WRENTHAM, Mass. – King Philip boys soccer has scored in a variety of ways throughout the 2016 season. From free kicks to corner kicks, and in the run of play, the Warriors have crafted some impressive goals this year.
But the Warriors saved their best goal for the most important game of the season.
Senior Colby Koch uncorked an absolute stunner just moments before halftime that proved to be the game-winner in King Philip’s 2-0 win over Mansfield – a victory that clinched the Warriors’ first ever outright league title and first Kelley-Rex crown since 2010.
“A lot of hear of heart, a lot of grit and a lot of passion, which I think plays into it and they were heavily disciplined, which is something against a good team like Mansfield you have to be because they’ll expose you in a moment the second you break down,” King Philip head coach Nick Gale said. “Their work ethic, they earned this one tonight.”
The Warriors entered the game with a three point lead in the division over Mansfield and came out with the better of chances early on. Junior Tyler Mann intercepted a clearance from the Hornets and quickly found Koch for a shot just outside the area but Mansfield keeper Jed Tolbert did well to time his jump for the save.
Five minutes later, Jack Bush’s long throw was deflected to the back post where KP sophomore Anthony Bozza latched onto it but his shot was blocked wide. In the 33rd minute, Larsen Keys cleared a Mansfield free kick and Mann quickly sent Koch forward. The senior connected with Nils van den Boogaard for a shot from just outside the area but Tolbert was positioned well for the stop.
Mansfield finally registered its first serious scoring chance in the 36th minute when Cullin Anastasia was able to win a 50/50 ball, putting it down for a shot from Sam Hyland from just outside the area but KP keeper Eli O’Neill smothered the low shot.
Just a minute before halftime is when the fireworks finally went off. Koch gained possession in the attacking third. A couple of touches forward, Koch was given just enough space the the senior didn’t hesitate, unleashing a shot from just a couple of steps over 30 yards out that ripped through the air to the upper corner at the far post to put the Warriors up 1-0.
“Everyone was just making incredible runs, when I had the ball I was going to try and find Tyler on a run but the defender angled his body so I couldn’t,” Koch said. “I faked it, the defender went right, I went left and the goalie shifted so I just shot to the far post.
“You have to take opportunity you get. I think it was Wayne Gretzky that said you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The guys on the team encourage me to shoot, and they all can finish as well so if we have the space it can be dangerous.”
“Even the shots before and after, you could tell he was on his game tonight,” Gale said. “He’s been very focused as of late. He’s stepped up from an outside back position [last year] to a striker and he’s somehow managed 14 points. When you switch positions, you don’t just do that often. For that moment, we needed something big for us and no one else I’d rather have than Colby taking that shot and he got a good shot off.”
The goal gave the Warriors the momentum heading into the break but KP couldn’t break through Mansfield’s defense and capitalize to start the second half.
Mansfield had the first chance of the second stanza in the 55th minute when James Chotkowski hit an off-balance shot inside the area but it curled high and wide. Four minutes later, KP had a chance to double the lead by was stuffed by Mansfield captain Max Gurnon. Mann found Koch, who returned the pass but the shot from Mann in the area was blocked by Gurnon.
Two minutes later, the Hornets nearly used their bread and butter – set pieces – to cash in and tie the game. A free kick from Gurnon dropped into the area, met by sliding O’Neill but the ball bounced loose in the area. Anastasia had a go on the rebound but his chance was blocked away.
Mansfield had another bid in the 64th minute to try and tie the game when Hyland dropped a free kick to the far post but Gurnon was well marked and couldn’t get a clean touch.
“My backline and goalie have been the strength all year but Mansfield is extremely dangerous in the final third with their set pieces,” Gale said. “They have players who are fearless and can finish so I have to give props to my back four and keeper for being able to handle that pressure nonstop throughout the game. Going into the game it was important to not allow them many opportunities and we did a good job defending them.”
King Philip secured the win in the 79th minute as Thomas Lugten gained some separation on the left wing, firing a shot that Tolbert got a piece of. The rebound rolled to the far post where Mann sprinted onto it and buried it from in close to make it 2-0.
“Nothing, we just can’t score on them,” Mansfield coach Steve Sheridan said when asked what it is about KP that gives the Hornets trouble. Mansfield’s lone two losses are to KP. “We played them tough. We had one mistake on that first goal, we let Colby get away and get the shot off…it was a beautiful goal, just a beautiful goal. We were pressing up at the end, we went with three forwards, four forwards. We were going for the tie and then we wanted the win, it just didn’t happen.
“[King Philip] is a good team, they’re very disciplined. They are going to be a tough out in the tourney – but I hope we see them like we did last year.”
With the win, King Philip moves to 15-1-2 overall and 13-1-1 in league play, which clinched the league title.
“They pay attention, I can’t even hide it,” Gale said when asked if his players were aware of the possibility of clinching with the win. “I think that’s what played into how well they played. They wanted it. It doesn’t happen here very often. We had someone come up that won the title in 1999 and they shared it with Oliver Ames. I couldn’t tell you the last time that KP has won it outright in soccer.”
“It’s incredible,” Koch said of winning the division. “You just know you’re never going to get this chance again so you just have to live it up and take it for what it is, it’s awesome. I love it.”
King Philip boys soccer closes the regular season when Franklin comes to Macktaz Field on Thursday at 3:45. Mansfield has two games left in the regular season, first a visit from OA on Thursday and then a date with Canton at Gillette Stadium on Friday at 6:00.