ORONO, Maine — It was a thrilling battle of contrasting styles played on a slippery field.
When it was over, Orono High School senior striker Brandon Paul had sent his Red Riots into the Eastern Maine Class C soccer semifinals by scoring a late tying goal and the double-overtime game-winner in a 3-2 triumph over Penobscot Valley of Howland.
Third seed Orono (11-3-1) had a decided edge in possession with its superior skill and speed but the wet field, a gritty and tenacious Howler defense, and a tremendous 15-save performance by sophomore goalie Jake Jones kept things close.
Charlie Gardner’s two goals supplied sixth-seeded PVHS (11-3-2) with a pair of one-goal leads in the second half but Ian Staples’ penalty kick and Paul’s 13th goal of the season, coming with 6:41 remaining, forced OT.
The game-winner came 43 seconds into the second OT.
Lee Hecker took a throw-in to Dan Lesser who wanted to dribble to the end line and cross it.
But Lesser said that option wasn’t open so he slipped it back to Hecker, who crossed it to the far post from the right flank.
“I saw Brandon over there,” said Hecker, whose cross was perfectly placed.
“They left me open all game,” said Paul, who calmly directed his eight-yard header past Jones, who desperately dove across the goalmouth but had no chance to reach it.
Paul’s tying goal came about after he accepted a pass from Ian Staples 25 yards from goal. He negotiated the sloppy field and worked his way around a defender before breaking in alone on Jones.
“I said [to myself] I was going to put this one away. I went far post with it,” said Paul, whose goal came moments after a wild flurry in which Jones made a pair of superb point-blank saves and standout sweeper Ethan Babineau stopped another with his body.
“Their goalie was amazing,” said the dynamic Staples, who had six shots saved by Jones.
Gardner opened the scoring 1:56 into the second half, shortly after a great diving save by Jones off Hecker.
Gardner followed his initial shot, which was blocked, broke free and tucked the ball past the right side of Orono goalie A.J. Coleman, who finished with five saves on 27 shots.
Staples equalized 4:45 later from the penalty spot after a Howler pushed a Riot attacker down in the penalty area.
Gardner regained the one-goal lead with 17:25 remaining in regulation when he maneuvered his way behind the Orono defense, ran on to a long ball by Adam Callender and neatly placed his shot inside the far post.
Jones’ 15 saves came on 39 shots. They including a gem off Lesser’s screened 14-yarder in the first overtime.
“This was the best game we’ve played all year,” said PVHS’ Ethan Babineau, who teamed with stopper Joey Brown and outside backs Matthew Theriault and Jonathan Hallett to force Orono’s prolific strikers and attacking midfielders (Paul, Staples, Hecker, Lesser and Paul Ohno) to work very hard for their scoring chances.