BANGOR, Maine — The Bangor High School boys soccer team is approaching the 2011 season somewhat differently than it did en route to winning the Class A state championship a year ago.
That should come as no surprise, given that the roster of players is vastly different after 16 seniors graduated from the 2010 squad.
Yet while defense has been the priority so far this season, every team needs to generate some offense to win — and the Rams’ John Szewczyk did so in dramatic fashion Saturday afternoon, scoring with just six seconds left in the second half to lift Bangor to a 1-0 victory over Brunswick.
Brunswick controlled play for most of the match, outshooting Bangor 16-6 overall with one bid by junior striker Konnor Scarponi trickling just wide of the right goal post moments before Szewczyk scored the game-winner.
“We talked about making sure we do everything we can to keep ourselves in the game,” said Bangor coach David Patterson. “We played a very, very strong team today, and I don’t think anybody watching that game would argue with the fact that they had the better of the game, but we hung in there, we were very resilient.
“We talked at halftime about that the longer the game went 0-0 the better our chances were to win, and we got a little lucky at the end and we absolutely stole one today.”
That deciding play began after a defensive stand in the Bangor end, with the Rams clearing the ball to midfield and then working it forward before Szewczyk took a short pass from freshman Nate Bach and lined a high, 25-yard shot off the gloves of Brunswick goalie Greg Walton.
The ball popped into the air, but came down just under the crossbar and nestled into the back of the net.
“I remember somebody playing the ball into the middle of the field, and Nate Bach won it and he laid it back to me,” said Szewczyk. “I took one or two touches and I was able to beat one defender and there was open space in front of me so I ripped a shot.”
The win gives Bangor a 7-0-1 record this fall and leaves in place an regular-season unbeaten streak by the Rams that now numbers 75 matches (70-0-5) since a 1-0 loss to Hampden on Sept. 12, 2006.
“We do think about (the streak),” said Bangor defender Robby Brookings, “but the ultimate goal we’re aiming for is the state championship. We want to do everything we can along the way to get there.”
This rematch of the last three Eastern A finals — with Bangor winning in 2008 and 2010 and the Dragons earning the 2009 crown — was played for the most part in Brunswick’s offensive end, with Scarponi the primary sharpshooter for the Dragons and Mitchell Black controlling much of the midfield play.
But Bangor’s defense — featuring Brookings, Bobby Winchell and Collin Kimsey in front of goalie Liam Harrigan — kept the Dragons off the scoreboard so their offensive teammates needed to strike just once for victory.
“They were definitely very offensively talented and came at us hard,” said Brookings of Brunswick. “But we kept weathering it and we kept on saying ‘keep working,’ because we knew we’d get our chance and we did.”
Harrigan, a freshman, made nine saves to preserve Bangor’s sixth shutout of the season.
“Liam’s done a great job this year,” said Brookings. “He’s very good at making the right decisions, letting us know what to do and being a good field marshal out there.”
Walton made three saves for Brunswick, now 4-2-2.
“It’s a downer, no question about it, they would have much rather taken a tie or a win,” said longtime Dragons’ coach Peter Gardner. “What we’re trying to do is figure out how to beat the better teams, because right now we can beat the average teams but we’re struggling against the better teams. Against the better teams it’s either a tie or a loss.”