BLUE HILL — Minutes away from the potential end of his high school soccer career, Aidan Stearns belted the biggest shot of his life.
As a defender, Stearns, a senior at George Stevens Academy, isn’t used to being in position to score big-time goals for the Eagles. In fact, entering Tuesday night’s Class C North quarterfinal showdown with Washington Academy, he had never scored at the varsity level.
With GSA down 1-0 in the final two minutes and controlling the ball in the attacking half, though, the Eagles had everyone positioned in and around Washington Academy’s 18-yard box in a desperate attempt to secure a tying goal. Standing in the back of a congested sea of maroon and white uniforms, a pair of passes put the ball right at Stearns’ feet.
From nearly 30 yards away, Stearns belted a shot toward goal that blew past the defense the goalkeeper to tie the game. The senior’s cracking goal sparked a joyous celebration from the Eagles, who had been given new life with a level scoreline and a looming chance to win the game in overtime.
Thanks to teammate Nate Mason, that celebration would be far from the day’s last.
Goals from Stearns and Mason gave GSA a 2-1 victory over Washington Academy in Tuesday’s Northern Maine quarterfinal showdown in Blue Hill. The win came as Mason followed Stearns’ long-range firecracker with a shot from a difficult angle to the bottom-left corner early in the first overtime period to send the Eagles to the semifinals.
“That’s just one of those games where you never give up,” Mason said. “We have a lot of grit, and we kept believing and believing. It feels pretty great.”
Neither team produced much of in the way of scoring chances in the game’s first 20 minutes, during which the two sides engaged in a physical battle in the midfield. Yet as the final 10 minutes of the first half neared, No. 5 Washington Academy (10-4-1) began to push further and further upfield as it strung together a series of dangerous passes in the final third.
After coming close nine minutes before the break, the Raiders got their goal with 7 minutes, 25 seconds to play following a set-piece situation. The visitors wouldn’t produce another clear-cut scoring chance the rest of the way, but as the minutes and seconds ticked off the clock in the second half, it appeared as if that wasn’t going to matter.
With the final whistle nearing, though, the fourth-ranked Eagles (10-2-3) grew more aggressive. That set the stage for a rare offensive push from Stearns, whose long-range firecracker turned the game on its head.
“It took me a few minutes to process what happened,” Stearns said. “It’s so intense when you’re playing in the moment that it doesn’t set in right away. I’m still kind of speechless.”
Carrying the momentum from Stearns’ strike into overtime, GSA didn’t have to wait long for a golden goal. Just 6:32 into the first added period, Mason maneuvered across the penalty area, escaped a pair of Washington Academy defenders and sent a low-lying shot past goalkeeper Sam Perkins for the game-winner.
As Mason made his run through the box, he received the ball a matter of feet from the goal line. GSA head coach Mark Ensworth thought for a moment that the ball was going to head out for a goal kick, but Mason managed to keep it in bounds with an excellent final touch before firing home with perfect power and shot trajectory.
“I kept waiting for the ball to go out of bounds, but it just stayed in and stayed in,” Ensworth said. “We were all on the edge of our seats.”
The win gave GSA a regional semifinal berth for the fourth time in the past five years. The Eagles remain undefeated against Class C opponents this season with both losses coming against Class B North contender Mount Desert Island.
Although GSA beat Washington Academy by scores of 5-1 and 1-0 in the regular season, Ensworth knew his team was in for a fight when the Eagles drew the Raiders in the quarterfinals. This time, the Eagles trailed for the majority of the game and didn’t hold a lead until the final kick of the ball.
“Washington Academy has an amazing team, and they’ve been tough all year long,” Ensworth said. “They’re a team that’s good enough to be in the [Northern Maine] final, so we knew we had our work cut out for us. The credit goes to our kids for staying in there and battling.”
GSA’s next game will be on the road against No. 1 Sumner (13-0-1) or at home against No. 8 Houlton (7-5-3). That game is tentatively scheduled to be played Friday, Nov. 1, though a time has yet to be announced.
A win would give the Eagles in the spot Class C North championship game at 5 p.m. next Tuesday, Nov. 5, at Presque Isle Middle School’s Johnson Athletic Complex. Should the Eagles win that prospective neutral-site contest, they would advance to the state title game for the first time since 2002.
“We know that whoever we play is going to be tough, but we’re a tough team, too,” Stearns said. “Our team works harder than anyone. … We’ll have to be at our best, but we can do it.”