GORHAM—You never know exactly what’s going to transpire when the Portland Bulldogs and Gorham Rams boys’ soccer teams square off in a playoff game.

It might be memorable and it might be controversial, but it’s guaranteed to never be boring and when the teams’ renewed their postseason acquaintances in a Class A South semifinal Saturday afternoon at Gorham’s Athletic Field, another compelling chapter was written.

One, unfortunately for the Bulldogs, with an all-too-familiar ending.

Portland, which dropped regional finals at Gorham in 2016 and again last year, couldn’t convert on some early chances and fell behind, 1-0, in the eighth minute, when Rams’ senior Javin Stickney finished a gorgeous feed from senior Ryan Farr.

The goal came with a cost, however, for Gorham, which is already playing the season without injured standout Andrew Rent, as on the play, Stickney suffered a leg injury and had to depart.

The Rams know how to overcome adversity, however, and pressured for a second goal, but kept getting stonewalled by Bulldogs’ junior goalkeeper Henry Flynn, who kept his team’s deficit at one entering halftime.

Gorham finally got some breathing room midway through the second half, as senior Sebastian Irish set up senior Travis Matheson for a second goal, but Portland, despite being down a man after Flynn received a red card, didn’t quit.

With 12:13 remaining, Bulldogs’ junior Anselmo Tela got to a long feed from senior Alex Millones and finished to make things interesting.

Millones set up a few more chances down the stretch, but Portland couldn’t manage the equalizer and the Rams held on for a 2-1 victory.

Gorham improved to 13-2-1, advanced to meet either No. 2 Falmouth (12-2-1) in the Class A South Final, Tuesday at 4 p.m,. at Waterhouse Field in Biddeford, and in the process, ended another fine Bulldogs’ season at 11-4-1.

“It was an excellent soccer game,” said longtime Portland coach Rocco Frenzilli. “A great one to be a part of. People get their money’s worth when we play.”

No strangers

In 2016, Gorham edged Portland, 1-0, in the Class A South Final. The next year, the Bulldogs outlasted the Rams on penalty kicks to go to states and last year, Gorham prevailed, 1-0, in the regional final.

The teams kicked off the 2019 campaign Sept. 5 in Gorham and the Rams took that one too, 2-1.

The Bulldogs then then blanked host Cheverus (3-0), beat visiting Windham (3-1), host Biddeford (7-1), visiting Thornton Academy (4-0) and host Westbrook (1-0). After a rough patch which saw losses to visiting Scarborough (2-1) and host South Portland (4-2), Portland blanked visiting Sanford (5-0), beat visiting Massabesic (7-1) and downed host Noble (6-1), to give Frenzilli his 250th victory with the program. After a 5-0 home win over Kennebunk, the Bulldogs settled for a 1-1 home tie against Marshwood, then closed with a 1-0 victory at Falmouth.

Portland had just enough to advance in Tuesday’s quarterfinal round, edging visiting fifth-seed South Portland, 2-1.

Gorham, meanwhile, was the preseason favorite, then was written off as a title threat when Rent went down with a season-ending knee injury in the opener, but the Rams still managed to go 11-2-1, winning their final six games, and Tuesday in the quarterfinals, Gorham avenged a regular season setback with a 5-0 victory over No. 8 Westbrook.

Saturday’s encounter was the teams’ sixth all-time in the postseason, with the Rams holding a 3-2 edge, and this time around, on pleasant early-November afternoon (48 degrees at kickoff with a slight wind), Gorham did just enough to advance to another regional final.

Millones had a shot just over a minute into the contest, but missed wide.

In the fourth minute, the Bulldogs earned a corner kick and the ball came to Millones, but his shot was denied by Rams’ senior goalkeeper Romain Salvi.

In the sixth minute, the Rams took their first corner kick and senior Brady King’s serve was on target, but Flynn made the save.

Gorham kept the pressure and was rewarded with 32:55 to go in the first half, as Farr played the ball from the right sideline all the way into the box, to Stickney behind the defense. With Flynn racing out to get to the ball, Stickney flicked it past the goalie, but on the play, the two collided and Stickney got the worst of the collision, suffering a leg injury that was severe enough that he had to be carted off the field.

“Javin’s a good player and seeing him score and go down right after was tough,” Matheson said. “We knew we just had to adjust.”

“Luckily, he scored the goal and that softened the blow a little bit,” said Rams’ coach Tim King. “I feel for the kid. I hope he’s OK. We’ll keep our fingers crossed.”

A moment later, at the other end, Portland sophomore Jonas Matombo and Salvi collided and both were injured and had to leave the game (Salvi would soon return).

After backup keeper, senior Zach Beaumont, denied a shot from Bulldogs’ junior Gabriel Panzo, Gorham went back on the attack and had some great chances to extend its lead.

First, Matheson had a shot in the box blocked by senior Elias Antonio, setting up a corner kick.

After Brady King had a free kick from the top of the box blocked, the Rams had another free kick and after Matheson’s header was saved by a diving Flynn, the rebound sat free and was trapped by a defender, which was ruled a dangerous play.

That allowed Gorham to take a rarely seen indirect kick from right in front of the goal, a call that caused great consternation on the Portland sideline, but the Bulldogs dodged the bullet, as King was denied, a rebound shot by Farr was blocked and another bid from junior Michael Darasz sailed wide.

Late in the half, Flynn robbed Farr on the doorstep and senior Colby Christakis got to Matheson’s header in the box, but sent the ball just wide of the right post and the score remained 1-0 at the break.

In the first 40 minutes, the Rams out-shot the Bulldogs, 6-2 and took four corner kicks, but Flynn’s five saves kept things interesting.

And they would get even more interesting in a down-to-the-wire second half.

After Millones had a couple early shots saved by Salvi, Matheson was on the verge of a breakaway when Flynn came out and tripped him up with 25:05 on the clock. Flynn was given a red card and had to leave the game. He was replaced by senior Max Brown in goal, but Portland had to play the remainder of the contest down a player.

After Millones made Salvi sprawl to make a save, Gorham got a second goal with 21:55 left.

This time, Matheson was able to finish, beating Brown to Irish’s through-ball, then steering it past the keeper and into the net to make the score, 2-0.

“That second goal was key,” Matheson said. “We knew if we held them, we’d take it. Sebastian played a nice through-ball and I just got enough to get it past the goalie.”

“We always try to get a second goal,” Tim King said. “Portland’s so dangerous all the time. In the first half, we created some good chances. We thought we could some more in the second half. Travis is so dangerous up front. We snuck that one in and that was a big lift for us.”

Brown then came up huge to keep his team in the game, saving a free kick by Brady King, denying Matheson, robbing Irish, then tipping away a corner kick.

“Max kept us in the game,” said Frenzilli. “It’s not the easiest thing in the world to sit almost the whole season, then have to come into a semifinal, but he did an outstanding job keeping us in it.”

Then, with 12:13 to go, Portland suddenly broke through on a corner kick, as Millones served the ball into the box, Gorham couldn’t clear it and Tela one-timed it high past Salvi to the goalie’s left and into the net to cut the deficit to 2-1.

“We got a bright spot there and I hoped we could keep it going,” said Frenzilli.

Millones dropped a free kick in the box with 8:05 to go, but it was cleared.

Two minutes later, a Millones free kick from the side landed in the box, but no teammate could reach it.

Then, with 1:27 on the clock, one final Millones long serve was right on target, but Tela couldn’t get a foot on it.

“Alex is incredible,” said Frenzilli. “That was one of the gutsiest individual performances I’ve seen from a kid in a game like this. He stayed composed.”

That would be it for Portland’s chances and Gorham held on to prevail, 2-1.

“We’ve learned how to persevere,” said Matheson. “We’ve done that all season. We keep fighting to stay in games. It’s always a battle against Portland. They play hard. It was tough to hold them off.”

“You know what you’re signing up for when you play this game,” said Tim King. “It came down to the wire and we feel pretty happy right now, to lose our best player for the whole year and to still get to this spot, we’re thrilled.”

The Rams had a 13-6 edge in shots on frame, got four saves from Salvi, another from Beaumont and took six corner kicks to the Bulldogs’ five.

Gorham is 1-0 all-time versus Falmouth in the playoffs, winning, 1-0, in the 2017 Class A South semifinals.

“It means a lot to play in the regional final again,” said Matheson. “We just have to play our game.”

“We certainly wish we were hosting it, because that’s a lot of fun playing in front of our crowd,” King said. “(Falmouth’s) a rival that’s phenomenal. We’ll see what happens. It’ll be a battle for sure.”

Bitter pill

For Portland, Flynn made six saves and Brown stopped five shots in relief.

The Bulldogs gave their all for 80 minutes, but fell a goal short.

“Congrats to Gorham,” Frenzilli said. “They were ready to play and they found a way, but I couldn’t be more proud of the performance my kids put in down the stretch. Despite all the adversity, they kept coming back, but we came up just short.

“You climb that ladder and the higher you climb, the tougher the fall. There can be only one team to win. We accomplished a lot. We lose some great seniors. We’ll miss them, but we’ll come back next year and see where we stand and we’ll try to keep this great streak going that we’ve developed over the years.”

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

Comments are not available on this story.