FARMINGTON — Every season is a story, and every story has its characters. For the Mt. Blue boys soccer team, every game is a lot like an episode of the old Fox television show “Married With Children.”

At least, that’s how Joel Smith describes his No. 5 Cougars, who will play unbeaten top seed Bangor in the Class A North semifinals on Saturday afternoon.

“There are so many married couples on this team,” Smith said, drawing laughs and fist bumps from center backs Dom Giampietro and Zach Gunther. “Maybe that’s not the best way to say it. Maybe it’s more of a brotherly bond, but they do remind me of old married couples. They know each other so well, and every player on this team seems to have his own counterpart.”

The duo of Giampietro, a senior, and the junior Gunther are Exhibit A. As the lyrics to the television show’s theme song “Love and Marriage” go, “You can’t have one without the other.”

“Zach and I, we have each other’s backs,” Giampietro said. “We work off of one another.”

The work is paying off, particularly on the back end for Mt. Blue (9-4-2). Including a quarterfinal win over Mt. Ararat on Tuesday night, the Cougars have allowed only four goals over their last five games while going 4-0-1. The run mirrors almost exactly the team’s five-game stretch to open the season, when it went 4-0-1 and outscored the opposition by a 12-6 count.

Both of those runs are a far cry from the middle third of the campaign, when the Cougars went 1-4-0, conceded 15 goals and only found success against a winless Skowhegan team.

In fact, take the Skowhegan blowout (an 8-1 win) out of the equation, and the Cougars gave up 14 goals while only scoring four of their own during the difficult stretch.

There was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, of course. Junior Tucker Carleton emerged as the first-choice goalkeeper, and the move to a flat four in the back provided stability.

“When we played Bangor, it was the name ‘Bangor’ that scared us. We weren’t in the right mindset,” said Carleton, whose 1.57 goals against average over the last seven games has his GAA to the lowest its been in his career. “I know I’ve gotten a lot better, and the team has gotten better, too.”

Defending is as much an attitude as it is a tactical decision, something the Cougars are embracing. Carleton belies his soft-spoken nature by being a dazzlingly athletic keeper, and his play inspires his teammates.

“We’ve almost worked out a system,” Gunther said. “It doesn’t have to be pretty to be successful.”

Since dropping consecutive games to Bangor and Lewiston three weeks ago, in which it was outscored 7-2 over the the final three halves of those games, Mt. Blue has formed its identity.

“That entire game (against Bangor) opened our eyes and told us a lot about the flaws we had,” Giampietro said. “We’re ready to go now.”

Gunther tried to take the blame for the Bangor loss, though it likely wasn’t as simple as hanging so many deficiencies on a single player. The game against the Rams came five days after a two-goal halftime lead evaporated into an overtime loss at home against Lewiston.

“That was the worst game I’ve played all year,” Gunther said. “Now we know what to look for. Everyone seemed to be moving like they were in molasses in that game. We didn’t work as a team. The ‘process’ that coach always talks about wasn’t there for us, but we know we can grind things out if need be.”

They did it in a 1-1 tie against a Cony side desperate to qualify for the postseason in the regular season finale, and they did it again in the quarterfinals against Mt. Ararat, nursing a tie game all the way to a golden goal in overtime from junior Sam Smith. Carleton’s ability to get to get above traffic and get to aerial balls in the box played a significant role.

Joel Smith said he was certain even last season — when the Cougars barely made the tournament — that this team had a special year ahead of it.

“Absolutely,” Smith said. “Every year is its own story. Even two years ago, when we won three games, we won the sportsmanship award and that story was about the resiliency of these kids. This year’s team is playing in a northern Maine semifinal and that’s a really big deal. I had faith.”

After all these years together, to quote the “Married With Children” theme song, it’s a process you can’t disparage. These backs, and their goalkeeper — well, you can’t have one without the other.

Travis Barrett — 621-5621

[email protected]

Twitter: @TBarrettGWC

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