PORTLAND—Everybody played and everybody contributed.

Tuesday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium, Portland’s boys’ soccer team gave everyone on its roster, including multiple junior varsity players, an opportunity to play against Cheverus in the City Cup semifinals and the Bulldogs needed contributions from many of them to pull out a victory.

Portland broke through in the 18th minute, as after a hand ball in the box, senior Gracien Mukwa took and buried a penalty kick for a 1-0 Bulldogs’ lead.

Cheverus drew even five minutes later, as junior Emmet Schuele crossed up Portland sophomore goalkeeper Ben Littel, who was making his first varsity start.

The Bulldogs then went ahead to stay with 3:14 to go in the first half, as senior Josephat Kalombo set up sophomore Evandro Tchibassa for a nice finish.

Portland then held on in the second half, thanks in large part to a tremendous, heads-up play from Littel, who took away a golden Stags’ scoring opportunity, and went on to a 2-1 victory.

Portland improved to 7-2, dropped Cheverus to 2-7 and advanced to meet South Portland in Thursday’s City Cup Final, while relegating the Stags to the consolation game versus Deering on Wednesday.

“It worked,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli. “Those kids were able to play and they kept up. The JV kids understood it was a little faster and more physical, but they did it. I just had so much fun. I was anxious at times, but they all came together and worked, competed and trusted.”

Fight to the end

Entering play Tuesday, Portland held a 11-5 lead (with six ties) dating back to the start of the 2004 season (see sidebar, below). That includes a 3-0 Bulldogs’ victory in the teams’ first meeting, Oct. 3, at Cheverus.

This season has been one of growth and mixed results for both squads.

Cheverus started with a 1-0 victory at Westbrook in a playoff rematch, then fell at home, 3-0, to Portland and 4-0 at two-time Class C state champion Waynflete before losing at Deering (5-1). Following a 1-0 home win over South Portland, the Stags were blanked at Gorham (6-0), then dropped a hard-fought home decision to Waynflete (3-2) and lost last week at Deering (4-1).

Portland opened with a 4-2 loss to visiting Falmouth, the defending Class A champion, then blanked host Cheverus (3-0) and South Portland (2-0) and visiting Deering, 1-0. After a 2-1 setback at Waynflete, the Bulldogs won at Deering (2-1), then defeated visiting Westbrook (3-2) and South Portland (3-0).

Tuesday, on another frigid November afternoon (37 degrees and plummeting with 14 mile-per-hour winds at kickoff), each team had their moments in a game that was back-and-forth for 80 minutes.

The Stags got the first look, in the seventh minute, as junior Kyle Lamberson ripped a shot high.

Mukwa then tried to set up junior Steve Matanga in the box, but Cheverus senior goalkeeper Silas Jones got to the ball first.

After Schuele missed wide for the Stags, sophomore Nicky Paterniti was off-target for Portland.

In the 16th minute, Cheverus nearly took the lead, as junior Odan Strock fired a promising shot, but Littel dove and knocked the ball out for a corner kick, which senior Evangelo Kapothanasis headed wide.

Portland then took a 1-0 lead with 22:20 remaining in the first half, as Matanga got the ball in the box and attempted a shot which was blocked by a Stags’ defender, but that defender was ruled to have used his hand and a penalty shot was awarded.

Mukwa did the honors and fired a high shot that Jones wasn’t able to reach and the Bulldogs were on top.

Portland senior Gracien Mukwa beats Cheverus senior goalkeeper Silas Jones on a penalty kick for the game’s first goal.

Matanga tried to double the lead, but his first shot was saved by Jones and his second was blocked.

Then, with 17:20 left before halftime, Cheverus was awarded a free kick around 30-yards out and Schuele fired a low shot which got through Littel and the game was tied, 1-1.

“It was a little hard to shake off, but I’ve let enough goals in to know I just had to move on,” said Littel.

“The kid hit a hard ball (and scored), but the guys picked Benny up,” said Frenzilli.

After Matanga chipped a shot over Jones, but had it roll wide of the goal, Schuele had a look in transition, but his shot was saved by Littel.

Then, with 3:14 to go in the half, after a nice run from senior Josephat Kalombo, Kalombo crossed the ball in front where Tchibassa stopped it with his chest, then one-timed a shot with his left foot into the goal for a 2-1 lead.

“I looked at the defense and I knew that they were thinking I was going to one side, so I stopped (the ball) with my chest and I hit it right away,” Tchibassa said.

“Josephat made a great run down the side and Evandro came through,” Frenzilli said. “We got that second goal and made it stand up.”

In the first half, shots were even, 3-3, and Cheverus took two corner kicks to Portland’s one, but the Bulldogs held a slim lead.

And Portland would hold that lead, but not without some anxious moments, throughout a second half, which saw senior Henry Flynn replace Littel in goal for the Bulldogs and junior Will Haley replace Jones for the Stags.

With 37:30 left in regulation, off a Schuele free kick, Kapothanasis got his head on the ball and his shot looked promising, but the ball ticked off the top of the crossbar and sailed out of harm’s way.

After a long shot from Portland senior Cameron Derrig was saved by Haley, Paterniti set up senior Gabriel Panzo for a great look, but Panzo also hit the crossbar.

After another promising Kapothanasis header off a Schuele corner kick serve was blocked by a Bulldogs defender, things got strange with 28:45 to go, as junior Brady Hoglund crossed the ball to Schuele but Flynn fell on the ball as the two collided.

Play was then stopped and Flynn was sent off with a yellow card and Cheverus was given an indirect kick in the box.

Littel had to race on to the field to replace Flynn and face what was expected to be a Stags’ shot which should have had a high percentage to tie the score, but the shot never happened.

After the ball was touched, before a shot could be released, Littel raced out, dove and snagged the ball to end the threat.

“I was a little nervous because it was my first varsity game and I didn’t want to let my team down,” Littel said. “I knew I had to my job. Everyone had to be on the goal line and I knew I had to be close so I could do what I did, slide out and get the ball and make sure there wasn’t a shot.”

“Benny just took that away, which I think was just a brilliant, heads up play on his part,” Frenzilli said. “I didn’t know what happened at first. First, I thought it was a penalty (shot). It was a bang-bang play, but it worked out. Everyone was yelling to Ben to charge the ball and he took it literally. The minute the (Cheverus) kid touched it, he got it.”

“I would have felt a little funny tying it up right there because I thought it was kind of weird call,” said Cheverus coach Bill LeBlanc.

A minute later, after Stags senior Ryan Kratzer had a shot blocked, Schuele’s rebound bid was saved by Flynn, who had returned to the game.

At the other end, junior Jack Lannon set up senior Max Cheever for a header, but it sailed just high.

After a Hoglund free kick from the side of the box was cleared, Cheverus earned a corner kick, but that too was cleared away.

After Lannon just missed on two occasions for the Bulldogs, Hoglund forced Flynn to make a sprawling save with 9:27 remaining.

With 4:57 on the clock, Schuele set up senior Brady Cormier for a shot which went wide.

With 2:24 to go, senior Ben Horrisberger had a chance to clinch it for Portland, but he shot high on an open net.

Cheverus then had one final look, but Cormier’s shot from the side was snared by Flynn and the Bulldogs were able to run out the clock and celebrate their 2-1 victory.

“We had seven new field players and a goalie and they all contributed,” said Frenzilli. “Cheverus, to their credit, took us to the end, as I knew they would. Billy always has them ready.”

Illustrating how close this contest was, each team put five shots on frame and the Stags took four corner kicks to the Bulldogs’ two.

“It was a good match,” said LeBlanc. “Portland’s a fun team to play against. We’re just grateful we got to play and compete this year. We played a lot of different people tonight. The kids were happy to be out here. It’s no fun to lose and we’ve lost a lot this year, but we got our games in.”

Last one

Cheverus will meet Deering (5-4) Wednesday afternoon at Fitzpatrick Stadium in the consolation game. The Rams twice beat the Stags this fall: 5-1 and 4-1, both times erupting in the second half.

“I’m happy and sad for the seniors,” said LeBlanc. “I’m happy they got to play, but it was a weird season. We’re a different squad at Cheverus because we’re not a town team. Sometimes we get better at the end of the year. We didn’t have 19 games, just seven or eight. We’ll get one more.”

Portland and South Portland (2-7) played twice this fall, with the Bulldogs winning both, 2-0 and 3-0.

Portland will take a similar approach Thursday and hope it results in a title.

“Next game will be awesome,” Tchibassa said. “I look forward to it.”

“I can’t wait to come back Thursday,” Frenzilli said. “We’ll do the same thing, but we may tweak it a little bit. Win, lose or draw, this is how we’re playing it and the kids are great with it.”

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

Recent Cheverus-Portland results

Portland 3 @ Cheverus 0

Portland 3 @ Cheverus 0

@ Cheverus 2 Portland 2 (tie)

@ Portland 4 Cheverus 1

Portland 1 @ Cheverus 0

@ Portland 0 Cheverus 0 (tie)

@ Cheverus 0 Portland 0 (tie)
Western A prelim
Cheverus 1 Portland 0

@ Portland 1 Cheverus 1 (tie)

@ Cheverus 2 Portland 0

@ Portland 3 Cheverus 2 (OT)
Western A quarterfinal
Cheverus 3 Portland 1

Portland 1 @ Cheverus 0
Western A quarterfinal
@ Portland 6 Cheverus 0

@ Portland 6 Cheverus 1
Western A quarterfinal
@ Portland 1 Cheverus 0

Portland 3 @ Cheverus 1

@ Portland 1 Cheverus 1 (tie)
Western A prelim
@ Cheverus 1 Portland 0

Portland 2 @ Cheverus 1

@ Portland 1 Cheverus 1 (tie)

@ Cheverus 4 Portland 1

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