GORHAM—Well, it wasn’t pretty.

But first games of the season often aren’t pretty, so maybe the Rams shouldn’t hold it against themselves that they didn’t play their best vs. visiting Portland on Thursday night. Besides, they did come away with the W.

2-1 the final, thanks to superstar Andrew Rent – arguably the single best player in Maine – and Rent’s fellow senior Sebastian Irish.

Andrew Rent goes over-the-top for a header. Adam Birt / American Journal

“Portland’s really good,” Gorham head coach Tim King said. “They’re really good. And of course, first game of the year, you don’t have time to scout or prepare. We knew they were going to be quick and fast, and of course they were.”

Portland controlled much of the offense through the first half of the first half. Oh, Gorham managed some attacking forays, but the Bulldogs seemed to mire their hosts in midfield or in their defensive end for most of those starting 20 minutes.

In other words, it took the Rams’ back line some time to really settle in. And, at one point, that fact cost them dearly: Bulldog Steve Matanga scored first on the evening. Matanga shoveled a low-roller of a point past diving Gorham netminder Zach Beaumont just over 12 minutes into the uphill half.

“We made a mistake,” Coach King said, “and they made us pay for it. They put a lot of pressure on us – but we hung in. We dug in and fought and fought and fought, and not our best game, and that’s because of Portland.”

Beaumont otherwise played mostly an outstanding game, it’s worth noting. Turns out, King’s got a proverbial embarrassment of riches in net this year. Besides Beaumont, there’s also Romain Salvi and Garret Smith.

Javin Stickney and a Portland opponent careen toward the incoming Portland keeper.

“Zach did a real good job,” Coach King said. “This is his first varsity start. He’s a good keeper. I’ve got a couple other keepers who are good too, so it’s going to be a consistent battle, all year long, with my keepers. But I thought he played a hell of a game tonight. I was proud of him.”

Barely 20 seconds after Matanga made it 1-0, Rent evened things up again. Charging up the middle of the field, he called for a pass from Ryan Farr, at the outside right. Farr fed inward, and Rent juked ahead with possession. A Portlander took him down from behind, though. He hit the turf hard – really hard – and the nearby ref awarded him a penalty kick.

Well, Rent’s not one to miss on a PK, and he didn’t miss on this PK. He made it look easy, tying the game with a head-high ball he sent sailing past Bulldogs netminder Henry Flynn at the right side. 1-1.

But Rent soon ducked out of the game, having apparently tweaked a knee a bit.

“We lost Andrew, and he’s a lot of our offense,” Coach King said, “so we just had to battle – and that’s what we did tonight. Andrew’s had some stuff in the past; it usually happens maybe once a year. So let’s hope it’s not too serious. He’s been banged up all preseason.”

Gorham were also missing Kyle Hamblen, a senior captain who plays midfield alongside Rent. “So we were kind of mixing and matching in the middle a little bit tonight,” Coach King said. “Javin [Stickney] took some time in there. Colby Christakis settled things down when he played in the middle. We had Mike Darasz…Curran Bassingthwaite – some young kids we were cycling through the midfield, and they held up as best they could against a really good team.”

Gorham’s Andrew Farr gets his head on the ball. Adam Birt / American Journal

“We got some young kids some good experience, really under fire,” Coach King said. “It’s difficult playing such a great team, the first match of the season.”

The remainder of the opening half unfolded tautly, but without score. Beaumont turned in a big, leaping save around 21:46, and the Rams generated a close call on a Brady King corner kick around 8:20, but the break dawned on a balanced board.

Portland barreled onto the field to begin the downhill 40 minutes – barreled onto the field and pressured early. The Rams rebuffed them, though, and soon pushed the action back into the Bulldogs’ own end.

With just under 35 minutes to go, Irish struck. It was an awkward goal: The ball crawled past Flynn, caught a bit far out of net for the closeness of the melee; one of his defenders jumped at it, trying to keep it from tumbleweeding in. But Irish got the last Gorham touch, and somehow sent the 2-1 tally trickling home.

“The goals were not pretty,” Coach King said. “But we were there, we were grinding, making sure that we had somebody to pop ‘em in when they were bouncing around. We got that penalty kick early, which kind of stabilized us a little bit. We feel fortunate to come out of here with a win, for sure.”

2-1 is where things would conclude, but not without both sides churning up more chances. Around the 23-minute mark, Gorhamite Travis Matheson banged a picturesque header (on another perfect Brady King corner kick) just barely wide of Flynn. And in the waning seconds, when Beaumont found himself caught deep in the corner, the Bulldogs nearly created an open-net opportunity. But Matheson slide-tackled in and saved the day, knocking the ball out of bounds and buying Beaumont some time to get back to his post.

Brady King fires inward. Adam Birt / American Journal

“Travis is a real strong player,” Coach King said. “He’s quick, and he’ll give his body up for the team whenever he can.”

Soon, the clock reached zero.

The home-opener result for Gorham (also Portland’s season-opener) is a rivalry triumph. The Rams and the Bulldogs have met each other in numerous high-stakes games in recent years, with the outcome never certain.

“It’ll give us some confidence,” Coach King said. “I felt like Portland was the better team tonight, and they outplayed us. But what I tell my kids is, ‘The name of the game is winning the game.’ And that’s what we found a way to do tonight. Just by fighting and guts and pride. I think those things are really important, and we showed them tonight.”

Sebastian Irish celebrates after scoring for the Rams. Adam Birt / American Journal

Javin Stickney battles a Bulldog. Adam Birt / American Journal

Travis Matheson heads a ball toward the Portland goal. Adam Birt / American Journal

Brady King vies with a Portlander for control. Adam Birt / American Journal

Gorhamite Javin Stickney heads a ball. Adam Birt / American Journal

Brady King harangues a Portlander, seeking possession. Adam Birt / American Journal

Travis Matheson settles an airborne ball. Adam Birt / American Journal

Andrew Rent reels a ball back in before it can bounce OB. Adam Birt / American Journal

Andrew Rent scores Gorham’s first goal on a PK. Adam Birt / American Journal

Andrew Rent curls around a Portland defender, looking for a shot. Adam Birt / American Journal

Curran Bassingthwaite battles for the Rams. Adam Birt / American Journal

Javin Stickney takes a touch for the Rams. Adam Birt / American Journal

Jax Dol contends with a Bulldogs opponent. Adam Birt / American Journal

Ram Josiah Irish fires forward. Adam Birt / American Journal

Colby Christakis logged some good miles for the Rams vs. Portland. Adam Birt / American Journal

Gorhamite Mike Darasz battles for control. Adam Birt / American Journal

Javin Stickney goes shoulder-to-shoulder with a Bulldog. Adam Birt / American Journal

Ryan Farr works his side of the field. Adam Birt / American Journal

Grant Nadeau canters upfield.

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