FALMOUTH—For the first time this autumn, Cheverus’ girls’ soccer team got pushed to the brink.

And responding like the champions they hope to become, the Stags pushed back and edged host Falmouth in a midseason thriller between a pair of undefeated squads Saturday morning.

Cheverus needed just over three minutes to get the jump, as sophomore Riley O’Mara scored after a turnover and in the 11th minute, after a handball violation in the box on a Yachtsmen defender, Stags senior standout Emma Gallant converted the penalty kick to seemingly put the visitors in control.

But unlike last year’s regional quarterfinal round meeting, which Falmouth lost, 6-0, the Yachtsmen refused to roll over and some late heroics made things very interesting.

First, with 10:26 remaining in regulation, junior Lexie Bugbee set up freshman Elise Gearan for a goal which cut the deficit to one.

Then, with 4:20 on the clock, Bugbee’s long free kick was served perfectly on to the foot of junior Devin Quinn, who finished and suddenly, the contest was tied.

But just as stunningly, the Stags answered right back.

Courtesy their dynamic senior captain combination of Lauren Jordan and Gallant.

With 2:34 left, after a foul, Jordan set up Gallant, who drilled a 35-yard rocket just under the crossbar and that was just enough to allow Cheverus to get out of town with a hard-fought, palpitating 3-2 victory.

The Stags stayed perfect in eight outings, beat the Yachtsmen for the fourth consecutive time and in the process, handed Falmouth its first setback and dropped it to 4-1-2.

“This shows we’re a strong team and we wanted to win for each other and not for ourselves,” Jordan said. “We could have put our head down and taken a tie, but we didn’t want a tie.”

Unblemished

The teams met in the regular season for the first time in 2017, a 2-0 home win for the Stags (the Yachtsmen won a 2014 Western A prelim by a 1-0 score), then last fall, Cheverus won in Falmouth, 2-0, in the regular season and 6-0 in the Class A South quarterfinals

This season, both squads have excelled.

The Stags started with a 5-1 home victory over South Portland, then blanked host Portland (1-0), host Marshwood (1-0) and visiting Massabesic (6-0), before downing visiting Gorham (5-2), host Kennebunk (3-0) and visiting Deering (4-0).

The Yachtsmen held off visiting Sanford, 2-1, in their opener, then won at Massabesic (6-1) and Gorham (2-1). After a 1-1 home tie versus Kennebunk, Falmouth blanked visiting Deering, 4-0, and Wednesday, played host Bonny Eagle to a 1-1 draw.

Saturday, on a beautiful early fall afternoon (64 degrees at kickoff, 70 degrees by game’s end), Cheverus appeared en route to a decisive win before the Yachtsmen roared back, setting up a fantastic finish.

With 36:48 left in the first half, Falmouth turned the ball over in the box, O’Mara got past a defender and closed in on sophomore goalkeeper Jordan Wolf, who tried to cut off the near post, but O’Mara sent the ball past her anyway for a quick 1-0 Stags’ lead.

The Yachtsmen got their first chance a minute later at the other end, when Bugbee collided with a defender in the box and fell, with no call being made, and senior Gabi Esmond collecting the ball and shooting, but Stags junior goalkeeper Neve Cawley made the save.

After junior Allie Cunningham missed just wide for the hosts, Cheverus went back on the attack, earned a corner kick and that led to disaster for Falmouth, as a defender was called for a hand ball on the deflection, giving the Stags a penalty kick.

With 29:35 left in the first half, Gallant did the honors and she fired a shot past Wolf, to the goalie’s left, and Cheverus had a seemingly comfortable 2-0 advantage.

“We knew Falmouth was coming off a big tie against Bonny Eagle and we beat them last year a couple times, so we expected a lot of energy from them at the start, but we were able to dictate tempo,” Stags coach Craig Roberts said.

“The first 11 minutes wasn’t how we wanted to start,” said Falmouth coach Andrew Pelletier. “This is the most prepared we’ve been to play Cheverus and we were excited. I thought we were prepared, but it was a tough start.”

The Yachtsmen tried to answer as senior Kelly Yoon got into the box, but Jordan took the ball away.

After Gallant missed just wide, then had a low blast with her left foot saved by Wolf, Gallant was shaken up after a collision with 19:10 left and she had to sit for the rest of the half with ice on her foot (she would return for the second half).

Late in the half, Wolf made a diving save to rob junior Mia Kratzer, Jordan’s shot off a corner kick was saved and Falmouth junior back Maggie O’Brien blocked a Kratzer shot to keep the score 2-0 at the break.

In the first 40 minutes, the Stags had a 5-1 shots advantage and had three corner kicks to none for the Yachtsmen, but they weren’t able to put Falmouth away and that would come back to haunt them in the second half.

The host team came out strong after halftime, earning a free kick from the side of the box, but Bugbee sent it high, then the Yachtsmen earned a corner kick which didn’t result in a shot.

After Wolf twice denied Kratzer, Stags junior Lily Paszyc sent a shot high and senior Julia Ryan forced Wolf to sprawl to make a save.

Then, with 10:26 to play, Falmouth suddenly produced some offense, as Bugbee sent a long pass into the box where Gearan was able to get to the ball and send it past Cawley to cut the deficit to 2-1.

Now playing with renewed energy, the Yachtsmen pushed for the equalizer and with 4:20 remaining, they got it.

After a foul, Bugbee took a free kick from just inside the midfield stripe and served it into the box, right on to the foot of the sprinting Quinn, who one-timed it past Cawley and into the net to tie the score.

“That was (Lexie’s) 14th assist in seven games,” said Pelletier. “I’m really proud of the character we showed. We said at halftime that it could go one of two ways. We could roll over the way we did in the playoffs, or we could make it right and I think we did (make it right) for the most part.”

But despite its valiant rally, there would be no happy ending for Falmouth.

That’s because Cheverus shook off squandering the lead and quickly reclaimed it.

After a foul near midfield, Jordan took the free kick and sent the ball to Gallant, who turned, found space, then struck a perfect ball from 35 yards out. The shot looked promising off her foot and Wolf wasn’t able to reach it despite a leaping effort. The only question was whether or not the ball would sail over the crossbar, but it ducked just under and tickled the twine and wit 2:34 to play, the Stags were again on top, 3-2.

“I saw about a 60-yard radius circle and Emma in the middle and nobody around her,” Jordan said.

“I knew there were only a couple minutes left, I had space, the whole team needed it and I wanted to put it in for the team,” Gallant said. “(The shot) felt good, but I thought it was going over the crossbar, then at the last second (it went under).”

“I thought it was going in, then I was like, ‘Oh oh,’ and I couldn’t see, but everyone was celebrating,” Jordan said.

“We talk about quick restarts, if you see it go for it, and Emma and Lauren saw it at the same time and executed it very well,” Roberts added. “That’s not how we drew it up, but I’m not surprised they did that. That shot wasn’t a fluke.”

The Yachtsmen were staggered.

“It was a silly foul and we gave them 20 yards of space,” Pelletier said. “My midfielders were tired. Most of them played 80 minutes. Give one of the best players in the state time and something bad will happen.”

Falmouth wasn’t able to generate another shot and the Stags were able to hold on and win, 3-2.

“The resilience of this team gives us confidence going into the rest of the season,” said Gallant, who added after the contest that she felt fine.

“After they tied it, both teams were gassed,” Roberts said. “My girls could have dropped back into a shell and let them come wave after wave and settle for the tie, but there was resiliency there, they wanted to go for the win.”

Cheverus out-shot Falmouth, 10-3, and took three corner kicks to the Yachtsmen’s one. Cawley made one save.

Falmouth got seven saves from Wolf and impressed with its rally, but ultimately wound up disappointed not to get a result.

“There was a lot of emotion coming from last year’s game where we were embarrassed,” Pelletier said. “The girls feel like we can compete with Cheverus. They’re probably the best team in the state. I’ve seen every single team and there’s not another team with as much talent as Cheverus. We’re disappointed because we went punch-for-punch with them, but we feel like we gave the game away.”

Collecting Heal Points

Each team has some big games upcoming.

Falmouth goes to Windham Tuesday, then hosts Biddeford Friday.

“It doesn’t get any easier,” said Pelletier. “We have to get prepared for Windham. The SMAA is crazy. There aren’t many days you can take a day off. Our goal is to get in the top four and get a good seed for the playoffs. Hopefully, we can go on a good run.”

Cheverus travels to Bonny Eagle Tuesday and hosts Windham the following Tuesday. A regular season-ending home showdown versus two-time defending regional champion Scarborough also looms.

“We just need some fine-tuning,” Gallant said. “We have full confidence in the team and Coach has full confidence in the team.”

“This gets our confidence up,” Jordan said. “It was big for us to get a tough game under our belts before playing Bonny Eagle or Scarborough. We have to communicate and come out and play a strong 80 minutes, instead of a strong 52 minutes or whatever.”

“Our mindset is if we beat teams, we won’t have to travel (in the playoffs),” Roberts added. “Bonny Eagle is good and they play an aggressive formation that we’ll have to be disciplined on. Then we have some time off, then we get Windham and they’re playing well.”

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

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