BREWER – For all intents and purposes, Thursday’s Eastern Maine Class A preliminary playoff boys soccer game between Brewer and Waterville was effectively over with 22 minutes left.
Fortunately for Brewer fans, nobody bothered to clue the Witches in on that fact.
Just a minute after Waterville took a seemingly insurmountable 4-1 lead with 24:18 to play, the Witches were battling dissension on the sideline and chippy play on the field after being issued back-to-back yellow cards in a 66-second span. All signs pointed to a total collapse by No. 6 Brewer.
What followed was the greatest soccer comeback any current Witches team member could recall as the Witches rallied for three goals in the final 18 minutes of regulation and won 5-4 on Shun Sasaki’s goal 6 minutes and 3 seconds into overtime.
“I don’t know if we’ve ever had a bigger win on teams I’ve coached here at Brewer,” said coach Mark Savage, the former girls coach (1986-95) who took over the boys team this fall.
Sasaki certainly wasn’t about to disagree with his coach’s statement.
“This is definitely one of the greatest comebacks I’ve ever been involved with,” the junior stopper said. “It brings our emotions and confidence up. I’ve never felt like this before.”
The 10-4-1 Witches will play a quarterfinal against No. 3 Mount Ararat in Topsham Saturday. No. 11 Waterville finishes 5-7-3.
Sasaki tapped the ball in for the winning goal after Andrew Richardson partially deflected a 40-yard throw-in by Prentiss Swett from the right sideline.
“I saw their keeper was a little shaky in the air, so I threw it far post and it landed so Shun could tap it right in,” said Swett, who Savage credited with turning momentum, and the entire game around.
Savage moved Swett from stopper to sweeper midway through the second half and moved junior fullback Lucas Simmons back to defense.
“Prentiss started it. He just said ‘No, this is not going to happen,’ and he just went out and started controlling the game,” Savage said.
Savage also gave a big plug to senior midfielder Brad Libby, who scored Brewer’s first goal on a bit of a fluke shot from 40 yards out on the right sideline. His high kick landed so hard in front of Waterville goalie Josh Sirois, it bounced clear over Sirois’ head and into the net with 3:28 left in the first half.
“He was phenomenal, and everybody just stepped up with him and away we went,” Savage said. “We’ve talked all year about not quitting and to keep playing until the last whistle. I think they believe now.”
They started to believe when Marc Relford sped up the left side and booted a hard kick from the circle into the left corner of the net with 18:14 left.
They partly believed when Richardson was awarded a penalty kick with 15:10 left after a Waterville player kicked the foot out from under a Brewer player and Richardson blasted a grass-skimming shot to the right side and by Sirois.
They fully believed after Reid McLaughlin headed a long direct kick from Richardson into the right side of the net while on the run from about 15 feet out with 1:21 left in regulation.
“Andrew and I, ever since we were freshman, have been hooking up on goals like that and he put it right on my head before I slid it into the back of the net,” McLaughlin said.
Waterville’s four-goal flurry came in the first 24 minutes of the second half. Ian Rowe scored first on a header off a throw-in by Tory Quinn at 37:02. Ted Worcester then scored on a deflection from Rowe at 31:34. Rowe made it 3-1 with a header off a kick from midfield by Quinn at 30:59 and Max Pudelko capped it with an unassisted goal at 24:18.
“They got real hot and we got frustrated and a bit discouraged,” McLaughlin said of the drastic momentum change. “You could see it in our composure. We started to play a little bit dirty, but Prentiss gave us a great pickup. He went like a madman out there.”
Brewer’s Chris Brady made eight saves on 12 shots while Sirois stopped 16 of 26.