FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — A year ago, Bangor Christian saw its streak of five Class D state championships come to an end with a loss in the regional finals at Fort Fairfield.
The two teams met again at the same venue last Wednesday, but this time the Patriots were up for the challenge.
Bangor Christian prevailed in the battle of undefeated teams, posting all of its goals in the second half while keeping the Tigers off the board throughout in a 3-0 victory.
The Patriots advanced into Saturday’s Class D state championship against Greenville at Fitzpatrick Stadium in Portland and defeated the Lakers, 3-1, to cap an undefeated 18-0 season. Fort Fairfield, last year’s state champion, finished the season 16-1.
“I knew we had a good defense, but at the same time I knew they were very good offensively,” said Bangor Christian coach Aaron Wilcox. “It was just getting our guys to work together.
“We had changed our defensive scheme the whole year, going from a stopper-sweeper to a flat back, planning for this game. They had some opportunities, but at least it slowed them down so it worked,” he added.
The Patriots controlled play throughout the first half and put constant pressure on the Tiger defense, something to which the hosts weren’t accustomed.
“They are balanced straight across their lineup and are skilled at all 11 positions, and they set the tone and really got us locked into our own half,” said Fort Fairfield coach John Ala. “We hadn’t seen 10 shots in a game all season, but they made us sit back and play a lot more defense than we wanted to.”
Following a scoreless first half, Bangor Christian finally broke through 4:49 into the second. A handball by the Tigers committed just outside the 18 set up a direct kick for their set play specialist, Tyler Welch. The senior midfielder seized the opportunity with a blast from a tough angle over Fort Fairfield’s wall of defenders and over the outstretched arms of goalie Malcolm Langner.
“The goalie expects the wall to be there to block that close shot and he was on the back post,” Welch said. “I just put it over and he really had no chance.”
One minute later, the Tigers had their best chance to score as Yoni Majia hit a long shot that was fumbled by goalkeeper Austin Keib. Patriot Josh Palmeter, who had moved to the back from his outside mid post, was there to clear the ball off the line to preserve the lead.
Shortly after, the Tigers moved their playmaker, senior Ryan Player, from his usual center midfield position to the front line to try to generate some more opportunities in an attempt to tie the game. Fort Fairfield did respond with some strong attacks, including a header by Chris Giberson off a Player corner kick that went just wide and a Player pass from deep to Majia that Keib came out on to make a big save.
“Their keeper made a number of quality stops,” Ala said, “but we definitely had opportunities to get on the board. We just couldn’t quite put one in.”
Bangor Christian put the game away with two more goals within a 6 1/2-minute span late in the contest. Luke Chandler had the first by converting on a shot after a nicely executed through-ball by Welch with 8:48 to play. Tyler Lehman contributed the other off an Eric Gorczok assist with 2:24 left.
“We were getting up the field, but they broke us down in the back a little bit at the end,” Ala said. “We just didn’t match up well with them today.”
The Patriots’ Keib finished with 15 saves on 20 Tiger shots, while Langner had 20 saves on 24 shots in goal for Fort Fairfield.