When Lydia Stein stepped on the Fitzpatrick Stadium turf Friday with her Portland High teammates to play city rival Deering, “it was like magic again.”

Like thousands of high school athletes in Maine, Stein spent the summer wondering if she would get to experience a senior season, as school administrators, state health officials and the Maine Principals’ Association wrestled with the question of which, if any, sports were safe to play during the coronavirus pandemic.

That decision was finally made Sept. 10, allowing soccer, field hockey, cross country and golf to have a shortened season. Tackle football and indoor volleyball were nixed. Friday was the first day for soccer and field hockey games in Maine, with golf and cross country having started earlier this week.

It seemed Portland and Deering had waited so long to play, they didn’t want to leave the field. The teams played to a scoreless tie through regulation and the first overtime, despite Portland building up a 23-2 shot advantage.

Then, with 36.8 seconds left in the second overtime, Stein produced a charmed goal to give Portland a 1-0 win.

Stein, a senior tri-captain, said “I never shoot,” but with time running down, she struck a left-footed shot from about 25 yards. The ball caromed off a Deering defender’s head, altering the flight enough to send the ball inside the left post, just beyond the reach of Deering keeper Grayson Soldati (eight saves in a strong effort).

“If it’s the only game we get, we got to play Deering. It was awesome,” Stein said.

Athletes in York County and, as of Friday, Oxford County can’t get onto the field. Those counties are designated “yellow” by the Department of Education in terms of virus transmission risk, which means enforced hybrid education and no athletics.

“They can’t play. Which is sad,” Stein said. “And that could be us tomorrow. So it’s one day at a time.”

There were no fans inside Fitzpatrick Stadium. The SMAA, which includes Portland and Deering, made the decision to not allow spectators at events this fall. About 20 fans, mostly parents, stood outside the fence peering in to see the action. For Soldati, losing the game on a tough-luck shot was easier to take than knowing her parents, Andrew Soldati and Colette Sullivan, couldn’t be in the stands.

“My dad comes to all my games so I know this is really hard for him,” she said. “So he’s outside the fence watching me. He’s a huge sports person and it’s really important for him to see me here and I know he’s feeling it pretty hard.”

Players and coaches on the sidelines wore cloth face coverings throughout the game. Whenever players came off the pitch, they had to apply sanitizer to their hands. Both teams tried to social distance on the sidelines. Deering’s players sat on the turf, 6 feet or more apart, in designated spaces. Midway through each half, the game was stopped so all players could sanitize.

“On the sidelines, we have to wear masks, and then there’s sanitizing breaks, but it’s not too much and it makes sense with everything that’s happening right now,” said Portland sophomore midfielder Kendall Sniper.

The safety guidelines force coaches to be “of two minds,” said Portland Coach Curt Chapin, who was half focused on the game, half focused on making sure sideline protocols were being followed. Chapin and Deering Coach Kevin Olson both put Friday’s game into a soccer-in-a-pandemic perspective.

“You go into overtime and you’re looking around at who is going to step up, and we finished,” Chapin said. “In this crazy year, with everything going on, to step up and play like that, I’m going to remember this game for a long time.”

“To lose it with 36 seconds left in double overtime, it’s kind of a heartbreaker,” Olson said. “It still hurts. But as the team and I talked after, we knew we left everything on the field. But yeah, it still stings. It stings when it’s your rival, but I think everyone is grateful that we’re playing.”

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