STACYVILLE, Maine — The first half was a defensive struggle and the second half turned into a score-a-thon, but the result was the same either way.

Top Eastern Class D boys seed Katahdin took a 1-0 half-time lead en route to a 5-2 win over No. 2 Machias in Wednesday’s regional soccer final.

It’s the boys’ first regional title in their first regional final appearance. The 16-0 Cougars will take on defending state champ and fellow unbeaten Richmond at 1 p.m. Saturday at Schenck High School in East Millinocket.

“This means everything,” said Ethan Qualey. “We’ve been working for this for four years and we knew we had a good group coming from middle school. It feels awesome.”

Qualey — one of nine seniors on Katahdin’s roster — scored three goals (all in the second half) and assisted on another to lead the Cougars.

Qualey set up the first score off a direct kick awarded to Katahdin for an obstruction call against Machias nine minutes into the game.

“I grabbed the ball, set it, and since they completely forgot about Kolby [Gallagher] on the other side of the goal, I touched it to him and he touched it side panel to score,” Qualey explained.

The rest of the half was scoreless, though Machias had a great chance to tie it off a direct with five minutes left. The resulting shot made it just over Matt Tarr’s outstretched hands, but clanked off the crossbar.

Katahdin made it 2-0 with 31:25 left in the second as Marshall Davis scored from the right side on a two-on-one rush with a hard shot from 30 feet out to the right side off Mickey Savage’s accurate pass. The lead increased to 3-0 when Qualey scored off a rush up the right side on a pass from Davis with 23:28 to go.

The Bulldogs lived up to their nickname in the final 15 minutes as they fought back. Matt Little scored on a shot from 25 feet away off a breakaway after he was fed a nice pass from Phillip Morse with 15:20 left. He added a second goal nine minutes later, when Machias was awarded a penalty kick off a holding call. Little took the shot and kicked it low and hard to evade Tarr’s reach.

The shock of seeing their lead shrink from three to one seemed to wake up the Cougars’ offense as they got back to their short passing game and generated offensive opportunities.

With 3:46 left, Qualey scored off a pass from Davis on a two-on-one. Three minutes later, he did it again, this time off a direct kick by Gallagher from the left sideline. Machias’ Michael Jenkins made the initial stop on the direct kick, but Qualey was there at the right corner of the net to kick it in on the re-bound.

Tarr made four saves on 10 shots. Jenkins saved six of 23 for the 12-5 Bulldogs.

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