BRUNSWICK — Strong defensive efforts from sophomore Denae Johnson and goalkeeper Mia Smith propelled the Bangor Rams to a 2-1 victory over the Brunswick Dragons in the Eastern Maine Class A schoolgirl soccer final Wednesday.
Johnson closely guarded Brunswick senior star Allie Walton throughout the game, and that effort made first-half goals by Grace Maclean and Libby Huber stand up as the Rams dethroned the defending state champions behind 11 saves from Smith, who faced 20 Brunswick shots.
Coach Joe Johnson’s club (15-0-2) won its first regional championship since 2005 and will play either Thornton Academy or Scarborough in Saturday’s state final at either Hampden Academy or Falmouth High School.
Brunswick, which had won 36 straight matches entering Wednesday’s play, finished 16-1.
Bangor has never won a state title in girls soccer. The Rams lost to Gorham 1-0 in 2005.
Even though the Rams controlled play in the first half and were rewarded with a 2-0 lead after the first 40 minutes, there was not one player or fan in crimson and white comfortable with such a small margin against the defending state champions, especially on the road. After coming off the field, junior midfielder Jade Baumrind told her teammates, “We can’t rest.”
“We definitely couldn’t. If we had rested, they would’ve gotten a lot more goals than they did,” echoed senior forward Kim Jordan. “It shows when two really good teams are playing against each other, it’s going to be hard enough.”
Maclean put the Rams on the board with 13:35 left in the first half, winning a 50-50 ball at the top of the penalty area and blasting it over the head of Brunswick goalkeeper Lydia Caputi.
Bangor got some insurance 3:58 before halftime, with Huber poking home a rebound to put the Dragons in a position which they aren’t accustomed to, as coach Martyn Davison’s club hadn’t trailed in a game all season.
“We talked about we’d have to see what they were like coming from behind because they’ve never been there before,” Johnson said.
The Dragons did make some adjustments after halftime, with Davison taking one of his backs out and putting three extra strikers in for extra pressure, and it paid off as Walton chested home a loose ball with 17:34 remaining in the match.
Even though Brunswick was applying constant pressure, Bangor’s defense of Tiffany Gray, Johnson, Sadie Redman, Liz Hintz, Emily Smith and goalkeeper Mia Smith was unshakable.
“Our defense is great, we can depend on them, they always step up, it’s very rare that the ball gets past them,” Jordan said.
Johnson did an outstanding job on Walton, not letting her turn and shoot, which is one of her specialties.
“I tried to back off a little bit, so she couldn’t get by me,” she said. “I knew what was coming for her, she’s a really good player.”
Smith was also outstanding in goal for Bangor, coming with key saves and constantly cutting off angles on corner kicks, while the Rams’ other backs helped Johnson apply pressure on Walton.
“As good a job as Denae did, she had a lot of help, a lot of back pressure, stepping up and taking balls that normally Allie would be able to run on top of,” said coach Johnson.
Denae Johnson certainly played tough, as she rolled her ankle against Mt. Blue of Farmington earlier this postseason, but it didn’t show.
“She did a phenomenal job,” said Davison. “We had some really good chances to make it 2-2.”
Jordan, who along with Maclean, Ashley Robinson and Baumrind excelled up front for the Rams, also praised Johnson.
“Denae’s an awesome defender, she’s really fast and aggressive, you can just depend on her,” Jordan said. “We always made sure that someone was on (Walton).”
And that somebody was Johnson, who played with even more fire after the Dragons rallied within a goal.
“I knew we had to play with intensity and not let down,” she said. “We just had to step up and play, we couldn’t back down.”
Caputi had four saves on 12 shots for Brunswick.