CAPE ELIZABETH—Freeport’s defending Class B South champion boys’ soccer team had been unable to hit its stride this fall because several of the team’s top players have been sidelined with various injuries.

Tuesday evening, in a regional final rematch against Cape Elizabeth at Hannaford Field, the Falcons got several of those key contributors back and not coincidentally, the squad went out and earned its biggest win of the season to date.

In the game’s 18th minute, senior Will Winter, who missed a week of action with a hamstring injury, scored to put Freeport on top to stay.

The Falcons were able to take a 1-0 advantage to halftime thanks to a late save from senior goalkeeper Gabe Wagner and a Capers’ goal off a corner kick being waved off just before the horn.

Then, with 33 minutes to go, Winter finished a gorgeous passing sequence to give Freeport some breathing room.

To the surprise of no one, Cape Elizabeth refused to go quietly and with 2:23 to go, senior Jonas Moon scored on a rebound to give the hosts hope.

The Capers couldn’t complete the comeback, however, and the Falcons held on for the 2-1 victory.

Freeport snapped a two-game losing streak, improved to 3-2-1 on the season and in the process, dropped Cape Elizabeth to 2-3.

“Cape never gives up,” said Falcons’ coach Bob Strong. “You never can relax against them. We expected a physical match against them and we got it and we were fortunate to come out on the winning end.”

Rematch

Last fall, to the surprise of many, the last two teams standing in Class B South were Cape Elizabeth and Freeport.

The Falcons won a memorable regional final, 3-2, then went on to lose by that score to Presque Isle in overtime in the state final.

This season, both squads have held their own in a deep and talented Class B South region.

The Capers opened with a 3-2 loss at Greely and a 1-0 home loss to Yarmouth in a playoff rematch. Cape Elizabeth then downed visiting Fryeburg Academy (5-0) and host Wells (8-0).

Freeport, meanwhile, started with a 5-0 home win over Gray-New Gloucester, then settled for a 2-2 draw at Greely. After beating visiting Lake Region, 3-0, the Falcons fell at home to Yarmouth (1-0) and at York (1-0).

Last year, in the regular season, Cape Elizabeth won at home, 2-0, then Freeport snapped a nine-game skid in the series with a 1-0 home victory.

Tuesday, on a comfortable early fall evening (66 degrees at kickoff), the Falcons managed to beat the Capers for the third consecutive time, but it didn’t come easily.

Freeport was emboldened by the return of not just Winter, but also senior standout Jesse Bennell (who had been sidelined nearly all season with a concussion), and the Falcons earned an early chance which saw senior Finn Sheehan miss just wide in the fifth minute.

At the other end, Cape Elizabeth hoped to take the lead, but junior Archie McEvoy missed just high.

In the 12th minute, Freeport nearly executed a brilliant play off a free kick just outside the box, as sophomore Keigan Shea tapped the ball to junior Cam Strong, who fed Winter in front, but his bid was denied by Capers senior goalkeeper Andrew Carroll.

In the 13th minute, at the other end, it was Cape Elizabeth’s turn to be frustrated, as Wagner robbed Moon.

After Wagner made a save on junior Nick Clifford off a free kick, the Falcons transitioned to offense and broke the scoring ice.

Winter and senior Damon Butler played a little give-and-go to make the goal happen, as Winter passed to Butler, got the ball back, then fired a high shot past Carroll into the upper right corner for a 1-0 lead with 22:38 remaining in the first half.

“I laid the ball off to Damon and he laid it back to me,” Winter said. “It was bouncing a little. I tried to control it, then hit it as hard as I could and luckily, it went in. t feels great to be back. It was rough last Friday to watch from the sideline. I wasn’t 100 percent, but good enough to get the job done.”

Just 45 seconds later, Freeport nearly doubled its lead, but Carroll dove to rob senior Sam Tourigny.

The final minute of the half saw Cape Elizabeth twice be denied the tying goal.

First, with 59 seconds showing, McEvoy took a pass from junior Dylan Hewitt and appeared primed to score, but Wagner robbed him.

Then, as time wound down, the Capers had a corner kick and senior Killian Lathrop served the ball in to Clifford who headed it home, but with under a second left, the goal was waved off, as goalie interference was ruled.

“It was hard for me to see where I was if it was interference, but I assumed it was,” Strong said. “If that went in, it would have changed the game.”

“They said we interfered with the goalie,” said Cape Elizabeth coach Ben Raymond. “I couldn’t see it from here. The officials were in the right spot. I’m sure someone got in someone’s way.”

In the first 40 minutes, the Capers had a 5-4 edge in shots on frame and a 4-1 advantage in corner kicks, but five Wagner saves kept the Falcons in the lead.

Cape Elizabeth’s frustration would continue in the second half, as Freeport did just enough to get out of town with a victory.

With 33:17 remaining, Winter struck again to extend the lead, but the play began at the other end of the field, as Wagner got the ball to junior Ethan Prescott, who passed to sophomore Owen Howarth, who despite being hobbled with a leg injury, managed to pass to an open Winter, who again beat Carroll for a  2-0 advantage.

“That was a great team play,” Winter said. “We’ve worked on counter-attacks and we were able to do it.”

“I knew the second goal would be a big one, either put us up by a couple or give them energy to get back in the game,” Strong said. “That was a great pass from Owen to Will. It’s great to have Will back in the lineup. The team has assumed different roles while (he and Jesse) were out and it took some time tonight to get rhythm.”

Cape Elizabeth then fought back.

First, McEvoy had a great look after a failed clear with 26:18 remaining, but he missed just wide.

Then, with 5:20 left, Hewitt’s shot in the box was blocked by Falcons’ senior back Colby Arsenault.

With 2:23 on the clock, senior Charlie Dall took a free kick from 25 yards out the ball bounced around and eventually wound up on the foot of Moon, who beat Wagner to give the Capers life.

Cape Elizabeth wasn’t able to generate another shot on goal, however, and Freeport prevailed, 2-1.

“Cape’s a hard team,” Winter said. “We haven’t had much luck here. It’s a good feeling to come here and get a win.”

“Cape’s so tough,” Strong said. “Nick Clifford poses a lot of trouble for us every time. Dall is fast on the outside. We needed a win. We wanted this one badly. The timing of guys coming back couldn’t be better.”

Freeport got eight saves from Wagner, as well as a strong defensive effort.

“We weren’t sure how our back line would play out at the start of the year, but the past few games, we’ve gotten a strong lineup,” said Winter. “We have good players who can defend one-on-one and are good in the air.”

“Gabe was really strong in net for us tonight,” said Strong.

Cape Elizabeth enjoyed a 9-6 advantage in shots on goal, got four saves from Carroll and took six corner kicks to the Falcons’ two, but wound up one goal shy.

“It was a good game,” Raymond said. “Both teams had chances. They just capitalized a little more. They did a great job moving the ball, quick counter-attacks. They caught us pushing numbers forward. We were unable to get back and they had quick passes. We didn’t adjust well to that, but we didn’t shut down. We kept working hard and scored with a couple minutes to go. The score may not say it, but I think we’re fairly even.

“I think the top teams are all fairly even. Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses. It’s still early in the year. I’m sure the teams will get better and try to do things differently.”

Second half stretch

The teams will meet for a second time in the regular season finale Oct. 19 in Freeport, but both will have several challenges in the interim.

Cape Elizabeth has a huge test at defending Class C champion Waynflete Thursday, then travels to York Saturday.

“We’ve got some things to clean up in the midfield,” Raymond said. “We’ll keep working on that. We have a big week coming up.”

Freeport returns home Thursday to meet Wells. The Falcons then go to Traip Academy Saturday.

“This gives us momentum coming off those rough 1-0 losses to Yarmouth and York,” Winter said. “This puts us back on the right track. It gets us some (Heal Points) and gets us ready for our next game.”

“Were still nursing injuries and need to get healthy,” said Strong. “We have to clean things up tactically. We have some games now where we can regroup and refocus.”

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

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