HAMPDEN — Both the Hampden and Messalonskee of Oakland boys soccer teams were in familiar positions at halftime of their Eastern Maine Class A championship game Wednesday.
Hampden was holding a 1-0 lead as it had in a season-opening victory over the Eagles, while Messalonskee was battling uphill against a higher-seeded opponent for its third straight playoff game.
That latter will to battle uphill ultimately was rewarded, as sixth-ranked Messalonskee got two goals from Chris Hall and one from Nate DelGiudice after intermission to rally past the fourth-ranked Broncos 3-2 and win their first regional title.
Messalonskee (13-2-2) will play the winner of the Western A final between Scarborough and Windham for the state crown at 5:30 p.m. Saturday at Falmouth High School.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said DelGiudice, a senior forward who spent the game’s last 10 minutes on the Messalonskee bench after drawing a late yellow card. “We were definitely the underdog in almost every game, but we’ve been working hard all year and we know we can play with any team. Hopefully we can keep it going in the state finals.”
Hampden, making its first trip to the regional finals since 2004, finished its season at 12-4-1.
“This was the first game all year we’ve lost when we’ve been leading,” said Broncos coach Josh Stevens. “It wasn’t unfamiliar for us to be on top, but they came at us. We were able to weather most of the storm, but in the end we didn’t weather the last storm.”
Messalonskee, which had upended No. 3 Mount Ararat of Topsham and No. 2 Bangor en route to the final, never led until Hall scored on a penalty kick with 8:55 left in the match.
Hall got the kick after Hampden was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty area, and he tucked the ball to the right of Broncos goalie Logan Poirier.
“We went down 1-0 at the half, but we didn’t let that affect us,” said Hall, the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference Class A North player of the year. “We came out hard and put three up on them and kept them to one more goal. We never backed down.”
Hampden came out flying at the outset of the match, with John Meehan launching an early blast that required a diving save from Messalonskee goalie Zach Sutherland, and Ben Clark followed moments later with a shot off the inside of the goalpost.
Clark finally put the Broncos on top, heading in a Kevin Olver corner kick eight minutes into the match.
That lead stood through intermission, but Messalonskee needed just 3:11 of the second half to score the equalizer. DelGiudice took a lead pass from Alex Shatskov, eluded one defender and then popped the ball over the charging Poirier and into the net from just inside the 18-yard line.
But just as quickly as Messalonskee seemed to gain the momentum, Hampden answered 64 seconds later as Olver rocketed a 35-yard shot from the right wing to a perfect spot over Sutherland, under the crossbar and just inside the far post to give the Broncos’ their second one-goal lead.
But Messalonskee, which outshot Hampden 15-6 for the match, kept coming offensively and forged a 2-2 tie on a goal by Hall with 26:21 remaining.
The play began with a Messalonskee corner kick, and when Hampden couldn’t clear the ball from its defensive end the Eagles’ Wyatt Ormsberg gained control and tipped a pass ahead to Hall, who scored from the center of the crease.
“It was a nice little through-ball, I took it off my right foot and just placed it in the corner,” said Hall. “I knew I was right on top of the ‘keeper and he was coming out, so I just tried to keep it low.”
Poirier finished with 13 primarily high-quality saves for Hampden, while Sutherland made four stops for Messalonskee.
“Give credit to Hampden, they played a good game,” said Messalonskee coach Tom Sheridan. “But I think the pressure we put on their defense — we had some good opportunities in the second half — kind of wore them down after a while.”