ELLSWORTH — Damon Warren’s first goal Thursday night made history. His second was even sweeter.
In the dying seconds of a Class C North quarterfinal matchup between the Sumner and Lee Academy boys’ soccer teams at Ellsworth’s Del Luce Stadium, Warren and the Tigers were fighting to stay alive after nearly two exhausting hours of a physical game. Warren had scored for the 50th time this season earlier, but with penalty kicks looming, Sumner was desperate to add another goal.
As the clock ticked under 20 seconds, Sumner’s Caelan Billings sprinted past the Lee Academy defense. With 10 seconds left, Billings turned toward goal just inside the penalty area. Watching the play unfold before his eyes, Warren knew where he needed to be.
“I just saw the ball coming from Caelan, and I could tell I was about to have a good chance,” Warren said. “I knew I could get it if I kind of drifted out to the left and set myself up right.”
Although several Lee Academy defenders made last-ditch efforts to lunge at the ball, Warren’s positioning, technique and finishing were inch-perfect. As he closed in and pulled the goalkeeper out of position, the celebrations from Sumner players, coaches and fans began even before the junior forward calmly rolled the shot into the back of the net to seal a sensational victory.
Warren’s goal with three seconds left in the second overtime period gave No. 4 Sumner a 3-2 win over fifth-ranked Lee Academy in the regional quarterfinals Thursday night. In the process, the Tigers avenged their only loss of the regular season and advanced to the Class C North semifinals for the first time since 1989.
“I’d say that was as emotional and intense as it gets on the sidelines,” Sumner head coach Tom Hart said. “Both teams refused to lose, and it literally came down to that last play at the last second to make the difference.”
Sumner dominated possession and set the tone for a fast-paced evening to begin the game, but it was a set-piece situation that gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead after 13 minutes. Taking a direct free kick from the left wing, Orlando Herrera sent a low-lying shot to the left of an unsuspecting Lee Academy wall to put Sumner ahead.
The Tigers were rewarded for their continued pressure when Warren scored with 12 minutes, 11 seconds left in the half, but Lee Academy’s Mike Noyes halved the host team’s advantage eight minutes later with a powerful shot to the top-left corner following a counterattack. After Lee Academy goalkeeper Matty Knowles produced two diving saves with a minute left, Sumner was forced to settle for a 2-1 halftime lead.
Both teams had scoring chances in the second half, but the only goal came on a penalty kick from Lee Academy’s Peter Loman with 11:40 to play. Warren nearly put himself in position to win it for Sumner (14-1) with a minute left in the first overtime, but a game-saving clearance sent the ball flying out of bounds before he could make contact with his right foot.
In the second overtime, Lee Academy (7-7-1) saw two would-be game-winners go to waste as a pair of close-range headers flew just wide of the post. Instead, just when it appeared the teams would be forced to bear the 15-degree wind chill even longer for the gut-churning drama of penalties, Warren’s patience and precision made the Pandas pay.
By scoring for the 50th time this year in the first half, Warren became the first male player in Maine history to do so at the high school level. The previous record for goals in a season was held by Brad Wilcox, who scored 44 for Bangor Christian in 2010.
“He’s the type of player who wows you with his intelligence and skill level every time he’s on the soccer field,” Hart said of Warren. “I’m sure he was happy to hit 50, but I can guarantee it wouldn’t have meant much to him without the win.”
Hart also lauded the speed and physicality of Lee Academy, which had defeated Sumner 2-1 last month in Sullivan, as well as praising Herrera, Sumner’s catalyst in the midfield. In addition to scoring the Tigers’ first goal, Herrera bossed the middle and attacking thirds by winning 50-50 balls, creating scoring chances and forcing the Pandas’ attacking threats onto the flanks.
“The center of our field — the distribution of the ball, the pace of the game and all of that — that part of our offense starts with Orlando,” Hart said. “He’s so good at controlling the tempo and movement of the game, and he’s one of those players who can just make everyone around him better. He’s a very special young man.”
Sumner’s next game will be on the road against No. 1 Fort Kent (12-2-1) at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 27. With a win, the Tigers would advance to face the winner of tomorrow’s encounter between No. 2 Orono (11-4) and No. 3 Houlton (11-3-1) in the regional title game on Wednesday, Oct. 31.
Hart said he hopes to see his team be quicker to the ball against Fort Kent than it was in Thursday’s game, which he and Warren both said was the coldest they’d ever experienced. Yet no matter what happens the rest of the way, the head coach knows he couldn’t have asked for much more than the team has given him in 2018.
“This is the best group of guys I’ve ever coached,” Hart said. “Between their passion, their fire, their sense of humor and everything else, I walk in and out games and practices loving every second of it. It’s been a dream.”
Sumner girls’ team falls to Central
Elsewhere on Thursday, the fifth-ranked Sumner girls’ traveled to Hampden for a neutral-site game against No. 4 Central. Although the Tigers were strong defensively throughout the game, the Red Devils (9-4-2) found the goal they needed to earn a 1-0 win and advance to the semifinals.
Sumner concluded the season with a 10-3-2 record with the loss. The result snapped a 12-game unbeaten streak for the Tigers, who hadn’t lost since falling 3-1 to Bangor Christian on Sept. 6.