HOULTON, Maine — A new season in high school sports is just that, a new season, particularly for coaches.
No matter the success of the immediate past, the focus is on the future.
So when the 2011 Eastern Maine Class C champion Houlton boys soccer team lost its first two games of the new season in late August, it was just the teaching tool Shiretowners’ coach Mike Carlos needed.
“I tell the boys I’m like three bears, a black bear, a brown bear and a grizzly bear,” he said. “After we lost those first two games, they got to see a lot of the grizzly bear, probably more than they wanted.”
Whether it was a fear of more bear sightings or merely a poised response to that early wake-up call, Houlton has not lost in more than two months since then and now is in position to take the one step that eluded the Shiretowners when they lost last year’s state final to Waynflete of Portland 2-1 in double overtime.
“That’s been the goal all year, to get back to the game and win it,” said Houlton senior midfielder Brandon Ward, whose team will face Hall-Dale of Farmingale for the state title at 10 a.m. Saturday at Scarborough High School.
The Class C final is the first of two boys matches at Scarborough, followed at 3 p.m. by the Class B clash between Camden Hills of Rockport (14-1-2) and Falmouth (12-3-2).
Two other boys matches will be at Hampden Academy, with Mount Ararat of Topsham (15-1-1) against Scarborough (15-0-2) in the Class A final at 10 a.m. and Bangor Christian (17-0) against Greenville (10-7) for the Class D crown at 3 p.m.
Houlton rebounded from its losses to Madawaska and Fort Kent — teams that finished first and third in the final Eastern C Heal point ratings — to go 14-0-1 in its last 15 matches.
“It was the beginning of our season, and we were kind of getting used to the players we have now,” said Houlton senior back Ethan Morse. “Like coach Carlos told us, those two losses didn’t mean that much, we just knew we had to push ahead if we wanted to come out on top.”
Houlton’s offense is led by senior striker Jimmy Fitzpatrick, whose 38th goal this fall lifted the Shiretowners to a 1-0 victory over Orono in Thursday’s regional final.
That offense will be tested by a 16-0-1 Hall-Dale team that outlasted Waynflete 1-0 in penalty kicks to win its first Western C title.
That was the third straight postseason shutout and 17th shutout overall this year for the Bulldogs, who have outscored their opponents 115-4.
“I tell the kids, and it sounds kind of cliche-ist, but we’re climbing a mountain, and the only people who fall off the mountain are those who are trying to summit it,” said Carlos. “We’ve been trying to summit this mountain, and we’re not quite there yet. We still have another game we’d like to win.”
In Class D, Bangor Christian seeks to join an elite group when it plays for its fourth consecutive state championship.
Class A Scarborough (1973-1976), Class B Falmouth (2000-1003) and Class C Richmond (1976-1979) are the only boys programs to win four straight state titles. Two girls’ teams — Class A Waterville (1980-1984) and Class C North Yarmouth Academy (2003-2007) — have won five consecutive crowns.
Bangor Christian also will try to extend its 41-match winning streak — the last 14 by shutout — when it faces Greenville in a rematch of the 2011 final won by the Patriots 4-2.
Bangor Christian has allowed just four goals this fall, but Greenville, which absorbed five forfeit losses early this season due to an ineligible player on the roster, is led by strikers Henry Hersey and Tristan Richards, who have combined for 62 goals this year.
The Class B final also is a rematch from 2011, when Falmouth edged Camden Hills 2-1.
Falmouth won its 10th Western Maine title in 13 years Wednesday by defeating Yarmouth 2-0, and now seeks its 10th state crown during that span.
Camden Hills rallied for a 2-1 overtime victory over Ellsworth in its regional final and will try to become the first Eastern Maine school to win the Class B state boys soccer crown since Ellsworth in 1993.
In Class A, Scarborough seeks its third state championship in six years and eighth title overall against Mount Ararat, which defeated the Red Storm 1-0 in the 2003 final.
Western Maine has won six of the last eight Class A state boys soccer crowns, with Bangor’s title runs in 2006 and 2010 the exceptions.