PORTLAND—Waynflete’s boys’ soccer team had to contend with several doses of adversity Monday afternoon at Fore River Fields when it hosted Portland in the teams’ first-ever countable meeting.

But as they’ve done almost without exception over the past three years, the Flyers met the challenges and overcame them, triumphantly, with the heart of a champion.

And as a result, Waynflete can say it has no peer not only in Class C, but also in the city of Portland.

The Flyers, who hadn’t played in 13 days, found themselves on their heels as the Bulldogs, a longtime Class A South contender, came out sizzling and in the sixth minute, took the lead as senior Gracien Mukwa found junior Steve Matanga for a quick 1-0 lead.

Waynflete eventually regained its composure and midway through the first half, drew even on a goal from senior Ben Adey.

Early in the second half, the Flyers nearly conceded another goal, but senior Harry Millspaugh made a huge defensive save and to make matters even more difficult, senior Patrick Shaw was sent off with a red card, meaning Waynflete would have to play the remainder of the game down a man.

Which didn’t prove to be a problem.

With 23:05 to play in regulation, off a corner kick, senior Gabe Gavino Ferrer scored on a rebound to put the Flyers ahead to stay and despite some heart-stopping moments late, they were able to hold on and prevail, 2-1.

Waynflete won its fifth game in a row this fall, dropped the Bulldogs to 3-2 and after previously downing Cheverus and Deering, completed its city sweep with one of the bigger victories in recent program history.

“As I told the kids, this is a great team win and a great program win,” said longtime Flyers coach Brandon Salway, who now has 297 victories in his tenure. “We’ve never even beaten every team before in the preseason City Cup. We certainly respect Portland and what they’ve done over the years. They have a lot of talent and dangerous players. We didn’t play a perfect game, but guys played really hard and find ways to win no matter the situation. That’s what makes this team special and the senior group special.”

Pushed to the brink

Portland and Waynflete not only are annually among the best teams in the state, their respective programs also boast longtime coaches, which goes a long way toward explaining the success.

The Bulldogs, under Rocco Frenzilli, who has served as Bulldogs’ coach in one stint or another in every decade since the 1970s, and the Flyers, who have been led by Salway since 1989, define consistent excellence, regardless of the year.

Portland made it to the Class A South semifinal a year ago, losing to Gorham, and after falling, 4-2, at home to reigning Class A champion Falmouth in the opener, blanked host Cheverus (3-0) and South Portland (2-0), then last week, held off visiting rival Deering, 1-0, on an improbable, wind-aided goal by senior goalkeeper Henry Flynn.

Waynflete, which has taken on top foes in multiple classes en route to the last two Class C championships, started its 2020 campaign with a 5-1 victory at North Yarmouth Academy and a 6-1 home win over Gray-New Gloucester. The Flyers then won a first-ever countable game at Deering (3-2) and knocked off visiting Cheverus (4-0), again, in a first-ever countable meeting.

Monday, on a comfortable mid-October day (55 degrees with little wind), the Bulldogs and Flyers produced a game that featured moments of skill and beauty, as well as an abundance of physicality.

Portland went on the attack early and with 34:32 to go in the 40-minute first half, got the jump, as after a turnover, Mukwa made a nice run before sending a picture-perfect cross to Matanga, who was waiting at the back post to send a shot past Waynflete senior goalkeeper Ben Talpey for a 1-0 advantage.

A minute later, the Bulldogs had a chance to double their lead, as senior Anselmo Tela got free and Talpey had to come out, but Tela’s shot rolled just wide.

After Flynn batted away a free kick from Flyers senior Joey Ansel-Mullen, Portland again nearly scored, but Matanga’s bid was denied by a sprawling Talpey and Mukwa’s free kick was bobbled by Talpey and ultimately secured.

Waynflete then pushed for the equalizer and eventually was rewarded.

After a header off a corner from Millspaugh went wide and Flynn robbed senior Alex Vest on the doorstep, the Flyers made it 1-1 with 19:20 to go in the half, as Ansel-Mullen passed to Adey, who made a move to elude a defender and get some room before ripping a low shot that Flynn, diving to his right, couldn’t reach.

“I think our bench had a huge role in helping us get our energy,” said Gavino Ferrer. “Getting that tying goal before halftime was important for confidence.”

“They got out on us early,” said Millspaugh. “We had last week off and we weren’t focused. Our legs weren’t there, but we got accustomed to it and our energy picked back up.”

“I thought Joey controlled the middle today,” added Salway.

Late in the first half, Ansel-Mullen was just wide off a short corner, Talpey saved a shot by Matanga and Ansel-Mullen had a pair of shots blocked, sending the contest to the break tied, 1-1.

In the first 40 minutes, each team had four shots on frame and one goal.

There wouldn’t be much separation in the second half either, but Waynflete found a way to score the winning goal.

Five minutes into the second half, disaster nearly struck for the hosts when Talpey couldn’t cleanly catch a shot and Portland senior Cameron Derrig pounced on the loose ball and fired toward what he thought was an empty net.

But Millspaugh got back to save the day, clearing the ball off the line at the last moment to keep the contest deadlocked.

“The kid took a shot and I was pretty lucky to be there,” said Millspaugh. “I saw the goal was wide open so I had to get back. When I saw Ben was out of position, I knew I had to back him up.”

“Sometimes you need a break or two,” Salway said. “Harry stepped up and saved us.”

After the Flyers couldn’t convert on a couple corner kicks and Vest missed wide, play was stopped with 27:29 remaining and Shaw was given a red card, meaning he had to leave the game (per Maine Principals’ Association rules, he’ll miss Waynflete’s next contest as well).

The Flyers were down a man for the duration, but they didn’t play like it, as they continued to attack and after Ansel-Mullen had a couple shots saved by Flynn, Waynflete earned a corner kick and after a shot deflected off a Bulldogs’ defender, the Flyers got another.

This time, it led to a goal.

With 23:05 left in regulation, Ansel-Mullen served the ball in and it was deflected out, but the ball came right to Gavino Ferrer at the top of the box and he didn’t hesitate, firing a low shot that Flynn couldn’t reach and Waynflete had a 2-1 advantage.

“At halftime, Coach talked about us how the top of the box was right open and on a lot of our corners, the ball popped out there,” said Savino Ferrer. “I was just in the right place at the right time. I was trying to keep the ball on frame. It felt good coming off my foot.”

“We were down a guy, but it didn’t seem like it,” Salway said. “We just changed formation a little bit and still found a way to get chances. Gabe was very composed on that shot. A lot of kids would have put that over the top, but he put it low and finished it off. He’s a longtime Waynflete student who returned to us this year. He’s acclimated himself to this team and he’s given us a lot off the bench.”

“Our halftime spiel was try not to give (Waynflete) dead ball opportunities,” lamented Frenzilli. “They’re equally dangerous in the open field, but eventually a corner was going to come back to bite us. We left a kid open at the top of the box and failed to clear. Henry was shielded a little bit and that was a good shot.”

The Flyers would finish it off, but with darkness approaching, Portland didn’t make it easy.

First, Waynflete senior Aidan Kieffer broke up a rush from Tela at the last second.

“I thought it was Aidan’s best game of the year against high-caliber competition,” Salway said. “He was terrific all game.”

With 6:53 on the clock, the Bulldogs got another fortunate bounce and had a great chance to equalize, but after a Waynflete defender slipped and senior Gabriel Panzo got the ball, Panzo’s shot toward the far post rolled just wide, much to the surprise and chagrin of the Portland bench, which had already begun to celebrate.

“That was pretty nervewrecking,” said Millspaugh. “There wasn’t much we could do about it.”

“It’s a game of inches and I’ve said that forever,” Frenzilli said.

With the Flyers’ defense doing everything it could to run out the clock, the Bulldogs got the ball back with time winding down and a long shot just before the horn forced Talpey to dive at the last second to collect.

With that, the horn sounded and Waynflete was able to celebrate its 2-1 victory.

“It’s huge for us as a program,” said Millspaugh. “We love to play these huge Class A schools. (Portland) had some great players. You can definitely feel the competition increase. It’s more fun to have competitive games like this.”

“These aren’t teams we play in a normal season, so to know we’re up there with some of the best teams in the city means a lot,” said Gavino Ferrer.

“They took us to the final second and Ben made a great job to step up and make a play there,” added Salway. “I think we would have had to turn car lights on if we had to go to overtime. We faced a lot of adversity being behind. We had some excuses we could have grabbed on to today, playing down a man, but this group just finds a way to win. It’s a fun group to coach and they continue to impress.”

Waynflete finished with a 9-8 edge in shots, got seven saves from Talpey and took eight corner kicks to two for Portland.

The Bulldogs got seven saves from Flynn, but let too many good chances slip away

“I’m happy with the effort,” Frenzilli said. “When the energy was there, we got the most out of it. When we got a little complacent and laid back a little bit, they turned up the heat. Obviously, they’re a very good team. Well-skilled, well-coached. You don’t get many opportunities to play two defending state champs in the same year. (Waynflete’s) the real deal and obviously, Falmouth was too. They’re just up the street from us and we hear about how good they are. It was good to face them today. We learned a lot.”

Savoring every day

The short and sweet 2020 season has just a few games left for both teams and the Bulldogs and Flyers are resolved to make the most of them.

Portland is back in action Saturday at Deering. The Bulldogs then close their season with home games versus Westbrook and South Portland.

“We’ll go over to Deering and give it our best,” Frenzilli said. “We know every team we’re going to play is going to be competitive through the rest of the season. We’ll be ready for them. We’ll give our best effort and see where the chips lie.”

Waynflete has its next game Saturday as well, at home versus NYA. After games at Cheverus next Monday and at Greely (Oct. 29), the Flyers finish at home versus Sacopee Valley Nov. 2. Waynflete might add another game or two as well, as the MPA has allowed for a maximum of 10 games this fall.

“We’re going to play 10 (games),” Salway said. “It’s just a question of who and when.”

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

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