Bucksport High School is known for football during the fall, so it’s no surprise the Golden Bucks are lacking in soccer tradition.
Before this fall, the team hadn’t had a winning regular season since 1996, with a 7-7 record in 2017 the only finish threatening that quarter-century of futility.
This year is different, as 11 seniors are leading a 23-player roster that is defying that history as evidenced by Bucksport’s rally from a three-goal deficit in the final 14 minutes of the second half to forge a 3-3 tie at undefeated Orono.
The game was halted after the first five-minute overtime due to darkness.
Bucksport, which entered the contest ranked fourth in Class C North, will take a 12-1-1 record into the open tournament that begins later this week.
“We’ve had a couple of games lately when things didn’t go our way and we dropped down a goal, and my teams in the past have kind of put their heads down and said this is the way it’s supposed to be,” Bucksport coach John Boynton said.
“But we’ve talked all year about how it’s all about that fire within and that you’ve got to play really, really hard through any bit of adversity. It showed tonight. Things were not going away until about 10 minutes left, and they came firing back. It was awesome.”
Top-ranked Orono, 10-0-1, will play a makeup game at Class B Old Town on Tuesday, the final day of the regular season.
“Normally we come out pretty strong, and we did this game,” said Orono senior Tyler Kenney. “In the second half we got too comfortable with our lead and Bucksport put in a couple quick goals. But I think it’s all part of the journey to states. That’s what we’re all about and what we’re going for, and it’s just a little bump in the road.”
The Red Riots seemed in complete control after sophomore playmaker Pierce
Walston set up classmate Ben Francis for two goals within a 1:46 span to extend their lead to 3-0 with less than 23 minutes left in the second half.
The first goal came when Walston dribbled the ball from the right corner toward the net along the end line, then centered it to Francis for a point-blank shot past Bucksport goalie Colin Simpson.
The duo soon struck again, this time after Walston lured two Bucksport defenders into the right corner and forced a deflection out of bounds that gave Orono a corner kick. Walston lined his kick toward the near post, from where Francis headed the ball into the net to give the Red Riots what seemed to be an ample cushion.
Bucksport remained determined, and finally broke through when sophomore Evan Donnell scored from close range with 13:29 left.
As darkness approached, the Golden Bucks’ offense continued to threaten until Nathan Paulauskas sent a long ball into the penalty area that Orono goalie Javier Alicea-Santiago couldn’t handle cleanly, enabling Donnell to direct the rebound into the net to make it 3-2 with 3:51 remaining.
Bucksport struck again 1:17 later, advancing the ball forward with a series of short redirections, including headers by freshman Jason Terrill and Donnell that preceded the equalizer by senior Jacob Brezovsky with 2:34 left in regulation.
“We had that momentum from the first two goals we scored,” Brezovsky said. “Then on that sequence it was off Jason’s head, off Evan’s head and then my touch, that’s stuff we practice. That was textbook from our practices. It was just beautiful.”
Orono finished with a 17-14 shots advantage, with Alicea-Santiago making four stops for the Red Riots and Simpson eight saves for Bucksport.
“We’ve just got to stay mentally in it for all 80 minutes, and we didn’t do that today,” Alicea-Santiago said.
Orono dictated play for most of the first half and scored the lone goal of the period on a second-chance play after Bucksport was whistled for a hand ball in the penalty area with 5:15 remaining.
Simpson dove to his right to deny the initial penalty kick by Orono’s Christopher Cost-Kirkpatrick, but Bucksport was whistled for encroachment into the penalty area before the ball was kicked and the Red Riots got a second chance.
This time Cost-Kirkpatrick scored with a waist-high shot to Simpson’s right.
Bucksport disputed the call, but also used the energy to play their way back into the contest — all the way to a satisfying stalemate.
“I’ve said all year that this Orono team is the best team in Class C,” said Boynton, whose team fell to the Red Riots 4-1 in their first meeting of the season at Bucksport on Sept. 11. “If we can go toe to toe with them, Fort Kent and Mount View, then we can go toe to toe with anybody. I think we proved that today.”