FREEPORT — Islesboro played a spirited, inspired and impressive first 40 minutes of soccer against North Yarmouth Academy and its storied high school pitch program on Tuesday night, Nov. 1 as the Eagles trailed 1-0 at halftime before heavy rain and deluge of second-half goals from the talented Panthers sent the islanders to their second straight loss in the Class D South championship encounter.

The Panthers (11-7) led 1-0 at halftime before rain became heavy for a large portion of the final 40 minutes as the lower-seed netted four additional goals for a 5-0 victory over the Eagles (9-3) at Freeport High School.

Islesboro’s Dylan Frank. Photo by Ken Waltz

NYA moved on to the state Class D championship game, where it beat Madawaska (15-3), the No. 2 team in the North, 2-1 on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Deering High School in Portland. Previously, the Owls outscored opponents 20-2 in the postseason.

On Tuesday in the South final, Islesboro played tough and was in the game before the Eagles became fatigued, mostly from playing long stretches of defense in high-stress situations in their own end, and a bit demoralized under the Panthers’ offensive onslaught in the second half.

Cooper St. Hilaire netted two goals, Dayton St. Hilaire and Wyatt Thomas a goal and assist, Jack Byrne a goal and Grey Perham two assists for the regional champions, who also downed the islanders in the 2021 pitch final.

From left, Islesboro’s Dylan Frank, Logan Burns, Eoin Kehoe, Reagan Field and Toby Conover, along with North Yarmouth Academy’s Daxton St. Hilaire and Theo Fahlgren. Photo by Ken Waltz

NYA dominated most aspects of Tuesday’s game, including 18-1 in shots and 10-0 in corner kicks.

Dylan Frank turned in a stellar 13-save performance in goal for Islesboro. Frank was pressed into keeper duty when regular goalie Robert Conover was unable to play after he received a red card late in the semifinal playoff game with Chop Point of Woolwich. Frank had to play in net in relief of Robert Conover late in the semifinal game and had not started a game in goal since middle school, he said.

Tanner Anctil made one save for NYA.

Of note for the Eagles was the toughness displayed by Toby Conover, who suffered a cut on his face below his left eye, went to the sideline late in the first half, received four stitches and returned to play the final 40 minutes.

Islesboro’s Harper Conover, right, and North Yarmouth Academy’s Rodgers Crowley. Photo by Ken Waltz

Islesboro, led by head coach Rob McHugh and assistant coach Josh Pedrick, includes Toby Conover, Reagan Field, Dylan Frank, Jett Lindelof, Logan Burns, Max Dubois, Owen Jagger, Blake Zlotkowski, Matt Britton, Robert Conover, Gabe Holmes, Eoin Waldron, Harper Conover, Caleb Reed, Alex Watson, Finnegan Calderwood, Alma Bewscher and Jaykob Zollman.

North Yarmouth Academy, guided by head coach Branden Noltkamper and assistant Dimitri Roumeliotis, includes Caden Violette, Jackson Bartick, Theo Fahlgren, Rogers Crowley, Jack Byrne, Daxton St. Hilaire, Wyatt Thomas, Cooper St. Hilaire, Matthew Powers, Alex Wignall, Jesse Mutagoma, Ethan Broch, Seamus Rohde, Brayden Warde, James Brogan-Provencher, Cole Lambert, Hugo Daniel, Grey Perham, Tanner Anctil and Gavin Thomas.

Islesboro’s Matt Britton (13), along with North Yarmouth Academy’s Daxton St. Hilaire, right, and Jackson Bartick. Photo by Ken Waltz

“Could not be happier for the school and the program,” said Noltkamper. “I thought we played well tonight, especially in the second half, and I am happy these guys get another shot at a state championship on Saturday.”

The coach added: “It has been a remarkable turnaround for us. At one point we were unsure if we were going to make the playoffs sitting at 2-5 heading into the second half of the season. These guys deserve all the credit in the world.”

McHugh said he felt his team played well in the first half and Frank did a “tremendous job,” especially in the opening 40 minutes with a dozen saves, several of the difficult variety and some under intense pressure. “He really did a great job.”

From left, Islesboro’s Matt Britton, Jett Lindelof, Harper Conover, Nathan Waldron, Logan Burns, Gabe Holmes and Owen Jagger. Photo by Ken Waltz

The island coach said the Eagles had one solid opportunity to score in the first half and perhaps, if they had converted that chance, it might have changed the momentum and trajectory of the game.

“But, ultimately, I think, we just couldn’t find our feet in the middle,” the coach said. “We couldn’t possess the ball like we usually do. We possess the ball. That is our style of play and we just could not get there. Our two center mids were just not communicating. They were getting pulled apart. I think, with a few tweaks, and our normal style of play, things would have been dramatically different. But NYA played pretty well. I am not unhappy with how we played. We played our hearts out, especially our seniors. I am really proud of them. I thought it was a good game overall.”

Islesboro’s Blake Zlotkowski. Photo by Ken Waltz

Frank said despite his newness to being a keeper and being thrust into the spotlight for an important game, he could not be nervous because that would have projected to his teammates. “I had to show that I could do my job and handle my business in the goal. I did good in the first half,” he said.

Frank said he did not have much training in goal prior to the recent high school playoff games — he did play the position a bit in middle school — and he and his teammates simply could not slow down a tough opponent in the second half.

He said it was nice to play NYA for a second straight year, but a bit weird moving from his usual right fullback position into the net.

From left, Islesboro’s Eoin Kehoe, Matt Britton, Harper Conover and Toby Conover. Photo by Ken Waltz

“We played great in the first half,” said Lindelof. “We made a couple mistakes and they capitalized. We lost it a little bit at the start of the second half, but that is just what happens.”

Earlier in the playoffs, Islesboro beat No. 7 Rangeley 1-0 in overtime and No. 3 Chop Point 2-0, while NYA bested No. 4 Richmond and No. 1 Greenville 2-0.

While Islesboro advanced to the regional final last year for the first time in school history — and for the second time in 2022 — the Panthers have realized incredible pitch success in Class C and Class D.

NYA lost 5-0 to Lee Academy in 2021 and 2-1 to Central Aroostook of Mars Hill in 2019 in the state Class D finals, before it won the state crown this fall. There was no 2020 state games due to the pandemic.

In Class C, the Panthers reached the state championship game a boatload of times, including winning in 2002, 2000, 1999, 1998, 1984 and 1983.

There also is a significant enrollment difference between NYA and Islesboro. For grades nine through 12, NYA has 157 student and plays predominately Class B and C schools. Islesboro, on the other hand, has 40 students and plays fewer games against strictly Class D foes.

McHugh said the soccer program at ICS is “like a big extended family” and the work and commitment of many, especially the players, allow the Eagles to compete at a high level each fall and, even with small enrollment numbers and being off the mainland, challenge for Class D regional and state titles.

“It has been a lot of hard work,” the coach said. “We train hard. We support each other. Our high school is about 36 kids, so everyone has to be in 100 percent. It is just 100 percent commitment and that is how it works. We have kids that are really talented and kids that are not so talented. And they know their roles and they do what they can. That is what we do. It is a good program. It is like a big extended family out there. Everyone is supportive and you have to be committed and that is where we are.”

Islesboro’s Logan Burns (19) and Dylan Frank, back, along with North Yarmouth Academy’s Grey Perham. Photo by Ken Waltz

Lindelof, a tremendous downhill ski racer who challenges for state individual titles in that sport each winter, said Islesboro has a “great community” and the soccer program is supported by the parents and others. “Everyone chips in, we watch film, coaches are great. It is great to come back [to this point] this year. We made school history last year and this year we did it again.”

He said while excelling in an individual sport, such as skiing, is wonderful, there is nothing like the camaraderie and bonding that comes from participation in soccer.

“I really get the team spirit out of this, which I love,” he said.