SANDWICH/MILFORD – It is said that all good things must come to an end, but in the case of the Nauset Warriors 2019 boys varsity soccer team, that end came too soon and once again via penalty kicks that led to a Milford win in the Div. 2 South Sectional Finals on Nov. 17.
It was a one-goal game until the final minutes of regulation play, and then, courtesy of a free kick and one well-placed shot on goal, it wasn't, and the Warriors were rejuvenated, looking to capitalize in overtime. Sadly, it wasn't meant to be.
“It's a crying shame,” said Nauset head coach John McCully.
McCully noted that the last time the Warriors fell it was also on the Milford field and in a similar situation.
With snow squalls plaguing the region and dusting the field with a slick layer of frosty white, both teams worked tirelessly throughout the first half to get past each other's defenses and goalkeepers, but it was Milford that made its way onto the scoreboard first when Joao Pedro daSilva headed a shot past Nauset keeper Jack Avellar with 36:40 remaining in the half.
Unfortunately for the Warriors, the Crimson Hawk's defense proved problematic as Nauset struggled to get the ball passed and into scoring territory, though it certainly wasn't for lack of chances.
With temperatures dropping and the snow falling heavier at times, the Warriors seized halftime as an opportunity not only to regroup, but also to try and warm up. But the elements weren't all the home team was battling. Since MIAA tournament game sites are chosen before the season even starts, with no alternate locations depending upon team performances, the Warriors found themselves at a disadvantage. Not only did Milford get to play on familiar turf without incurring a nearly two-hour bus ride, but they also had legions of fans there in support, which had many Nauset parents fuming.
Nauset continued trailing as the second half got under way, perhaps grappling with the loss of defenseman Laird Parker who was felled in the first half by a header that resulted in a gash to the cheek and a possible concussion.
But even as the Crimson Hawks dialed up their intensity, so too did the Warriors, who remained determined to make it onto the scoreboard. Finally, with less than three minutes left in regulation game play, Nauset was awarded a free kick that was taken by Ethan Boyle. Boyle landed his kick neatly behind Milford's defense, paving the way for Ben LaBranche to send it in, setting the dedicated Nauset crowd into wild cheers.
“We knew we were going to tie it up,” said McCully. “We just kept pushing.”
The Warriors hoped to overcome their foes during the first of two 10-minute overtime periods, but neither team was able to score what's known as the Golden Goal, so the game came down to the one thing neither McCully nor his team enjoy: penalty kicks.
As balls from each side slid into the net, there was still hope that Nauset would eke out a win. Then Milford keeper Leo Oliveira stopped a shot from Spencer Rushnak, just before Jordan Borges put the Hawks ahead with his kick. Then Gabriel DeGodoi stepped up, feinted left and caused Avellar to dive that way in response before aiming the game-winning kick to the right. Game over.
Though it's difficult to feel too bitter against Milford given they haven't won a Sectional title since 1999, it was a sad day for Nauset, which suffered its first loss in two years.
McCully said he felt his team's inability to score in the first half worked against them.
“I really thought the game was won and lost for us in the first half,” he said. “We had our chances, had a goal taken away, and hit the post a couple of times. In the end I think our inability to get on the scoreboard early in the first half, because we played a great first half, I think the game was lost for us by not scoring.”
The almost-goal McCully was referring to happened when Shavar Champagnie sent one in during the first half, but an official deemed it a no-goal due to an alleged hand ball.
Nonetheless, their head coach was proud of their accomplishments.
“It's a tough way to lose,” he said. “But I give my kids credit. It's been an absolute honor and a pleasure to coach these guys. These guys gave us everything and they never gave up.”
The Warriors fared better in their Nov. 14 semifinal match against Oliver Ames, this time on truly neutral territory at Sandwich. Once again, it was a one-goal game, but this time in Nauset's favor, though OA made it a battle.
Nauset's goal didn't come until the 73rd minute in regulation play when Sebastian Headrick capitalized on some stellar work from teammates Anthony Lovati and Champagnie. After Lovati maneuvered the ball to the left of the box, he fired a pass to Champagnie, who put the ball in front of Headrick for the score that came with a little more than seven minutes left in the game.
Though the visiting Tigers upped their intensity after that in an attempt to even the score, the Warrior defense proved too much for them to power past, and Nauset went on to win 1-0.
“It was well-deserved by our boys,” McCully said. “You score goals many different ways: off restarts or defensive mistakes. Sebastian scored on individual brilliance. And we were rock solid in the back and made it very difficult for them to do anything. Great job for my guys. Most of my seniors played every minute of every game. They were absolute studs today.”