BREWER — Graham Safford staked the Hampden Academy boys soccer team to a 3-0 lead over Brewer on Tuesday evening, scoring three goals in the first 26 minutes of play — and the Broncos needed all of that early edge to gain a 5-4 victory at Doyle Field.
“So far this season we’ve had trouble closing teams out,” said Safford, a senior striker who now has 12 goals in Hampden’s 3-1-2 start.
“We come out hard in the first half and then in the second half we still work hard, but I think mentally we doubt ourselves. That’s something we’ve got to work on, but we’ll be all right.”
Hampden squandered a 3-0 halftime lead earlier this season against Waterville before settling for a 3-3 tie, but the fact Brewer would not go away against the Broncos may say more about the parity within the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A northern division.
Even top-ranked Bangor, while undefeated at 5-0-1, has four one-goal victories in addition to its 2-2 tie with Lawrence of Fairfield on Monday.
”Last year there was quite a bit of difference between the top-tier teams and the lower teams,” said Safford, whose team plays Bangor on Saturday. “But this year on any given night anybody can beat anybody, so it just makes our league a lot tougher.”
Hampden never trailed Brewer, but once the Witches broke onto the scoreboard on a goal by Jake Valley with 1:38 left in the first half, they were rejuvenated. and three times pulled within one goal.
“We could have packed it in at that point,” said Brewer coach Mark Savage, whose team outshot Hampden 27-23. “But the kids held their heads high and kept playing hard.”
Hampden took a 1-0 lead on a counterattack less than five minutes into the match when Corey Grover lofted a lead pass to Safford, who then popped the ball over oncoming Brewer goalie Spencer Valley and into the net.
A long goal kick by Hampden goalie Logan Poirier set up the Broncos’ second goal 12 minutes later. Poirier’s kick went to teammate Ben Clark, who settled the ball before grounding a pass to his right to Safford that set up a 25-yard shot back across the goalmouth and inside the left post.
Safford scored again with 14:13 left in the half, taking a throw-in from Clark just to the left of the goal and driving a sharp-angled shot past Valley.
“Graham’s got the goal-scoring ability, it’s pretty amazing to watch him play,” said Hampden coach Josh Stevens. “We’ve been trying to find a complement to him, and Ben seems to have stepped up so we’re hopeful that leads to a bunch of goals for us.”
But Jake Valley cut the gap to 3-1 with a high shot off Poirier’s hands, and the 2-4 Witches could have drawn even closer before the break but Poirier dove to his right to rob Valley on a penalty kick with 24 seconds left.
“We were awful lucky that Logan made that save because that could have been the momentum shift that really put us in a deep hole,” said Stevens.
Ryan Adams scored on the rebound of a shot off the left post by Tristan Wortman less than four minutes into the second half to draw Brewer within 3-2, but while the Witches controlled much of the ensuing play, they could not score the equalizer.
Hampden’s Lukas Kurz made it 4-2 two minutes later with a 25-yard shot from the right side, but Brewer narrowed the gap again when Jacob O’Donnell scored on a follow-up shot after an initial attempt by Jake Valley was blocked by a Hampden defender.
Moments later, Hampden defender Marc Albert made a sliding save on a long centering pass by Brewer that eluded Poirier and was headed toward the net.
“They hit the ball in and it went by Logan and I freaked out pretty much,” said Albert. “I knew I had to get over there and kick it out as quick as possible because I didn’t want the goal to go in. I hoped I could get there on time, but it was very close, probably within two feet.”
Clark beat a defender along the left wing and scored inside the far post to give Hampden a 5-3 cushion with 6:11 left before Brewer’s Ray Bessette scored the evening’s final goal on a direct kick just beyond the 18-yard line with 4:27 to play.