South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete forward Deven Hannan (13) skates with the puck between Thornton Academy’s Brady Forbes (15) and Julian Valiente (12) in Friday’s Class A quarterfinal at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston. The fourth-seeded Red Riots defeated the No. 5 Golden Trojans, 5-4. (Bob Conn / The Times Record)

LEWISTON — The great U.S.A. hockey coach Herb Brooks probably would not have approved.

In the first period alone on Friday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in the boys Class A hockey quarterfinals, fourth-seeded South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete allowed the game’s first goal 50 seconds in to No. 5 Thornton Academy and permitted a power-play goal, one of two tallies for the Golden Trojans in the final 72 seconds of the frame to put the Red Riots into a 3-1 hole.

But, like Brooks’ gold-medal winning American team in 1980, these Red Riots refused to quit, rallying with a late second-period goal from Eric Walker and two third-period tallies 55-seconds apart for a 5-4 come-from-behind win.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete’s victory sends the Red Riots into Tuesday’s 8 p.m. semifinal against No. 1 Lewiston back at the Colisee. The Blue Devils downed No. 8 Bangor, 6-0, on Saturday.

But for now, the Red Riots celebrated the biggest victory in the tri co-op squad’s history to improve to 12-6-1.

South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete’s Eric Walker, left, lands a big check on Thornton Academy’s Eli Pendergrass. (Bob Conn / The Times Record)

“We have a lot of veteran players, a lot of experience, and we are a physically strong team and disciplined with our system. I knew if they just kept battling and stayed positive that they could claw their way back. They did. I am very proud of them,” Red Riots coach Joe Robinson said. “This next game we’re in on Tuesday is the furthest that this program has ever advanced. This is huge for us.”

Throughout the opening period, things appeared to be going against South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete.

Red Riots center Owen Anderson (5) battles with Thornton Academy’s Colby Bilodeau for the puck during Friday’s Class A boys hockey quarterfinal in Lewiston. Looking on is South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete defenseman Austin Gross (28). (Bob Conn / The Times Record)

Eli Pendergrass scored 50 seconds into the game as his soft shot found a way past the left leg of Red Riots goaltender Liam McGibbon for a 1-0 Golden Trojan lead.

“It looked like he was expecting the kid to take a ripper, but it caught him off-guard,” said Robinson.

The Red Riots tied the game when Owen Anderson sent a shot past Thornton Academy (11-9) goaltender Gage Tarbox-Belanger (19 saves) with 3:32 left in the opening frame.

But, the Red Riots took a late penalty, and the Golden Trojans took immediate advantage as Alex St. John put home a rebound of a Christopher Balzano shot for a 2-1 lead with 1:12 remaining in the period.

It took just 13 seconds for Thornton Academy to gain a 3-1 lead, as Thomas Gonneville finished a setup from Liam Nash and Pendergrass with 59 ticks left until a much-needed intermission for South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete.

The teams traded goals in the middle period, with Anderson scoring his second goal for South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete off assists from Dylan Hannan and Richard Gilboy, followed by a second Thornton Academy power play tally as Balzano slipped a shot past McGibbon for a 4-2 lead.

Momentum changer

The Red Riots needed something as the clock ticked down late in the second period. Eric Walker provided it. His big check began a barrage of hard hits, and Walker sent his team to the locker room with momentum when his wrist shot found a way through Tarbox-Belanger to make for a 4-3 contest.

Thornton Academy defenseman Joe Reny (3) skates with the puck in front of South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete’s Ian Wright (2) on Friday in Lewiston. (Bob Conn / The Times Record)

“We battled the whole game. We had a tough first period, but we came to work. Once we got those goals in the second period, I felt that it was our game,” said Red Riot Gus Lappin.

“We knew that we could beat these guys the whole game,” added Cullen Adams. “We felt we were a bit unlucky in the first period, and after that I thought we drove pretty hard. The last game that we played against Falmouth (a 4-3 Red Riot victory), we did the same thing. We never felt that we were out of the game. We knew that we were still in it.”

The third period began conservatively, with both teams putting one shot on net

Eric Walker of South Portland/Freeport/ Waynflete celebrates with teammates after scoring his team’s third goal late in the second period. The Red Riots rallied to a 5-4 Class A quarterfinal victory over Thornton Academy at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston on Friday. Bob Conn / The Times Record

in the first six minutes.

That all changed with 8:24 left in regulation, as Lappin picked up a loose puck and sent a laser through Tarbox-Belanger for a tie contest.

It took just 55 seconds for the Red Riots to grab their first and only lead. Hannan, who picked up three assists, set up Adams, who sent a rising shot into the cage for a 5-4 South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete lead with 7:29 remaining.

From there, the ice tilted Thornton Academy’s way, as the Golden Trojans fired 13 shots on net. In the game’s final 90 seconds, McGibbon, who had 27 saves, stopped St. John, Nash, Pendergrass and Julian Valiante in tight to preserve the 5-4 Red Riot win.

Liam was stellar after that first period,” said Robinson of his goaltender. “At the end, I thought three of those pucks were in the net. He was unbelievable. He is our guy, and has been our guy for the last three years. I have faith in him.”

“Liam played amazing. A bunch of those (early) goals were our fault. We had to block shots, and he made those saves,” Lappin said.

Thornton Academy finished with a 31-24 shot advantage and went 2-for-3 on the power play. Pendergrass had a hand in all four Golden Trojan goals (one goal, three assists), while Nash dished out a pair of helpers.

No. 4 South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete 5, No. 5 Thornton Academy 4

Class A Boys Hockey Quarterfinal

Friday at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston

TA — 3 1 0 — 4

SoPo/Fpt/W — 1-2-2 — 5

First period — 1. (TA) Eli Pendergrass (Liam Nash, Thomas Gonneville), :50; 2. (SP/F/W) Owen Anderson (Dyan Hannan), 11:28; 3. (TA) Alex St. John (Christopher Balzano, Eli Pendergrass), ppg, 13:48; 4. (TA) Thomas Gonneville (Liam Nash, Eli Pendergrass), 14:01. Penalty — (SP/F/W) Deven Hannan, cross checking, 13:30.

Second period — 5. (SP/F/W) Owen Anderson (Dylan Hannan, Richard Gilboy), 2:20; 6. (TA) Christopher Balzano (Alex St. John, Eli Pendergrass), ppg, 5:03; 7. (SP/F/W) Eric Walker, 14:43. Penalties — (SP/F/W) Austin Gross, hooking, 4:44; (TA) Julian Valiante, hooking, 6:19; (TA) Brady Forbes, roughing, 9:36; (SP/F/W) Connor Corcoran, roughing, 9:36.

Third period — 8. (SP/F/W) Gus Lappin, 6:36; 9. (SP/F/W) Cullen Adams (Dylan Hannan), 7:31. Penalties — (TA) Thomas Gonneville, slashing, 9:30; (SP/F/W) Connor Corcoran, roughing, 9:30; (SP/F/W) Austin Gross, cross checking, 14:51.

Shots on goal — (TA) 8-10-13-31; (SP/F/W) 9-12-3-24.

Saves — (TA) Gage Tarbox-Belanger 19; (SP/F/W) Liam McGibbon 27.

Power play — (TA) 2-for-3; (SP/F/W) 0-of-1.

Records — South Portland/Freeport/Waynflete 12-6-1, Thornton Academy 11-9.

Up next for the Red Riots — Tuesday No. 1 Lewiston, 8 p.m., at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston.

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