HAMPDEN — The Hampden Academy boys soccer team has been dogged by inconsistency in recent weeks, going just 1-3-1 since a 5-4 victory at Brewer on Sept. 21.
But the Broncos were able to boost their playoff chances at those same Witches’ expense Tuesday everning, using stout defense and two goals from senior striker Graham Safford to earn a 2-0 victory at the Weatherbee Complex.
Coach Josh Stevens’ club (5-5-2) began the day tenuously holding the final spot in the eight-team Eastern Maine Class A playoff field, but the win advanced Hampden to seventh place with regular-season games remaining against winless Skowhegan and undefeated Bangor.
“We haven’t played a full game in a while and it’s narrowing down to the playoffs, so this was a good step toward solidifying a spot,” said Safford.
Brewer (5-6-1) remained in 11th place after the loss with games remaining against Bangor and eighth-place Messalonskee of Oakland.
Safford’s first goal came on a counterattack set up by teammate Ben Clark after nearly 15 minutes of sustained Brewer pressure.
The Witches nearly scored nine minutes into the match when a long shot by Brad Billings sailed over Hampden goalie Logan Poirier but bounced off the top of the crossbar. Four minutes later, Spencer Valley tested Poirier with a shot from 20 yards out that the Broncos’ junior goalie saved with a dive to his left.
Safford gave Hampden the lead with 26:07 left in the first half, taking a centering pass from Clark in the middle of the goal crease, settling the ball and then blasting it past Brewer goalie Ian Burgess.
“Ben made a great individual effort,” said Safford. “I think he received the ball at the 40-yard line and took guys on down to the corner and put a nice cross on it,” said Safford. “I just finished it. I did the easy part. He did all the hard work.”
The left-footed Clark gained possession near midfield, then worked his way down to the end line before grounding a perfectly timed pass to Safford’s right foot.
“I’m pretty decent when I come down the far left side because I’ve got the [left] foot,” said Clark. “I saw [Graham] all the way and was trying to get it to him through the air, but it still worked out.”
That goal served to diminish Brewer’s momentum, though the Witches did come out strong in the second half before Safford added an insurance goal with 20:03 left.
Brewer attemped to clear the ball from its defensive end, but Hampden’s Gabe Yamartino intercepted it and passed ahead to Antone on the right wing. Antone grounded a centering pass to Safford, who quickly redirected the ball into the net.
“By Gabe putting the ball back in, that’s what led to that goal,” said Stevens. “They were pulling out as they should, but he got to the ball and then dumped it back in right to feet. It was perfect.”
Brewer finished with a 16-15 edge in shots, with Poirier and Harrison Haiden combining for nine stops for Hampden while Burgess made six saves for the Witches.