By Josh Perry, Managing Editor
FOXBORO, Mass. – It was the type of game that you would expect with the title on the line, between two rivals, and the top two teams in the Hockomock League. Breathless, end-to-end, physical, emotional, and with an edge that reminded everyone that the state tournament is right around the corner.
For the second time this year, Foxboro and Oliver Ames drew 2-2 thanks to a late goal. This time, at Ahern Middle School, it was Tigers sophomore midfielder Nathanial Cardoza that had the answer and his goal with five minutes remaining made OA outright Davenport champions.
“There’s all the hype going into it,” said OA coach John Barata. “We’re the two top teams, and I feel confident saying that…any night either one could have won.”
OA senior Chris Romero has now been part of three title-winning teams in his four seasons. Reflecting on the unbeaten run through the league this fall, he said, “It’s so amazing how a team can come together, right from the beginning and go through the whole entire season and just win it all.”
“It’s not one player; it’s the whole team.”
The Tigers jumped all over Foxboro and were very nearly 3-0 up in the opening 10 minutes thanks to a Romero hat trick.
Three minutes into the game, Max Bamford’s long throw found Thomas McCormick in the center of the box and his header smacked the bar only to fall directly to Romero, who nodded it home.
The senior had a goal waved away for offsides and then in the seventh minute another Bamford long throw was palmed away from the far post by Foxboro keeper Clay Leopold right into Romero, who knocked it across the line but was adjudged to have used his arm.
After nearly being down three, Foxboro came right back to level the match. Devante Teixeira continued his stellar senior season with an unassisted goal that gave OA keeper Jack Carroll no chance.
“We gave up a goal early and the kids fought back and got back into the game,” said Foxboro coach Joe Franchino. “It was a fun game to watch, fun game to be part of and I’m proud of my guys.”
The chances kept coming for both teams. Anthony Barreira had a shot from inside the 18 charged down after Joe Morrison created the opening with a run down the left channel. Then moments later Foxboro had to block a shot from Cam Vella inside the six after a good low cross by McCormick.
The end-to-end play continued into the final minutes of the half, with Vella setting up a chance for Keegan Nutt but his outside of the foot chance skimmed the post. Then Teixeira got onto the end of a perfectly-weighted chip by Morrison and chipped Carroll only to see Bamford somehow get back to the goal line and acrobatically clear it.
“Every team had chances,” said Barata. “It could have gone either way.”
Four minutes after the break and Foxboro had the crucial go-ahead goal. Teixeira dropped into the middle and was able to slide a pass into the path of Barreira clean through on goal. The junior forward calmly slotted his shot over Carroll and inside the post to make it 2-1.
“The three-headed monster up front,” said Franchino of Morrison, Teixeira, and Barreira. “They interchanged well tonight. They were active and I’m looking forward to the playoffs and watching them play together some more.”
Barreira nearly got his second just minutes later and again it was Teixeira that created it with a pinpoint cross, but the free header was blocked by a scrambling Max Ahearn. Teixeira then forced Carroll into a save when he hit a one-touch pass from Morrison first-time.
Foxboro was on top and controlling the game at that point and in the 56th minute got a little luck too. Nutt got free in the box, rounded Leopold and appeared to be tripped by the defender. The OA bench was incensed at the no-call and it added even more edge to the final 20 minutes of the game.
“I’m glad we had composure,” said Barata. He added, joking, “I think the coaches I had to worry about; I had to control them on the sideline.”
Vella nearly equalized in the 62nd minute when his header off a corner was inches over the bar. Two minutes later and Foxboro nearly increased its lead when Barreira smacked the bar with a 30-yard free kick curled in from the left.
“We were so close,” said Franchino. “It didn’t go our way tonight, but the boys didn’t give up and they kept battling, battling, battling, and that shows the character of this team.”
The game continued at 2-1 until the 74th minute when Cardoza stepped up. The ball bounced around in the Foxboro penalty area for a minute and fell to the sophomore on the edge of the box and he slid into his shot, looping it over the defense and Leopold and into the top corner.
Barata was proud of the resiliency he saw in the Tigers to stay in the game even as calls went against them.
“We had two goals taken away but we didn’t put our head down,” he said. “They scored…and we didn’t put our head down. That was very powerful to see the boys mature.”
When asked what it took to keep going forward, Romero insisted, “You just try to get over it.”
“You keep thinking we’re going to win this game. You’ve got to move on from that bad call and just keep fighting through. That’s what we did.”
Foxboro had one more chance before the end and it had the bench ready to race out onto the field. Teixeira played in a low cross to Barreira just a few yards from goal but again Ahearn was in the way to block and clear the loose ball.
At the final whistle, the Tigers stormed onto the field to celebrate. It was not a win over their rivals, but it was enough to deny them the title.
“We’re very passionate,” said Barata, “but I don’t think it was ugly in terms of being too physical. I think it was two good teams playing a good style and I think a tie was just.”
Franchino, in his first year with the Warriors, noted, “Obviously we wanted to get the win and get the title but I think the big picture now is the playoffs and making a deep run.”
He added, “It sucks, it hurts, but you have to move forward and learn from it.”
Josh Perry can be contacted at JoshPerry@hockomocksports.com and followed on Twitter at @Josh_Perry10.