PORTLAND - Coach Andrew Carlson watched the local weather forecasts all day and hoped the impending rain and wind would hold off and his team would be able to complete their playoff game against the No. 1 seeded team from South Portland.
A little after noon, Gary Stevens, the Director of Athletics and Student Activities, notified Carlson that their 6 p.m. kickoff time was being pushed back to 7 p.m. and their game was being moved from the natural turf field in South Portland to the artificial turf of Fitzpatrick Stadium, a pitch that resembled the turf at Thornton's Hill Stadium.
He wasn't disappointed. By the end of the evening, his team ran off the field a winner, defeating South Portland 1-0 in a game that remained scoreless during regulation and overtime and was decided when Thornton outscored the Red-Riots 4-1 in penalty kicks.
The team has now advanced further in the playoffs than any other Thornton boys varsity soccer team. A place in the school's storied history they are happy to occupy.
The Thornton Academy Boys Soccer Team and their fans celebrate at Fitzpatrick Stadium after junior Eric McCallum' s game-winning penalty kick (photo courtesy of TATV)
"We played as well as we ever had played during the first half. The guys really stepped up and gave it their all," he said. "I just hoped we could sustain that effort."
Both teams played well, but Jeff Christenbury, Thornton's sports information director, noticed a spring in their step as they competed against a previously undefeated team.
"I turned to Cal Christophoro near the end of the first half and I said that I thought we outplayed them during the first 40 minutes," Christenbury said. Christophoro, a junior at TA and a broadcaster during many TATV athletic events, agreed.
"Coach Carlson seemed to have a good game plan in mind and the team was playing as well as they have all season," Christophoro said.
"At this point in the season, as a coaching staff, we've talked about all the scenarios, practiced for any number of situations, and we worked to train the team for a complete effort," Carlson said. "Tonight, to the team's credit, that hard work paid off."
"The players and the coaching staff was relaxed. In some ways, we were playing with house money. They were the No. 1 seed and we were seeded No. 8. They were supposed to win," Carlson said.
Ironically, this wasn't the first time the two teams faced each other during adverse playoff conditions.
"Anything can happen when you take the game to penalty kicks. Two years ago we were faced with almost the same situation, but we were playing at home. That night the weather was miserable, (it was raining, cold and windy) and we came out on the short end of it," Carlson said. "I've thought about that loss for a long time."
"To the team's credit, they executed when they had to and we made some big saves. I'm happy for them and now we're moving ahead to play Portland on Saturday," Carlson said.
Eric McCallum gets ready to take the final shot of the game on Wednesday, October 6 at Fitzpatrick Stadium. (photo - courtesy of TATV)
The next playoff game for the team has been officially scheduled for 3 p.m., Saturday, October 28 and it will be held at Fitzpatrick Stadium. The Thornton team will again play as underdogs, this time as they oppose the Bulldogs from Portland.
"We played well against them in the regular season," Carlson said. "We actually had the lead until late in the second half and then they scored two goals within a few minutes and the game was theirs."
Carlson, the coaching staff, and the players all hope they will bring momentum into the contest and come out with a different result.
"I am happy for the players. For some of them, we are near the end of their soccer playing days. They don't want it to end and neither do I."