FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — It was a case of better late than never for the Katahdin boys soccer team.
The Cougars arrived from Stacyville only about 10 minutes before the scheduled kickoff of Wednesday afternoon’s Class D matchup with Fort Fairfield. Even so, they shook off some early rust, getting two goals from Ethan Qualey — one in each half — and a solid performance in goal by Jesse McNally en route to a 2-0 victory over the Tigers on a sun-splashed afternoon.
Katahdin won its season opener, while Fort Fairfield slipped to 2-1.
The Tigers’ front line was dominant throughout the first half, generating 11 shots on goal, but the Cougars’ backs responded valiantly.
“My defense today was outstanding. I can never say too many good things about them,” Katahdin coach Matt Lindsay said.
The Cougars got off to a sluggish start before generating a scoring chance of their own late in the first half.
Qualey knocked home a Marshall Davis rebound in the 30th minute on a scramble near the goalmouth to give the visitors a 1-0 lead.
“Marshall had a beautiful shot from the side panel. The only thing I could get on it was my shoulder, so I just tapped it in,” said Qualey.
Qualey gave the Cougars some insurance 1:01 into the second half with a breakaway goal of which Tiger Woods would have been proud.
“One guy misplayed it and that’s all it took. The goalie was out, so I just chipped it over and in,” Qualey said.
The Cougars’ back line and McNally went to work from there, thwarting a number of Tiger threats, particularly from Josh Booth.
Booth had a couple of chances to put Fort Fairfield on the board in the second half, but McNally came out and pounced on what would have been a wide-open shot at the top of the penalty area with 31 minutes left.
“Having a big goalie like [McNally] coming out is very intimidating,” Qualey said.
McNally, a freshman making his high school debut, gave his back line plenty of credit.
“The defense was a major, major help,” said McNally, who came up with five saves on Fort Fairfield’s 13 shots.
The Cougars would end up outshooting the Tigers 15-13, but Fort Fairfield had the better of the scoring chances.
The problem was, they couldn’t put the ball in the net.
“I felt we had our fair share of opportunities. I’m very proud of the way our guys played,” said Fort Fairfield coach John Ala. “I really thought we had more quality scoring chances. [Katahdin] was just able to take advantage of [its].”
Sweeper Jesse Rodgerson was a key factor in the Cougars’ defensive effort.
“He’s an absolutely incredible sweeper. The kid’s unbelievably fast, he can always get a touch on the ball,” said Lindsay.
With this being their first game of the season, the Cougars wanted to generate some early momentum against a Tiger team that should be near the top of the standings in the Class D ranks.
“They’re a good, solid team. We just wanted to pick up the points early in the season,” said Qualey. “It’s good to pick up a win.”
Austin Dufour finished with five saves for Fort Fairfield.