BANGOR, Maine — George Payne admits he hasn’t been challenged a lot this fall in his role as goalkeeper for the Bangor High School boys soccer team — a fact he credits to the defenders in front of him, particularly sophomores Jack Bourassa and Connor O’Brien.

But faced with back-to-back threats with little time to react early in the second half of Monday evening’s Class A North semifinal, Payne came up big to help the second-seeded Rams edge No. 3 Mt. Ararat of Topsham 2-1.

Junior forward Garth Berenyi and sophomore back Josh Sherwood provided the offense for Bangor, which will host No. 5 Camden Hills of Rockport on Wednesday in an effort to win its first regional crown since the program’s last state-championship run in 2010.

But it was during a sequence 10 minutes into the second half when Payne — also a significant contributor to Bangor’s baseball and basketball teams — used his athleticism to help preserve what at the time was a 1-0 lead.

Twice Mt. Ararat (13-3) launched dangerous corner kicks toward the center of the goal crease, with Payne initially redirecting a sharply struck, goal-bound header by Nick Merrill just over the crossbar and a moment later blocking a close-range bid by Jimmy Pelletier at the right post.

“It was just like a big scrap in front of goal and the ball broke to them twice in a row and they got good shots I had to save,” said Payne. “On the second one (Pelletier) was just standing there and the ball was cleared but then it bounced back to him. I had time to close him down so he didn’t have a clear shot.”

Bangor (14-1-1) soon regained more control of the action against the pressing Mt. Ararat attack.

Berenyi, the son of Bangor coach Garth Berenyi, lined the ball off the crossbar with 26 minutes left before the Rams scored what turned out to be a decisive insurance goal with 11:20 remaining when Sherwood raced into the goal crease to head home David Miller’s corner kick to make it 2-0.

“We made a switch at halftime and changed our formation a little bit and it almost paid off early in the second half,” said Mt. Ararat coach Jack Rioux. “But we knew throwing more numbers forward they’d have more chances on the counterattack.”

That goal multiplied in value for the Rams when Mt. Ararat’s Max Spelke converted on a crossing pass from Travis Nadeau with 1:07 left, but the Eagles were unable to generate the equalizer in the final seconds.

“Out of any team we play they’re probably the scrappiest,” said Bangor senior midfielder Carson Atherley. “Every year when we’ve played them at home it’s been all out until the end.”

Mt. Ararat focused its defensive attention on Atherley and Berenyi from the outset of the match, assigning a player to mark each of the Bangor stars who had combined for 33 goals entering play — including three by Berenyi during the Rams’ 3-1 regular-season victory over the Eagles at Topsham on Oct. 7.

“That’s when we have to think the game a little more instead of just relying on our skills and it created some opportunities for the other guys,” said Atherley.

But Atherley and Berenyi weren’t without one conversion, that with 14:36 left in the opening half when Atherley worked the ball to the left end line and centered it toward the 18-yard line where Berenyi powered a shot past Mt. Ararat goalie Gavin Patterson for the first goal of the match.

“Anytime you get end line you’re just trying to cut it back from the goalie,” said Atherley. “That’s something that Garth and I have coordinated over time from playing together. I looked up and we made eye contact and he just knew to hold up and let me slide the ball back to him.

“That’s something we’ve done hundreds of times whether it’s in practices or in games.”

Ernie Clark is a veteran sportswriter who has worked with the Bangor Daily News for more than a decade. A four-time Maine Sportswriter of the Year as selected by the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters...