship, but until they step on the field, they’re really not going to know. What they do know is that we got here as a team.”

In 2017, after hosting Oak Hill in a preliminary win, the team traveled down Route 1 and fell to eventual state champ Yarmouth in the semifinals, 3-0. With much of last year’s talented squad returning, the Falcons set high expectations for 2018 early on.

Freeport coach Bob Strong, right, explains a drill to his players during Monday’s practice. The Falcons will host Cape Elizabeth in the B South Regional Finals on Wednesday at Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field. (Eric Maxim / The Times Record)

“We knew at the beginning of the season that we had athleticism and talent,” said the first-year coach. “I wanted to make sure we bring to the field something different every day so that we’re stimulating their minds. Because in competition, we’re always going to be confronted with an opponent who brings something we’re not expecting, so the quicker these guys are able to adapt to something new, the more successful they’re going to be.”

Strong stressed to his young athletes back in August that although they were a talented team with good soccer IQ, they needed to be a team, one unit. The former Univerity of Maine soccer standout set out to teach his program the importance of team chemistry.

“We talked about that being a word or words, and it’s almost an emotional sense,” Strong said of team chemistry. “We know what it feels like now as you can feel it. It’s not something that just happens, and they’ve worked hard on it.”

“One of the first things Coach Strong did was that he wanted us to go on a team bonding trip,” senior Wes Goodwin said. “He stressed the importance of team chemistry. He knows us personally and wants us to know each other too.”

Senior keeper Atticus Patrick echoed those words.

“We feel a sense of community. The team feels closer than I’ve ever felt on a team. I feel like I can talk to any coaching staff member or teammate. I feel like I can trust every single one of my players out on the field,” Patrick said. “He talked a lot about team chemistry at the beginning of the year, and we really found that in the defense. I’m confident in Owen, my twin brother at left back, then my other backs Damon (Butler), Gabe (Wagner), Caleb (Arsenault) and Sam (Larochelle), they’re all amazing players and I feel assured having them in front of me.”

The chemistry began to grow from the onset. The team rattled off seven wins in September, including victories over York and Wells, tying both Yarmouth and Greely, while losing just once, a loss to tonight’s opponent, Cape Elizabeth.

“We lost up there in a tight game,” Strong said. “It was closer than the 2-0 score indicated.”

Freeport lost to York and a home match with Yarmouth in the final minute to open October, but a 4-0 win over Fryeburg and an emotional 2-1 triumph over the Capers in the final game of the season lit a spark under the Falcons.

“Gabe’s hustle helped us win that game against Cape. He got a header off a corner, then his hustle to the ball helped set up Sam (Tourigny) for the game-winner,” Strong said. “One of the toughest things this year has been getting everyone in the game and in the right spots. We have so many talented players, we want to make sure we’re getting the right combinations.”

While team bonding activities throughout the year brought the team closer, the Falcons decided to all dye their hair blond before the playoffs began.

“This year having a new coach, it felt like having a new team and we all have a connection,” Eriksen Shea said. “We’ve done team dinners every Wednesday, a rafting trip as a team that the Boosters helped us with, and yeah, we all dyed our hair as a team. We saw some of the other teams doing it, and they were some of the top teams and we figured, we’re a top team, why not.”

After dispatching Leavitt in the quarterfinals (5-0), the second-seeded Falcons hosted Greely in the semis, and a dominating performance sent the Rangers home (3-1), setting up the finals against Cape. The Capers stopped Yarmouth’s 45-match unbeaten streak to end the top-seeded Clippers’ season in the other semifinal matchup.

Hosting the regional finals at the new Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field was beyond anyone’s belief when the season started, but now, the school is reaping the benefits of a new playing surface and a facility on campus where the community can come together.

Freeport’s Atticus Patrick makes a save during a drill in Monday’s practice at Joan Benoit Samuelson Track and Field. The Falcons host Cape Elizabeth today at 6 p.m. for the B South Regional title. (Eric Maxim / The Times Record)

“Having this facility is awesome. At the beginning of the year, I never thought we’d be hosting a few playoff games here. People talk about having home field advantage and it’s so true as I feel confident here with all of the fans,” Atticus Patrick said. “It makes it all that more special, making me want to put my all into it. I’ve always tried my hardest, but this one I especially want to because we’re one of the last ones out here, it’s all or nothing. I’m really excited for the game.”

“It’s exciting, I’m pumped, the team’s pumped and I know the fans are pumped too. We’re one of the last team sports still going, so I think everyone is getting even more excited now,” Shea Wagner said. “Once we heard that Cape beat Yarmouth, we knew we would host the next game, and we’ve taken them at home before, so I think everyone here is excited to do that.”

With all of the players praising team chemistry as a catalyst for their success, Strong credits his seniors and their actions on and off the field.

“It all comes back to the leadership on the team. There is only so much the coaches can do, we have 13 seniors who do everything, all the little things that make this happen,” Strong said. “I give all the credit to them, they clean up the bus after games, they pick up after practice, they organize wearing ties on game days, so much has come from these boys.”

With the success this fall of both soccer teams, cross country teams, field hockey and football, it’s a great time to be a Falcon.

“It’s super special. We started out as freshman and worked our way up, getting better and better. This turf is amazing and we feel great playing on it, it helps with our confidence. Us seniors only have so many games on this turf, playing all three playoff games on it is bonus,” Shea said.

And the team appreciates all of the support.

“The fan support has been amazing, the amount of people that turned out to support our team has been tremendous,” Goodwin said. “The field has a great community aspect to it. The atmosphere here the other night was nothing like anything I’ve felt over the last four years.”

It’s hard not to look ahead and see what can be accomplished later this week, but for now, the Falcons are staying humble and are focused on today’s game.

“It’s the last week of the season and we’re one of four teams in Class B still practicing, that’s pretty special,” Strong added.

Follow game updates on Twitter @SportsMidcoast beginning at 7 p.m.

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