FARMINGTON — Forget about Lewiston sophomore striker Bilal Hersi at your own peril.

Hersi converted the rebound of a Yusuf Mohamed shot deep into extra time, leading Lewiston all the way back from a two-goal second-half deficit for a 3-2 win over Mt. Blue on Thursday night in a matchup of two of the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference’s best sides at Caldwell Field.

The golden goal was Hersi’s second of the night, after he put Lewiston (6-1-2) on the board in the 47th minute.

“This game was important,” Hersi said. “It was a great game, to be honest. It was a playoff-type game.”

It was a chess match on the pitch throughout the night, a study in contrasting styles that — save for the final minute — settled little. Lewiston attacked relentlessly with blazing speed and precision passing, while Mt. Blue (5-3-1) relied on organization and its back four in a high line to dispel pressure and find counter-attacking opportunities.

Through 44 minutes, it appeared the Cougars — who dropped a 10-1 decision to this same Lewiston side nearly a year ago — had come far enough to hold the upper hand. Mt. Blue sandwiched a pair of impressive strikes from junior Sam Smith around the halftime break for a two-goal lead.

Smith’s free kick from the left side of the 18-yard box in first-half stoppage time — a beautifully struck bender inside the far corner — was only a sampling of what was to come from the attacking midfielder. In the 44th minute, he stepped into a poor clearance from a Blue Devil back — blistering the would-be 50-50 ball into the net from 45 yards out, never taking the time to settle before unleashing his successful bid.

Mt. Blue had only taken two shots on target in the match to that point, but both resulted in goals.

From there, though, Lewiston began to find the kind of incisive passes that would eventually cut the Cougars apart.

“We got caught hanging back. We left a big gap in our midfield,” said Mt. Blue’s Dom Giampietro, the junior center back tasked with marking Hersi throughout. “They exploited it. They had time in the midfield, found the slots in our midfield and just put it right through.”

Hersi pulled the first one back three minutes after Smith’s second strike, capitalizing on space in the box following a quick restart. In the 59th minute senior Muktar Ali evened things at 2-2, collecting Noralddin Othman’s quick-thinking pass into the heart of the Mt. Blue back line for an easy finish.

Bilal had run a decoy route to the right side of the area, away from the play, to help create the space Ali and Othman would utilize.

“We talk about it, that you’ve got to maintain composure,” Lewiston coach Mike McGraw said. “One of the things I say all the time is that if there’s time on the clock, there’s time to win the game. They know that. We put ourselves in a hole, but we just dug our way out.”

Mt. Blue survived a nervy 15 minutes after conceding the equalizer, thanks in large part to the efforts of junior goalkeeper Tucker Carleton (11 saves), who turned away several point-blank chances from the Blue Devils late on with diving stops at the posts and leaping ones along the crossbar.

Carleton nearly saved the game for a final time in the 89th minute, after Mohamed beat his defender to the ball along the left wing and cut for goal. Carleton dove to make a miraculous save at the near post on Mohamed, but the ball broke free into the heart of the six-yard box.

An on-running Hersi made no mistake in finishing it off for the winning goal.

“It was an amazing moment,” Hersi said. “It was a great moment. We’re resilient. We come back when we need to. We have a strong group of boys.”

“He creates problems because he makes you forget about him, and then he explodes and he’ll come out of nowhere,” Mt. Blue coach Joel Smith said. “He’s definitely a talented player. He creates some issues, and at the end of the game he was right there. He was their guy.”

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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