PORTLAND—For the better part of 85 minutes Saturday morning at Fitzpatrick Stadium, not much went right for South Portland’s unbeaten boys’ soccer team.

But in the blink of an eye, the Red Riots demonstrated just how dangerous and triumphant they can be.

After struggling to pass the ball and generating few chances against host Portland in 80 minutes of regulation, South Portland got the only goal of the game with 29.8 seconds left in overtime, as senior standout Divin Mpinga finished a give-and-go with senior Joey Hanlon.

The goal gave the Red Riots their seventh victory in as many games this autumn, was their second straight by a 1-0 score over the rival Bulldogs and in the process, dropped Portland to 4-3 at the midway point.

“It’s a good win,” said longtime South Portland coach Bryan Hoy. “We didn’t play particularly well and they probably out-possessed us by a lot, so I’m glad we could pull it out in the end.”

Midseason test

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South Portland and Portland both came into the season hoping to challenge for the Class A South crown and as the season hits its midway point, there’s reason to believe that both squads will make postseason noise.

The Red Riots, regional semifinalists in 2021, losing to Gorham, started with a 4-1 home win over Cheverus, edged host Thornton Academy (3-2), then blanked visiting Massabesic (8-0), doubled up visiting Sanford (6-3), earned a measure of revenge with a 1-0 victory at Gorham, then edged visiting Kennebunk (2-1).

The Bulldogs, who lost in the quarterfinal round to Windham a year ago, opened with a 1-0 loss at Scarborough, then fell by the same score to visiting Marshwood (the reigning Class A state champion) before hitting their stride by rolling at Noble (13-0), beating visiting Biddeford (7-1), edging host Windham (3-2) and Wednesday, downing visiting Westbrook (4-1).

Last fall, the visiting Red Riots eked out a 1-0 decision on Joey Perron’s goal at Fitzpatrick Stadium.

Entering play Saturday, dating back to 2001, Portland held a 16-7 edge, with one tie (see below, for recent results).

This time around, only one goal was scored again and again, it was South Portland generating it.

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In dramatic fashion.

South Portland senior Drew Folley keeps the ball away from Portland senior Kosta Nedeljkovic early in the Red Riots’ 1-0 overtime victory Saturday. Hoffer photos.

The first half featured only three shots on frame, as Portland had the majority of possession.

In the eighth minute, Bulldogs senior Kosta Nedeljkovic tested Red Riots sophomore goalkeeper Michael Zaccaria, but Zaccaria made the save.

In the 16th minute, Portland threatened to take the lead when junior Ford Myers served the ball in and senior Brady Toher headed it toward the goal, but South Portland junior Mechack Mafuta Agawa was there to send it out of harm’s way.

After Toher and junior Martin Kalala missed just wide, the Red Riots took their first corner kick, but the Bulldogs headed the ball away.

Late in the half, Portland senior Oliver Hettenbach sent a 30-yard free kick around the wall, but Zaccaria was there to make the stop and the game went to the break still scoreless.

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Action would pick up in the second half, but neither team could break through.

South Portland senior Griffin Tetzlaff sheilds the ball from Portland junior Martin Kalala while Red Riots junior Curtis Metcalf looks on.

With 30:10 to go in regulation, Zaccaria saved a long shot from Bulldogs senior Jack Fink.

Midway through the second half, Zaccaria punched away a Portland corner kick.

Then, with 17:26 left, the Red Riots finally got a golden scoring opportunity, as senior Jake Udomsay sent the ball ahead, where senior Josue Guerrero touched it forward and Mpinga raced past a defender, took possession and went one-one-one with Bulldogs’ senior goalkeeper Ben Littell. Mpinga tried to beat Littell to the goalie’s right, but Littell dove and made a highlight reel save to keep the contest even.

“(Portland) did a really good job keeping Divin in front,” Hoy said. “He couldn’t get by people today and the one time we did get the ball through, their goalie made an excellent save.”

Down the stretch, Hettenbach and senior Nicky Paterniti each missed just high, South Portland senior back Jose Julio blocked a Paterniti shot with Zaccaria off his line and a promising Paterniti free kick with 2:50 to go was saved by a diving Zaccaria.

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The game would go overtime, where only one of a possible two five-minute, “sudden victory” sessions was necessary.

As was the case most of the day, Portland had possession early and a couple chances, as an initial corner kick didn’t result in a shot and after Paterniti beat several defenders, he had a shot blocked, setting up another corner kick, that was cleared.

Then, inside the final minute with another overtime looming, the Red Riots struck.

After a turnover, Mpinga raced in and while he was double teamed, he spotted Hanlon on his right and played him a nice ball. Hanlon then turned and crossed the ball in front where Mpinga was waiting to bang it home and Littell could do nothing about it.

“I was hoping I’d get another opportunity,” said Mpinga. “Joey was open, then when I gave it to him, I wanted it back and I got it and I just put it in. It always feels good to beat Portland. They’re our rival. My teammates and a lot of other people were here supporting us and we kept fighting.”

“We had a really hard time passing today, our touch was off, but Divin is just an electric player,” said Hoy. “Joey Hanlon made a great pass. They did a great job together.”

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With just 29.8 seconds on the clock, South Portland had a dramatic 1-0 victory.

South Portland mobs senior Divin Mpinga after he wins the game for the Red Riots in overtime.

South Portland was out-shot, 7-2, but got seven saves from Zaccaria.

“That’s Michael’s first game in goal,” Hoy said. “He stepped in and played great. I couldn’t ask for more out of him.”

Portland had a 9-4 edge in corner kicks, but simply couldn’t find the net in its third frustrating 1-0 setback of the campaign.

“Credit to South Portland for getting the goal,” said longtime Bulldogs coach Rocco Frenzilli. “They took advantage of a miscue and put the ball behind us and that was it. The kid brought it to the line, then he was right there to knock it in. It just stinks when you work that hard and come up empty. I feel so frustrated for the players. A draw against a team like (South Portland) would have been good. We played with them.”

Second half of the season

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Portland has two road games upcoming, Wednesday at Massabesic and Friday at Bonny Eagle. The Bulldogs are hoping that their best soccer, and some good fortune, is still ahead of them.

“We can play with anybody, but the bottom line is we have to put the ball in the net,” Frenzilli said. “We’ll regroup and see how next week shakes out. We still have some big games. We just have to pin our ears back and hope for a better result.”

South Portland is off until Friday, when it hosts Marshwood in another pivotal contest.

“We hope to keep winning games,” Mpinga said. “I think we can go pretty far.”

“I think we need to get better,” Hoy said. “I know it sounds silly to say, but we have a long way to go. I think we have a lot of potential left and I want to see us get to that level. We get a week off until we play Marshwood, so it’ll be good to rest and recover. We still have Scarborough looming. We got a break with not having Deering or Falmouth on our schedule, but we’re shooting for a top position because we play quite a bit better at home and no one wants to come to our grass field at the end of October.”

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

Recent Portland-South Portland results

2021
South Portland 1 @ Portland 0

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2020
Portland 2 @ South Portland 0
@ Portland 3 South Portland 0
@ Portland 3 South Portland 1

2019
@ South Portland 4 Portland 2
Class A South quarterfinal
@ Portland 2 South Portland 1

2018
@ Portland 6 South Portland 1

2017
South Portland 1 @ Portland 0

2016
@ South Portland 1 Portland 0

2015
@ Portland 0 South Portland 0 (tie)

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2014 
@ Portland 1 South Portland 0

2013
@ South Portland 2 Portland 1

2012
@ Portland 3 South Portland 2

2011
@ South Portland 2 Portland 1 (2 OT)

2010
@ Portland 4 South Portland 1

2009
Portland 2 @ South Portland 1

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2008
Portland 1 @ South Portland 0

2007
@ Portland 3 South Portland 2

2006
Portland 2 @ South Portland 0

2005
@ Portland 3 South Portland 2

2004
@ Portland 1 South Portland 0

2003
Portland 2 @ South Portland 0

2002
@ Portland 2 South Portland 0

2001
@ South Portland 3 Portland 2

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