MANSFIELD, Mass. – The Hornets had enough scoring chances to win three playoff games, but still Saturday night’s Div. 1 South first round game against Plymouth North at Alumni Field remained scoreless through the full 80 minutes of regulation and then through another 10 minutes of overtime.
At the start of the second extra period, Mansfield was facing a gusting wind and the looming pressure of a penalty shootout. Up stepped senior Luke Savoie, the team’s leading scorer this fall, to provide the game’s finishing touch. With one kick, Mansfield avoided the coin flip of penalties, avoided an upset by the 14th-seeded Eagles, and avoided the end of the Hornets’ season.
“He’s been dying for that moment right there,” Mansfield coach Steve Sheridan said of Savoie’s winner. “It’s the one moment he’s been waiting for all year and he got it. I hope it’s not his last moment.”
Savoie beat his man to a ball over the top, dragged the ball through a challenge and came out the other side free on goal, the first time either defense had allowed someone to get a clean chance from the run of play. Savoie showed considerable composure, considering the circumstances, to coolly round the keeper and then make no mistake into an empty net.
His golden goal, two minutes into the second overtime, lifted Mansfield to a 1-0 win and a spot in the South quarterfinal.
There was little indication from the first half that the night would be filled with drama. The Hornets dominated the opening 40 minutes, holding the Eagles to one shot attempt (not on target), while creating a host of scoring opportunities with their trademark set pieces.
Plymouth North had an early shout for a penalty when Brady Sorensen went down under the challenge of Derek Meuth, but the officials waved for play to continue. Just five minutes later, Mansfield was sparked into life by a rasping half-volley from defender Ethan Brill-Cass that was just tipped over by Eagles goalie Cole Gustin.
A Savoie corner kick was headed past the post by Owen Mullahy at the midway point of the half and four minutes later Meuth hit a deep cross that picked out Ethan Scholes but the sophomore’s header was comfortably saved.
In the 26th minute, a short corner freed Colin Caridi on the right side of the box and he forced Gustin into a save at the near post from a tight angle. On the ensuing corner, Luke Devine found the head of Mullahy but again the finish was narrowly wide.
The chances kept coming for the Hornets. Savoie played in a corner to Devine at the back post but the slightest deflection by a Plymouth North defender was enough to take it away from the Mansfield midfielder before he could nod it into an open net. Minutes later, Mullahy got free on the right and played a low cross into Savoie, who had made a run across his marker, but the finish was over the bar.
“We had chances all game,” Sheridan said. “I was getting frustrated that we couldn’t finish. They played the way I knew they were going to play and I knew we’d have opportunities but we just couldn’t cash in on them. It was just one of those nights.”
Savoie forced Gustin into a save just minutes after the restart and then had a second chance in the box blocked. While Mansfield continued to press for the opening goal, especially using long throws from Dylan Buchanan, it was the Eagles that had the wind at their backs in the second half and they started to make it a much more even contest.
Despite the set piece prowess of the hosts, the visitors nearly used a dead ball play to take the lead. Defender Jack Post headed a corner over the bar and then minutes later hit a bullet free kick from 20 yards that was right at Mansfield keeper Anthony Salisbury.
The best chance of the second half for the Hornets came in the 52nd minute when Devine got on the end of a knocked down header just inside the box. His shot was smartly saved at full stretch by Gustin (seven saves) to keep the game scoreless.
“I told [Sam] Nugent that he was going to be playing baseball, centerfield, back there because I knew how they were going to attack us,” Sheridan said about the pressure Plymouth North was able to put on in the second half. “He saved our butt a few times back there. Our defense played strong. I can’t say enough about them.”
In overtime, the Hornets got the wind at their backs agains and immediately went back to creating scoring chances. Mullahy headed the ball down to Savoie, but his finish went high over the bar and in the 88th minute Caridi and Buchanan got into each other’s way with the ball loose on the edge of the six-yard-box.
The frustration was mounting for the hosts as the second overtime began, but Savoie soon allowed everyone at Alumni Field to breathe a sigh of relief.
Sheridan admitted that at this time of the year a win is a win. “That’s all it is,” he said, “just survive and advance in this thing.”
Mansfield (13-2-5) will host the winner of Brockton and New Bedford in the South quarterfinal on Monday.