ELLSWORTH — The Ellsworth High School boys soccer team had to be resilient in its Eastern Maine Class B championship game against Camden Hills Wednesday at Del Luce Stadium.
Twice the Eagles erased one-goal deficits by answering within three minutes.
That set the stage for junior striker Nick Holt’s game-winner with just 2:44 left in regulation as the Eagles collected their third EM championship in four years, 3-2.
Ellsworth will take a 17-0 record into Saturday’s state title game against 16-0-1 Yarmouth. Camden Hills finished 15-1-1.
Sam Vail opened the scoring 14:25 into the game, but Holt equalized 1:03 later.
Evan McLean made it 2-1 with 20:34 remaining in regulation before Kyle Haslam answered 2:55 later.
Haslam had a hand in Holt’s game-winner as his pass deflected across the top of the penalty area to Holt.
“It was one of those weird deflections like their first goal,” said Holt. “I took it off my chest, touched it to the side and I saw that their defender was off balance. So I split two guys and hit it near post. It was the only shot I had. I just wanted to put it on net.”
His powerful 17-yard shot cleanly beat Camden Hills standout goalkeeper Ian Cushing to his left.
“I don’t know how he snuck that in,” said Cushing. “He just blasted it. It was less than an inch from the post and less than an inch from my fingertips.”
“It was a nice shot,” said Camden Hills first-year coach Ryan Hurley. “Never in a million years did I think we’d get up on a team twice and have them come back on us. That hasn’t happened to us. But you’ve got to give them credit. They just wouldn’t quit.”
The Windjammers had given up just three total goals in its 16 previous games.
“We worked out butts off for it. We played with a lot of heart,” said Holt.
“This is still unbelievable,” said Eagles coach Brian Higgins, who claimed his 17th Eastern Maine title in 37 years. “When I saw (Camden Hills) play on Saturday, I came away thinking we didn’t have a chance. It looked like they didn’t have any weaknesses.”
The bigger Eagles carried the play in the first half, controlling the midfield and aggressively winning the majority of the 50-50 balls.
But Vail struck first when his ambitious 25-yard shot changed directions and skipped past Eagles goalie Jordan Carter.
Holt tied it when he curled a corner kick directly into the net.
The Eagles had three glorious opportunities to grab the lead late in the half, but Cushing got his hand on Bobby Box’s point-blank shot during a scramble and made back-to-back gems in the waning minutes off Jake Hale and Haslam.
McLean broke the tie when Sam Predham cleverly beat an Eagle defender to the end line and crossed it to him. McLean directed it between Carter’s legs.
But a long flip throw-in by Andrew Austin set up the tying goal as it deflected off Tom Sawyer’s foot to Haslam in the middle of the box.
“I trapped it in my lap and then put it in,” said Haslam, who placed it to the left of the helpless Cushing.
“We didn’t clear it and you can’t make mistakes like that in big games like this,” said Hurley.
The Windjammers played much better in the second half as striker Predham and junior midfielders Malcolm Steele and Andrew Flanagan created problems for the Ellsworth defense with their skill, quick feet and creativity.
“We dominated the second half, although the scoreboard doesn’t show it. We had one little lapse and that’s all it takes,” said Predham. “But we played well.”
Carter finished with five saves on 23 shots, while Cushing wound up with seven on 21 shots.