MONMOUTH — Mountain Valley got what coach James Taylor termed a wake-up call after a 7-4 preseason loss to Class D Buckfield. But the Falcons appeared to have hit the snooze alarm for the early stages of Saturday’s season opener with a fast and physical Monmouth team.

Finnish exchange student Aleski Pirttijoki shook the Falcons from their slumber, then Hungarian classmate Felix Andris came off the bench to score the game-winning goal in the first half as Mountain Valley prevailed, 2-1.

Jacob Beauchesne made nine saves as Mountain Valley frustrated Monmouth despite 13 corner kicks and multiple scoring chances.

“We had a scrimmage with Buckfield on Wednesday and they ran all over us,” Taylor said. “As much as the guys didn’t like that, I think it was good for them today. We came out a little flat. I don’t think we were ready for the physicality.”

“After the first 10 minutes, I think we kind of settled down. We started to use the width of the field and guys started to make things happen,” he added.

The Mustangs were the first to make something happen nine minutes in. Gage Cote sent a free kick in front to Hunter Richardson, who followed-up on Beauchesne’s original save outside the right post and beat him to the left corner for a 1-0 lead.

“We played well in spurts, but we didn’t sustain anything for any length of time, which is disappointing,” Monmouth coach Joe Fletcher said. “But we’re not deep. I have to force kids to play entire games. We’re very young and I have to remind myself of that all of the time.”

Pirttijoki provided the equalizer off a cross from Sonke Hanneken at 16:10.

“It was nice to get that back right off, because you don’t want to be fighting back, especially with a team this tough,” Taylor said. “(Pirttijoki) is a big kid. Obviously, it’s nice to have that guy show up and blend in with our other guys.”

Mountain Valley maintained the pressure for the rest of the half. Andris put the Falcons ahead with 15:06 to go.

Garrett Garbarini nearly doubled the lead with a one-timer that hit the bottom of the crossbar and into the hands of Mustangs goalie Bradley Neal (10 saves).

“I’ll give them credit. They forced us into not playing the way we’ve been coached,” Fletcher said. “We tried to do too much. Maybe it’s because of the pressure they put on us. I’ll look at the video and we’ll go back to the drawing board.”

The physical nature of the game and the heat started to take its toll on both teams in the second half. Richardson pulled up on a long pass in front of him , reached for his lower back and had to leave the game for several minutes. Mountain Valley’s Seth Peaslee had to be helped off the field with an apparent leg injury while, moments later, Pirttijoki went down with leg cramps.

The Mustangs amped up their pressure but couldn’t generate many quality chances off their eight corners in the second half. Beauchesne made a nice stop to deny Avery Pomerleau on what might have been their best bid in the 18th minute.

Tempers flared with 10:59 remaining after several players got tangled up. Cote was assessed a red card, while Richardson and Hanneken received yellow cards.

“We talked about being mentally tough and we were not mentally tough today,” Fletcher said. “We ended up with three cards and we can’t afford to play without those three players.”

Despite being a man down without its two best players, Monmouth continued to attack and forced Mountain Valley to alter its defensive strategy.

“The last 10 minutes were tough,” Taylor said. “As a coach, you try to encourage guys to use the width, pass the ball out, don’t just kick it away. You’ve got to totally change your mindset there and it’s hard for the guys. I told them if the ball is in our third, get it out. We’ve got to kill the clock right now. We’ve got to put the game away.”

The Falcons did just that.

Randy Whitehouse — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @RAWmaterial33

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