SCARBOROUGH, Maine — While Kole Buzzeo joined in the celebration after Houlton’s 2-0 win over Hall-Dale of Farmingdale in Saturday’s Class C boys soccer state final, the Shiretowners’ junior goalkeeper also had a unique perspective on the turn of events that altered this match in its final minutes.
Houlton controlled much of the second half yet had been unable to break a scoreless deadlock, but with 3:46 remaining Hall-Dale goalie Sam Shepherd was sidelined after suffering a bloody nose during a scramble for the ball.
Sophomore Brian Allen took over in the Bulldogs’ net, and Houlton’s Jimmy Fitzpatrick and Isaac Cone each scored during the next minute of play to secure the Shiretowners’ first gold ball in the sport.
“My freshman year I was the backup goalie and we made it to the semifinals,” said Buzzeo. “I never figured I’d play, and if I ever had to go in at the end of the game like that I would have been scared. In his mind he never thought he’d play and all of a sudden he had to play. That’s tough.”
Fitzpatrick gave the Shiretowners a 1-0 lead with 3:00 left off a perfectly executed set play that may have been unstoppable no matter who occupied the last line of Hall-Dale’s defense.
Senior sweeper Dan Swallow’s throw-in from the right wing reached Kyle Bouchard along the end line, with Bouchard skimming a header into the goal crease where Fitzpatrick headed the ball into the net for his 39th goal of the season.
“We’ve been doing it for two years,” said Bouchard. “Dan Swallow’s got a big throw-in and I like to post up and try to skip it when I get an opportunity and that’s what we got. The guys know I’m going to try to re-direct it to them so they just get into space where they think I might re-direct the ball.”
After the next restart, Fitzpatrick won a race to the ball on the right wing near the 18-yard line and slid it across the crease where Cone was waiting to score inside the left post just 23 seconds after Houlton’s first goal.
“I just put it on net looking for anyone streaking through,” said Fitzpatrick. “I knew the goalie was out, so anyone would have a good shot.”
It was a sudden, successful ending for a Houlton team that lost in overtime at last year’s state final, then dropped its first two matches this season before going unbeaten (15-0-1) the rest of the way.
“When the clock starts ticking down you start thinking about the gold ball even more because you don’t want to lose it,” said Bouchard. “It adds a little extra energy.”
It was an equally sudden, stunning result for a previously unbeaten Hall-Dale team (16-1-1) that had outscored its opponents 115-4 entering its first state final.
“It’s just ironic when you take out a key player like Sam and put in someone who hasn’t had any playoff experience,” Hall-Dale coach Andy Haskell said. “It’s just like a bang-bang play. They capitalized on that restart and that’s how they scored. Hats off to them.”
Hall-Dale had a 5-3 edge in shots on goal at intermission, including three shots that required testing saves by Buzzeo.
“I thought Buzzeo kept us in the game,” said Houlton coach Mike Carlos. “The shots weren’t that hard, but you had to be in the right position every time and he was in the right position every time.”
The Bulldogs’ best early bid came 13 minutes into the match when a 15-yard straightaway blast by sophomore Nat Crocker required Buzzeo to dive to his left to tip the ball wide.
“It looked to me like he had time but he tried to turn his body and didn’t get enough power on it and I could save it,” said Buzzeo.
Houlton’s best first-half chance came with less than 2 minutes remaining on a counterattack by Fitzpatrick, whose line shot from the right side some 20 yards out caromed hard off the left goal post.
Most of the second half belonged to Houlton despite the Shiretowners playing into the wind.
“Honestly, Hall-Dale really backed up and had a lot of defenders inside the 18,” said Bouchard. “It seemed liked they were being conservative looking to snag a goal if they could or win in penalty kicks.”
Houlton also got a key defensive effort after intermission from junior Alejandro Casillas, who limited Hall-Dale midfielder Colin Lush’s playmaking touches that had been a key weapon for the Bulldogs earlier in the match.
“Once Alex denied him the ball, that changed everything,” said Carlos. “When you’re used to getting the ball to a guy and he’s used to doing what he wants to do and all of a sudden it stops, it’s tough to adjust. Alex did his job, he was outstanding.”
Houlton had a 6-3 advantage in shots on goal after intermission.
“I thought they carried the play better in the second half, their attacks were a little better,” said Haskell. “We tried to make some changes in the back and up top and we just couldn’t get that sustained scoring opportunity or that flow that we wanted.”