FALMOUTH—A four-game losing streak earlier this season might have caused some to write off Falmouth’s boys’ soccer team.

But based on how the Navigators have played since, that wouldn’t be wise.

Wednesday evening, Falmouth hosted talented Portland and produced the kind of grind-it-out, character victory that suggests that the Navigators might just be a playoff spoiler.

The Bulldogs, who have struggled all season scoring goals against good teams, needed just 74 seconds to strike first, as junior Martin Kalala hit the post, but senior Nicky Paterniti was waiting to bury the rebound.

Portland held that advantage for most of the first half, but after senior Finn Cameron was fouled in the box with 2:51 remaining, senior captain Ben Pausman converted a penalty kick for the second consecutive game to pull Falmouth even.

Then, 10 minutes into the second half, in a play eerily reminiscent of the earlier Bulldogs’ tally, Paumsan rifled a shot off the post, but senior Justin Mayo sent the ball back into the net.


Falmouth hung on for dear life from there and thanks in large part to a critical defensive save from senior Jackson Boyd, produced a dramatic 2-1 victory.

The Navigators extended their unbeaten streak to four games, improved to 7-4-1 and in the process, dropped Portland to 7-5.

“We got down and we didn’t break,” said longtime Falmouth coach Dave Halligan. “We kept fighting and that’s all I want to see right now. Win or lose, these are the games that make you better.”

Legacy of triumph

It’s quite likely that Wednesday’s coaching matchup featured the most experienced and triumphant duo ever to square off in a Maine high school boys’ soccer game.

Halligan just eclipsed the 500-career victory plateau for soccer in his 45 total seasons (and is over 1,000 when you add in basketball and softball), while Rocco Frenzilli, who started the Portland program in 1972 and has been the coach for 36 of the past 50 seasons, is nearing the 300-win plateau.


While Halligan has 12 championships to Frenzilli’s none, both coaches are widely admired and respected and aren’t quite ready to call it quits yet.

And why should they when they each have strong teams this fall.

Falmouth’s season began with victories at Bonny Eagle (4-0), at home over Noble (8-0), at Sanford (4-2) and at home over Massabesic (11-0), then the Navigators lost four straight, 2-0 at home to Gorham, 3-0 at Thornton Academy, 2-0 at Scarborough and 3-1 at Windham. Falmouth then tied visiting Cheverus, 1-1, and got back on track with a 6-0 victory at Biddeford before edging visiting Deering in an overtime thriller last Thursday, 3-2, to give Halligan his landmark victory.

Portland, meanwhile, has been unbeatable when it has scored at least one goal (tallying 50 in its seven victories), but the Bulldogs had four other games where they couldn’t tickle the twine at all and dropped all of them. Portland 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 its stride by rolling at Noble (13-0), beating visiting Biddeford (7-1), edging host Windham (3-2) and downing visiting Westbrook (4-1). After a 1-0 overtime home loss to South Portland, the Bulldogs erupted for a 15-0 win at Massabesic, blanked host Bonny Eagle (3-0) and visiting Kennebunk (5-0), then lost at Gorham in their last outing, 2-0.

Last fall, Portland beat visiting Falmouth, 3-1, to take a 4-3-1 all-time edge in the series (see sidebar).

Wednesday, the Bulldogs started fast and had their chances to prevail again, but the Navigators dug deep, rallied and earned another huge dose of confidence.


Portland senior Jack Fink soars to head the ball as Falmouth junior Elijah St. Louis looks on during the Navigators’ 2-1 victory Wednesday. Photo courtesy Rob Sullivan.

The visitors came out strong and Kalala fired a shot that Falmouth freshman goalkeeper Caden Berry couldn’t reach and while it didn’t go in the goal, it rang directly off the post out front where Paterniti was waiting to rebound it home for a 1-0 advantage just 74 seconds in.

“It was a scramble and on those, anything can happen,” Boyd said. “Our main goal was to rally back because it was still early.”

“If you’re going to give up a goal, you might as well give one up early,” Halligan said.

Falmouth’s first shot came off one of its five first half corner kicks, but Cameron headed the ball wide.

After Berry denied senior Ollie Hettenbach, Berry punched away a Portland corner kick.

The Navigators then took their fifth corner with just under three minutes to go in the half and on the play, Cameron was fouled hard in the box, hit the turf and stayed there for a couple of minutes before being helped off.


The result of the play was a penalty kick and Pausman stepped to the line to do the honors.

Falmouth senior Ben Pausman prepares to score the tying goal on a penalty kick. Hoffer photo.

With 2:51 on the clock, Pausman slotted the ball past Bulldogs’ senior goalkeeper Ben Littell to tie the score.

“It’s a shot that I practice probably 100 times over and over and over again,” said Pausman. “That’s not much going on in my mind, I’m just passing it into the goal.”

“Ben wants it,” Halligan said. “That’s what senior captains do.”

Falmouth senior Ben Pausman tries to fight off Portland senior Jack Fink as senior Nicky Paterniti enters the fray. Hoffer photo

Portland started the second half the way it did the first, generating pressure and chances, but this time, it couldn’t score.

Two minutes in, Hettenbach took a pass from senior Brady Toher and unleashed a one-timer which Berry dove to save.


Off the ensuing corner kick, Kalala sent a rising shot on frame, but Berry saved it.

Hettenbach then crossed the ball to senior Kosta Nedeljkovic, who got his head on the ball, but again, Berry made the stop.

The Navigators then transitioned to offense and got the go-ahead goal.

Pausman took a promising shot that found the far post, not the net, but Mayo was there to score on the rebound and with 30:32 remaining, Falmouth was on top, 2-1.

“I’m not a fantastic striker,” Mayo said. “My natural position is goalie. I was just in the right spot and it worked out.”

“I thought it was going in, but as soon as I saw the ball bounce back out toward the penalty spot, I knew one of our guys would be there,” Pausman said.


“Justin is our new Macklin Williams,” added Halligan, alluding to the hero of Falmouth’s run to the 2019 Class A state title. “He gives us a physical presence up front. He can hold people off and play balls off to his teammates. He was our goalkeeper last year, so he’s had to adapt his role.”

“Unfortunately we gave the ball away in the middle of the field and the next thing you know, the ball was in the back of the net,” lamented Frenzilli.

From there, Falmouth had to hold off a Portland squad that fought hard for the equalizer right up until the final horn.

With 26 minutes left, Toher was on the brink of getting free for a shot in the box, but at the last second, senior Kaleb Barrett broke up his rush.

After Berry denied a shot from senior Charlie Howe, the Bulldogs earned a free kick with 17:40 to and the serve from senior Ford Myers got deflected on goal and with Berry out of position, disaster loomed for the Navigators, but at the last second, Boyd got to the ball and cleared it from harm’s way to protect the lead.

“Honestly, it just came down to me not letting the ball in the net,” Boyd said. “As long as I made contact, I knew it would be good.”


“A play like that for a defender is like them scoring a goal,” Halligan said.

Falmouth wasn’t home free yet, but Berry saved a shot from Kalala that was bending toward the far post, a Paterniti free kick landed in the box, then was cleared, Boyd blocked a shot from junior Max Kierstead, sophomore back Griffin Parr cleared a header from Kalala and in the final minute, a Hettenbach free kick from the side of the box was saved by Berry.

The Navigators were able to run out the clock from there and celebrate their 2-1 victory.

Falmouth celebrates its victory. Hoffer photo.

“We’re willing to fight,” Pausman said. “When we put everything on the line and we’re out there winning 50-50 balls, we’re as good as any team in the state. That’s really exciting at this point of the season.”

“It’s great to hold on and get this one,” said Boyd.

“We just focused on fundamentals,” Mayo said. “When everyone does their job, that’s when we find success. We limit mistakes and that’s how we’re winning those games.”


“This was memorable,” added Halligan. “We weren’t very good at the beginning of the season, but some of the younger guys are stepping up and some of the older guys are accepting new roles and we’re starting to jell as a team. We might not have the best players, but we have a pretty good team.”

Portland finished with a 9-4 shots advantage and got two saves from Littell, but suffered another painful loss.

“This has been the story of our season,” said Frenzilli. “Against good teams, we’ve had a difficult time scoring. You can’t win games against a team like Falmouth without taking advantage of opportunities. If you can’t do that, unfortunately, you end up on the short end. I’m proud of the way the kids played. The effort’s there. They gave everything. There’s honor in the effort they gave, but credit to Falmouth for getting it done. I wish we could get a break.”

Two teams to watch

Portland (currently ranked ninth in the Class A South Heal Points standings) is right back in action Thursday afternoon at home versus Cheverus, where Frenzilli’s first team will be honored at halftime on its 50th anniversary. The Bulldogs close at home next Tuesday versus Thornton Academy.

“Cheverus and TA are good teams,” Frenzilli said. “We have to have a short memory. The league’s really strong this year. Playoffs are coming up and if we can get some magic and find somebody to be able to put the ball in the net, we can beat anyone.”


Falmouth (now eighth in Class A South) stays home to welcome Marshwood Saturday, then finishes at dangerous Kennebunk Monday.

“We have a special kind of fight to us,” Pausman said. “No matter where we are, our home turf, or any grass field anywhere in the state, we’re willing to fight. As long as we go into each game with that ‘dog’ mentality, we’re going to find success.”

“We had some turbulence earlier in the season, but our goal has always been to peak for playoffs and it looks like we’re doing that,” said Boyd.

“I think we have the tools to win,” Mayo said. “We came into the season unranked and we like being the underdog. It puts less pressure on ourselves and it gives us more to prove. We did that last week against Deering and we did that against Portland. We like being in that position. We like our chances.”

“There’s no pressure on us,” Halligan added. “Look how young this team is and the experience they’re getting. We hope to keep winning. It’s more fun that way. This tournament is going to be great.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Previous Falmouth-Portland results


@ Portland 3 Falmouth 1

Falmouth 4 @ Portland 2

Portland 1 @ Falmouth 0

@ Portland 0 Falmouth 0 (tie)

@ Falmouth 1 Portland 0 (OT)

Class A South semifinals
Portland 3 @ Falmouth 2 (4-3 PKs)

Class A South quarterfinal
@ Falmouth 1 Portland 0

Western A quarterfinal
@ Portland 3 Falmouth 0

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