MILFORD, Mass. – Milford junior goalie Leo Oliveira stood on his goal line face-to-face with the next Nauset penalty kick shooter and took his right hand and pointed in that direction a handful of times.
Oliveira, who was a spectator from the bench for 90 minutes in the snow and cold, was suddenly thrust into action in the second overtime, and now in the midst of a penalty kick shootout with one of the top teams in the country.
With each team converting their first three attempts, Oliveira stepped back in net and pointed to his right as Nauset’s senior captain Spencer Rushnak placed the ball on the spot.
“It’s just mind games,” Oliveira said.
It worked as Rushnak fired his shot in that direction and Oliveira made the diving stop. Three attempts later, Milford freshman Gabriel Godoy calmly deposited his chance into the back corner to give the Hawks a 5-4 edge in penalties, a 2-1 win in the match, and the program’s first-ever D2 South Sectional Championship.
It’s the program’s first sectional title since 1999 when it won the D1 Central crown, and Nauset’s first loss since 2017, snapping a 44-game unbeaten streak. The Warriors’ last loss came to Oliver Ames in the sectional semifinals, which also went to penalty kicks and was played on the same Milford High turf field.
“I told him to go right and he did, and I was ready for it and I saved it,” Oliveira said. “All I heard was the crowd cheering my name, it was amazing. The best moment of my life so far.”
Sophomore Kevin Gomes, who had a strong game in net through regulation and the first overtime, came out between overtime periods due to illness. While Milford was planning to go with Oliveira if it went to penalties, he was thrust into the game in the second sudden-victory overtime period.
“It’s hard sitting on the bench in the cold weather but I’m always ready just in case something happens to Kevin, and I was ready tonight,” Oliveira said. “During the playoffs, we’ve been practicing them for around 30 minutes at the end of practice, and I’ve been able to save them there. When you have guys like Pedro [Araujo] and Leo [Coelho] who barely miss, it’s hard to save them. Nauset, they are amazing, but I was able to come up with the big save.”
Milford head coach Brian Edwards wasn’t surprised that Oliveira was ready for the big moment.
“Leo is our best goalie for PKs,” Edwards said. “We were planning to make the change in overtime and then Kevin in-between overtime periods wasn’t feeling well so we told [Leo] to go in and he delivered. He’s the hero of the hour. He doesn’t really get nervous, he just shows up and plays. He isn’t really fazed [by the moment].”
Nauset went first in penalty kicks and junior Ben LaBranche slotted a low shot into the bottom left corner past the reach of Oliveira’s save. Milford boys soccer senior captain and center back Dan Santos answered with a low to the left of his own.
Nauset senior captain Sebastian Headrick put the Warriors back ahead with a low shot to the left despite Oliveira getting a fingertip to it. Milford sophomore center back Chris Tocci blasted a shot into the upper left corner giving the keeper no chance to make it 2-2.
The Warriors scored again as junior Anthony Lovati was the first to go in the other direction, hitting his shot into the right side. Milford senior and the Hockomock League’s leading score Pedro Araujo went up the middle with the keeper diving to the side to make it 3-3.
Oliveira’s mind games worked to get the big stop, and Milford senior Jordan Borges blasted a hard shot off the underside of the crossbar and in to give the Hawks’ a 4-3 lead.
“It was very scary when it hit the bar but it ended up going in so I was happy,” Borges said. “For Leo, it’s all theatrics before the kick. He just gets guys nervous, throws them off. We’ve practiced them before just in case we go to penalties and it paid off.”
Nauset junior center back Ethan Boyle kept the match alive with a nice shot to the left side but Godoy, despite being a freshman, placed a left-footed shot into the back corner to give the Hawks the win.
“Our JV coach Antonio Pinto has been working with these guys on PKs for a while so I asked who he thought the best five guys were, he told me and I went with those,” Edwards said. “A lot of these decisions aren’t mine, they make me look smart. We have a whole crew of coaches and the players have an input too.
“It was awesome, I lost my mind when he made that save, I knew that was it because I have complete faith in our five guys to make their kicks. When Leo made that save, I knew we were going to win it.”
Not only did Milford have to weather a strong Nauset attack in overtime, the Hawks had to do so without Coelho, who had to miss the extra period due to injury. Then the Hawks lost Joao Pedro Da Silva to an injury for the second overtime period. Senior outside back Nuno Mestre also missed some time in the extra period but was able to return.
“We’re just confident at all times,” Borges said. “We believe in ourselves, we believe in our teammates and that’s what it’s all about. When we believe, I think we have a chance to win at anything. We have that team mentality, the next guy up. Anybody can step in and do the job. Of course we don’t want to see guys go out but everybody on the bench is ready to go in there and make a difference.”
It was a scoreless first half that saw both sides have a share of strong play, but the Warriors ended with the two most dangerous chances on goal. In the 7th minute, Rushnak smacked the crossbar on a free kick and Milford senior Carlos Terrinha was well-positioned to block the rebound chance.
Rushnak also flashed a header just wide in the 20th minute of a corner from Patrick Pinto and then smacked the crossbar for the second time off a well-hit volley from distance that knuckled and dipped before hitting the woodwork in the 34th minute.
Milford had its fair share of chances too as Coelho, who started up front along Araujo, took advantage of some space before rifling a left-footed shot from 25-yards out just wide in the 13th minute. In the 26th minute, Araujo sprang Coelho free with a perfect through ball but Nauset keeper Jack Avellar played it perfectly off his line and came charging to block the shot just inside the box.
Gomes made a strong save on a chance from Boyle in the 42nd minute, pouncing on a header in the area. Two minutes later, the Hawks opened the scoring.
Coelho drew a foul near the corner of the area on the right wing, and then took the free kick himself. He lofted a perfectly weighted ball to the far post to an open JP Da Silva, who nodded the ball just inside the post for a 1-0 lead.
Edwards was frank when asked if he could believe it that his side had beaten Nauset.
“I do, I do believe it because they are high school kids just like anyone else,” Edwards said. “Regardless of how you look, how you dress, how you put your bags in a row…your high school kids and so are we. We believe in who we can beat and bring them on, we’ll play anyone.
“It was just belief…belief in each other, belief in ourselves. This team is very confident but we know how good Nauset is. They are a top 10 team in a country but we did our homework, we knew what we needed to do. Thankfully we got the job done. I can’t be prouder of them right now.”
Araujo played junior Lucas Da Silva in on the right side seven minutes later but his bid was denied by Avellar, and he was unable to pounce on the rebound bid. Nauset nearly drew level in the 59th minute as Shavar Champagnie broke free at the near post but flashed his header just wide.
Araujo had three chances over a two-minute space but wasn’t able to double the Hawks’ lead. He was played in off a flick from Borges but Avellar was quick off his line and just got to the ball first just inside the box. Still in the 63rd minute, Borges delivered a ball over the top but Araujo’s shot on goal was saved.
A minute later, Araujo nearly got his touch past an oncoming Avellar, but the ball popped up and the keeper did very well to recover and hang on.
Nauset cashed on in the final five minutes of the match after earning a free kick along the left sideline. Boyle dropped a service to the near post and LaBranche was left open and he buried his shot into the bottom left corner to make it 1-1.
“Nauset has one of the best attacks I’ve ever seen,” Edwards said. “They are deliberate in what they do, you know exactly what they are going to do, and regardless of that they still generate scoring chances. They are that good, they are that well-coached, they are great soccer players. Our defense was superb tonight I thought. I thought we minimized the throw-ins for the most part.
“We got in trouble with the free kicks, that’s where their goal came from. I was very proud of our backline and I was very proud of our goalie, I thought Kevin played a stellar game. Nauset is a hell of a team, that’s the best team I’ve seen in 11 years of coaching soccer.”
Gomes was forced into an early save on Champagnie two minutes into the first overtime but the best chance of the first extra period was from Borges. After a win at midfield, Borges received a pass and ripped a shot from 30-yards out that Avellar had to backtrack and then tip over the bar.
Neither side had a genuine scoring threat in the second overtime.
“It’s been two decades since we’ve been in a game like this,” Edwards, an MHS graduate, said. Milford boys soccer reached the state final in 1998, the year after Edwards graduated. “We know whoever we’re going to play is going to be a tough test. We’ll try to make our league play and do what we can do, and hopefully, get the job done.”
Milford boys soccer (18-0-2) will play North sectional champion Winchester (14-3-5) in the D2 Final on Saturday with the time and location to be determined.
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