HAMPDEN, Maine — With a midseason clash of the titans against Bangor looming two nights away, the Hampden Academy boys soccer team nearly got caught looking past the inspired Brewer Witches on Tuesday evening.
Fortunately for the Broncos, the defense stood tall until Brad Dolan finally scored on an assist from Graham Safford with 14:46 left in the second half to lift Hampden to a 1-0 victory at the Weatherbee Complex.
The win improves coach Josh Stevens’ club to 6-0 on the season, and sets up a battle of unbeatens against 6-0 Bangor, the reigning Eastern Maine Class A champion, here Thursday.
And, truth be told, thoughts among some of the Broncos already were geared toward Bangor as Hampden was attempting to outlast a hustling Brewer team that entered the match with its own four-match unbeaten streak.
“I think we were coming in here just looking for Bangor and not really focused on Brewer, and that may have been why we came out slow,” said Dolan. “But they’re not a bad club at all.”
Hampden outshot Brewer 21-10, but didn’t break through until Safford got the ball deep on the left wing, maneuvered past two defenders before centering the ball to Dolan.
The senior striker then settled the ball to his left foot and rifled a 15-yard shot to the left of Brewer goalie Evan Nadeau.
“Graham brought the ball up the sideline and crossed it into the middle,” said Dolan. “I just volleyed it to myself and got a good left foot on it and it went into the net.”
The play marked a reversal of roles for the two Hampden strikers, as Safford entered the match with a team-high 13 goals and had two or three good bids on Nadeau before turning playmaker on the game-winner.
“I missed him earlier in the game on a really similar play so I felt really bad,” said Safford. “I just trapped the ball, found him and he put it home.
“I received the ball pretty wide and I know that their defense was double-teaming pretty much everyone who received the ball, so my goal was to just dump it off and Bradley finished.”
Sophomore goalie Logan Poirier preserved the shutout with five saves, while Nadeau came up with several big saves among his 11 stops during the game.
“Each game we’ve gotten better, and I think we played better here than we played in our last game,” said Brewer coach Mark Savage. “We’re working hard, and we’re getting some kids back from injuries.
“I liked the way we played tonight. We’ve just got to finish once in a while, but we’re young and inexperienced up front and that’s going to come.”
Brewer’s best chance came midway through the first half when sophomore Nick Ramsey blasted a low shot off the right goal post from close range.
“They had a shot that hit the post early in the game that woke us up a little bit and we buckled down,” said Safford, who moments later displayed his own shot-creating ability by caroming a hard shot off the inside of the far post from the right wing.
Hampden generated several more high-quality scoring chances in the second half, with Dolan and Safford threatening only to be denied by some strong work from Nadeau, a former field player converted to goalkeeper in recent weeks after suffering from shin splints.
“I think he’s one of the best goalies around,” said Savage.
Hampden switched to a three-striker format by inserting Jon Lester up front with Safford and Dolan midway through the final half, and finally the Broncos capitalized.
And now they have an unobstructed look ahead to Bangor.
“We definitely didn’t play how we wanted to,” said Safford. “We didn’t play as intense and I thinking we were looking past Brewer a little bit to the big game Thursday.
“But everyone has their gut-check game, and this was ours.”