I’ll come right out and say it: In all my years covering high school sports, I have never seen a more emotionally intense and dramatic ending to a game than the one I saw in Townshend on the rainy afternoon of Oct. 22.
The fourth-seeded Leland & Gray Rebels won a Division III girls’ soccer first-round match on Oct. 22 against the No. 13 Richford Rockets, but only after 80 minutes of regulation time, two 15-minute periods of sudden-death overtime, and three rounds of penalty kicks.
If you watched the World Cup on television this summer you know that penalty kicks are the most nerve-wracking way to settle a soccer match. Unbelievable pressure rides on every kick.
For extra drama, the Rebels and Rockets had to do this on a chewed-up, muddy patch of dirt and grass while daylight faded and a light rain fell.
This is what goalkeepers Jordan Gouger of Leland & Gray and Gabby Coons of Richford faced.
“I was freaking out,” said Gouger.
And so was her coach, Lucas Bates.
“Penalty kicks are a coach’s worst nightmare,” he said.
Each team designated five players to take the kicks, and each team alternated taking shots at the east goal.
The first round ended in a 3-3 tie, as did the second round.
By round three, the pressure was unbearable.
And the Richford shooters cracked first.
The Rockets managed just one goal in their first three attempts in Round 3, while Rebels’ shooters Haley Buffum and Ashley Bates found the back of the net.
After Richford’s Hannah Gleason’s shot missed the target, Jessie Stockwell ended it with a shot to the left corner that beat Coons and unleashed total pandemonium as the sophomore midfielder was mobbed by teammates, and fans stormed the field.
Coach Bates was happy for the victory but knew his team dodged a major bullet.
“Richford played a great game,” he said. “They never gave up.”
Although both teams had numerous scoring chances, each converted on only two of them as the rainy and muddy conditions proved a great leveler.
The Rebels moved the ball well, but coach Bates said that “we left a lot of goals on the field.”
Richford scored first: Christina Jewett knocked in a centering pass from Lauren Marshia with 9:49 left in the first half.
Leland & Gray quickly tied the game as Bates drew Coons out and the ball deflected back to Stockwell, who kicked her shot into an open net with 8:05 remaining in the half.
The second half had more than its share of missed opportunities by both teams, but the Rebels finally cashed in on a chance with 25:14 left in regulation when Rachel Borgesen tapped in a pass from Emma Bourne. It was Borgesen’s first goal of the season.
That seemed like it would be enough with the way the Rebels’ defense was playing. Unfortunately, one of their few mistakes resulted in Richford getting the equalizer with 9:47 to go, as a loose ball in the goal box was knocked in by Marshia.
The Rebels dominated the two 15-minute overtime periods, but Coons and the Richford defense held their ground. Giannina Gaspero-Beckstrom had several good chances to end it, but it was soon apparent that this game was destined to go to penalty kicks.
“I don’t know if we’re lucky or what,” coach Bates said after the shootout. “All I know is we played well enough to win and Richford gave us everything they had.”
It would be nice to put a happy ending on this tale, but unfortunately, Leland & Gray’s reward for outlasting Richford was to take on the three-time defending champions — the fifth-seeded Peoples Academy Wolves — in the quarterfinals.
In a game that had to be played at Vermont Academy in Saxtons River due to poor field conditions in Townshend, Jamie Barrett scored twice and Kelli Grimes added a goal and an assist as Peoples shut out the Rebels, 3-0, last Saturday.
Barrett’s first goal came early in the first half. Grimes later scored on a direct free kick for a 2-0 lead at the break. Wolves goalkeeper Naomi Quad had five saves for a shutout win in Peoples’ first road playoff game since 2009.
While the Rebel girls’ playoff ride ended abuptly, the young women who stood on that field last week and showed great poise and courage under pressure can hold on to that memory for the rest of their lives. The fans who lined the field that afternoon should do likewise.
• The two teams that have played for the Division IV title for two years running met in Wilmington in a quarterfinal last Saturday that felt more like a championship match.
That’s because the Proctor Phantoms, the 2012 champion, and the Twin Valley Wildcats, the 2013 champion, have a great rivalry going. And the anticipation that went with this game only grew when the game had to be postponed a day due to flooding from a week of rain.
This time around, the undefeated Wildcats got the better of the Phantoms, 2-1, but only after doing something that Twin Valley hasn’t done in two seasons — come from behind.
In the 15th minute, Curtis Tomlinson gave Proctor a 1-0 lead after heading in a corner kick from Nick Ojala.
“A perfect corner kick and a perfect header,” said Wildcats coach Buddy Hayford. “It was no surprise that those two did it. We scouted them and saw them score on that play.”
The goal knocked the Wildcats on their heels, but their defense kept Proctor from pressing their advantage. At the half, the players talked among themselves, without their coaches, to figure out a way forward.
“We didn’t really know what to do,” said Wildcats goalkeeper Sam Molner. “We kind of panicked at first. But we definitely started playing with some urgency after that goal, and when we talked at halftime, we said we needed to keep possession in midfield and wear them down.”
It worked, for the Wildcats came out strong and took control of the midfield — and the game.
Morrow Bernard headed in the equalizer in the 52nd minute off a corner kick by Brett Swanson. “That was amazing,” Bernard said after the game. “It was like no other goal I’ve ever scored.”
Javier Mateos got the game-winner 11 minutes later on a header inside the goal box. “That was a stroke of luck,” Hayford said. “Javy hasn’t played at the striker position all season. We put him up top, and he got the goal.”
Molner made five saves for the win, including a blocked shot in the final minutes that saw him rise up and swat the ball away like a basketball rising toward the hoop. “I knew if I missed that save it was a goal,” he said.
Proctor stayed with the same 11 players throughout the game, and fatigue started catching up with them by the end of the game. Hayford was relieved that his team pulled itself together after faltering early.
“Proctor is a much better team than a No. 9 seed, and they gave us a championship-style game today,” he said.
At press time, the Wildcats were scheduled to host No. 4 Craftsbury on Tuesday.
• Owen McDonald has been the main man in the Leland & Gray offense, with 17 goals and seven assists during the regular season. He continued to have the hot hand in the Division III playoffs with a goal and an assist in a 4-1 win over No. 13 Randolph in a first-round game in Townshend on Oct. 21.
Julian Plumadore got the first goal, and McDonald assisted on John Peloso’s goal to give the fourth-seeded Rebels a 2-0 halftime lead. Randolph’s Nick Jickling scored early in the second half, but Plumadore and McDonald each scored to put the game out of reach.
In the quarterfinals last Saturday in Townshend, McDonald knocked in the game-winner off an assist from his brother Patrick 13 minutes into overtime to lift the Rebels to a 4-3 win over Williamstown.
It was Owen McDonald’s second score of the game. Bryce Karg and Plumadore also tallied for the Rebels. Hunter McLaughlin had all three goals from Williamstown.
At press time, the Rebels were scheduled to host No. 9 Hazen in a semifinal in Townshend on Tuesday.
• The 11th-seeded Colonels got knocked out in the first round of the Division I playoffs with a 6-0 road loss to No. 6 Colchester on Oct. 22.
Mike Chambers had two goals and two assists, and Mark Gauthier, Adnan Pasic, Brennan Fitzgerald, and Chris Zamarippa also scored for the defending champions. Goalkeeper Liam Mooney made two saves in the shutout win.
Braxton Lynn and Brian McCarthy combined for six saves for Brattleboro.
• No. 3 Twin Valley controlled the ball for most of the game, but it was Whitcomb that came away with a 2-1 overtime win in its Division IV first-round playoff game on Oct. 22.
Caitlin Hunt put the Wildcats ahead 1-0 with a goal in the 59th minute. Phoebe Parrish evened the score with 12 minutes left in regulation. Sierra Ostrow-Remy scored the game-winner at 7:30 into the first overtime.
Whitcomb goalkeeper Shannon Ludwig stopped 11 shots, while TV keeper Brianna Rafus made 12 saves. Twin Valley finished with a 3-11-1 record.
• Mallory Lloyd scored three goals as top-seeded Sharon rolled past No. 16 seed Bellows Falls, 6-1, in a Division III playdown on Oct. 21. Stephanie Parsons scored the lone goal for the Terriers.
• No. 12 Brattleboro also had a quick exit as Aine Kennedy’s three goals propelled fifth-seeded U-32 to a 5-0 win in a Division I playdown on Oct. 21. Maggie Kirby had a goal and two assists, and Maya Mashkuri added a goal and an assist. Goalkeeper Jayden Hudson had three saves to earn the shutout victory.
• Bellows Falls outscored its foes by a combined 59-6 during the regular season, and the top-seeded and undefeated Terriers have kept the barrage going in the Division III quarterfinals with a 4-0 home win over ninth-seeded Milton last Saturday.
Cassidy Santorelli scored a goal in each half, and Leia Robinson and Sarah Wells each added a goal for the Terriers. Santorelli has scored 20 goals this season, second only to Wells’ 23 goals. BF goalie Quinn Lawrence picked up her 10th shutout of the season.
The 15-0 Terriers are scheduled to face No. 4 Stowe in the semifinals on Oct. 29 at Middlebury College.
• Austin Stack ran for 203 yards and four touchdowns on 11 carries to lead Bellows Falls to a 55-20 road win over Lyndon last Saturday.
Carson Fullam added two touchdowns for the Terriers as he ran for 122 yards on seven carries, while Jakob Mead had two carries for 45 yards and a touchdown.
J.J. Messics ran for two touchdowns for the Vikings. Lane Sanderson also scored.
The win gave the Terriers a 7-2 record and the No. 3 seed in the Division II playoffs. They’ll be on the road this Saturday to take on No. 2 Rice (7-1) in a semifinal game at 1 p.m. The winner will play for the state title on Nov. 8 at Rutland High School.
• In a clash of the bottom two teams in Division I, South Burlington thrashed Brattleboro, 57-28, last Friday.
Thomas DeMag threw four touchdown passes for the 2-7 Rebels. Cam Nolting threw two TDs as well. The Colonels finished the season with a 1-8 record.
• The Brattleboro boys finished 11th, with the girls coming in 13th in the Division I state championships last Saturday at Thetford Academy.
Catey Yost led the Colonel girls with a 40th place finish, covering the 5,000-meter course in 23 minutes, 16.7 seconds.
Finishing out the top five were Annie Takacs (85th in 26:50), Katie Reynolds (90th in 28:35), Gwen Harris (28:42) and Jasmin Smith (93th in 29:52). Dana Alexa and Emily Gale were 94th and 95th, respectively. Becca Freeman, who took a bad fall in the MVL race a week earlier, did not run.
Ryan Gilligan was 18th in 18:18 to lead the Colonel boys, followed by Tyler Clement (58th in 19:47), Jonah Koch (59th in 19:48), Josh Meachen (68th in 20:06), and Colin Costa-Walsh (71th in 20:14). Phelan Muller and Dan Burdo were 90th and 92th, respectively.
The Bellows Falls boys finished fourth in Division III, thanks to a ninth-place finish by Willie Moore, who covered the course in 18:44.5. Cody Tallent was 15th in 19:26, followed by Jackson Purdy (26th in 20:13) and Nicolas Potter (39th in 21:21).