PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — The Presque Isle Wildcats pulled out to a two-goal lead early in the second half but had to hold off a surging Washington Academy team down the stretch to win their first regional title in 10 years Wednesday at the Gehrig Johnson Athletic Complex.
Presque Isle’s 2-1 victory over the Raiders of East Machias in the Class B North final gets them into Saturday’s state championship match against the South champ, Freeport, at 5:30 p.m. at Hampden Academy.
The No. 2-ranked Wildcats (14-1-2) scored the game’s first goal with 20:59 to play in the first half when Jonah Hudson’s throw-in landed in the box and caromed off a Raider defender and into the net.
“We know with my throw-in we can create a mess in the 18-yard box and it deflected off one of their players,” Hudson said, “but that’s what we’re hoping for.”
The Wildcats had a chance to make it 2-0 three minutes later, but Raider forward Khiari Hayward made a goal-saving play by clearing the ball off the end line.
Presque Isle did get that second goal 2:21 into the second half when an initial shot deflected off WA goalkeeper Sam Perkins and landed at the feet of senior Drew Cameron, who lined one past Perkins.
WA then brought extra defenders to the front line to try to create some pressure and get back in the match, and the strategy worked. With 25:56 left, Jacob Mills-Lightner scored on a header off a Hayward corner kick to cut the lead in half.
The Raiders, the fifth seed, kept surging as Vicente Morata’s direct kick landed in front of the goal and into a scrum, but the ball was cleared away on the dangerous chance with seven minutes left. WA made another threat with three minutes remaining, but a shot was just right of the post.
“A lot of these championship games are going to be one-goal games either way, and if you are up, the other team has nothing to lose and are going to bring everything they have,” said eighth-year Wildcat coach Joe Greaves. “We were just holding on for dear life those last 10 or 15 minutes, but defense wins this stuff, and we needed it to come up big and they did.”
Presque Isle’s defense remained on task the rest of the way and when the buzzer sounded, the celebration was on.
“They are a second-half team so we knew we’d have to fight to hold on and our defense is really good,” said senior fullback Torey Levesque. “That’s what championship teams do — put it all on the line.
It was the Wildcats’ second win over Washington Academy this season. On Oct. 6, they pulled out a 3-2 overtime victory.
“We’ve been talking about this since the end of last year,” Hudson said, referring to the quarterfinal loss to Erskine Academy in 2017 despite the Wildcats being the No. 1 seed. “All these boys have worked so hard since we started soccer in August to get to this point, and it’s an awesome feeling to finish on a good note.”
Washington Academy, which had upset No. 4 Gardiner in the quarterfinals and No. 1 Caribou in the semis, both on the road, finished with a 12-6 record.
“We played a strong second half, and they came up with some great stops on us,” WA coach Chris Gardner said. “Hats off to the Wildcats. They are high energy and are always trying to be first to the ball. They do it with pure heart and hustle, and I’m glad for them and hopefully they bring the gold ball back to the North.”