Sebri Ahamed scored Westbrook’s goal vs. Cheverus. Adam Birt / American Journal

PORTLAND—Down 1-0 with roughly three quarters of the game behind them, Westbrook pressured impressively. They just needed to convert. Finally, Sebri Ahamed did so, punching a rebound past Cheverus keeper Harrison Bell and tying things up.

But neither side found the back of the net again – not even through two overtimes – and the game ultimately ended in a draw.

Per head coach Vince Aceto, Westbrook’s first-half play vs. Cheverus wasn’t quite on a par with their second-half play. “First half was tough,” Aceto said. “Just letting guys get through. Not marking, a lot of lunging.”

Still, the Blazes nevertheless managed to keep the Stags off the scoreboard for the uphill 40 minutes. In the downhill 40 minutes, then, Westbrook upped the ante: The team attacked early – indeed, they held an attacking edge for much of the half – and generated most of the flashy opportunities.

“Cheverus missed a lot of open shots,” Aceto said, asked how his boys squeezed through the first half without giving up a goal. “They could’ve finished the game early.”

Aceto recounted the gist of his halftime spiel. “I told them they were making it too easy for [Cheverus],” he said.

Even so, the Stags struck first: Junior Nate Smith buried the point three and a half minutes in. Smith scored right-to-left, just after ducking behind his defender – itself a feat, given the strength of Westbrook’s back line. The Blazes feature, among others, stalwart backs in Devin Cyr, Mohamed Mohamed and Jackson Thayer.

“That’s what they were doing in the first half,” Aceto said. “Using [Smith], splitting our backs – and he laced it. It was a great shot. He had a few like that in the first half, too; he was getting through.”

The Blazes clearly had it in them to prevail in the bout; their substantial ball-handling, passing and penetrating skills were on full display. Cyr fired off a laser-guided shot from way, way out – maybe 50 yards out – not long after Cheverus jumped on top. Bell, though, made the stop.

Less than three minutes later, Westbrooker Ahemd Qasem beat his defender at the left side, overran the ball, cut back and dished to Chris Irakoze. Irakoze shot – but again Bell proved his worth.

Qasem flipped a ball Bell’s way, an arcing ball from 15 yards out, dead-center; Jacob Thornton logged a solid shot; Qasem fed for Ahamed, who fired. Each time, either Bell frustrated the Blazes, or their attempt missed the net (though never by much).

“Yep, yep, very happy. The put it together,” Aceto said, asked if he was satisfied with his boys’ response in the second half. “Stringing passes together better; sticking to the plan and keeping it wide, instead of going into the middle. In the first half, we were bringing it into the middle and inviting them – literally saying, ‘Take the ball and counter.’ Second half, we really stressed keeping the ball wide, which they did.”

Eventually Westbrook got on the board. At 20:03, Thayer unwound into a long free kick. Thayer’s feed found its mark – it found Bell and the crowd on his doorstep. Bell blocked the shot, but couldn’t grab it; Ahamed, smartly positioned just a few yards out, dove in for the rebound and the tally. 1-1.

“When Cheverus scored, we added a third striker up top,” Aceto said. “We moved Momo from a sweeper up top. That put more pressure on them.” (“Momo” is Mohamed.)

The remainder of the game unfurled unsatisfyingly for both sides. Westbrook often pressured, often slickly, but without seizing the lead.

Following a Blazes corner kick at 12:30, Cyr ripped a blistering shot from 35 yards out – but the ball sailed just wide. Around eight minutes, Irakoze launched a corner; that ball ricocheted back in Irakoze’s direction and he took control, feeding inward again. Mohamed ended up with possession and fired a beautiful shot right-to-left – another shot wide by a hair.

At 6:40, Mohamed fed forward; the ball ping-ponged off a Cheverus head before Qasem got his own head on it. His attempt flew just high. And at 3:15, Yahya Altaie blasted a direct kick Bell’s way. Once more, Bell was good for the save.

Occasionally, the Stags’ tested the Blazes’ d. Cyr headed a Cheverus ball outward from center at 15:45, saving on-goal pressure, and Thayer interrupted a Stags charge with under five to play in regulation.

Both sides created chances in both OTs, too. Alas, the final buzzer tolled on a tie.

Aceto praised a number of his players. “Momo,” Aceto said, asked who turned in a good game. “Matt Weymouth filled in nicely for Mo. Jackson Thayer is 100% best in the SMAA, back. Devin, consistent. Yahya, second half, good game.”

“But overall, total game: Jackson, Mo,” Aceto said. “Yeah, probably 80 minutes. Fantastic.”

No. 8 Westbrook moved to 6-3-3 on the result. The Blazes turned around and played another game 14 hours later – another tough game indeed, this one against second-place Falmouth (11-1-1).

In that contest, the sides tied each other in the former half, and thus went into the latter half at 1-1. The Yachtsmen, though, ultimately outlasted their guests to the tune of 3-1.

Westbrook thereby slipped to 6-4-3. The team closed their regular season at Windham (15th, 3-10) on Tuesday, October 22, winning 4-1.

Westbrooker Chris Irakoze battles for control deep in a corner of the Cheverus zone. Adam Birt / American Journal

Ahmed Qasem barrels up the sideline. Adam Birt / American Journal

Matt Weymouth shovels forward for the Blazes. Adam Birt / American Journal

Westbrook’s Yahya Altaie tussles with a Stags opponent. Adam Birt / American Journal

Mohamed Mohamed vies for a header with a Stag. Adam Birt / American Journal

Jackson Thayer turned in a standout game vs. the Stags. Adam Birt / American Journal

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