Both teams entered the Davenport heavyweight clash undefeated but only one, the Tigers, walked out still without a loss. Oliver Ames built a two-goal lead and added a key insurance strike in the fourth quarter to earn a 3-1 decision over the Bulldogs.
The battle between the top two teams in the Davenport division delivered with high intensity throughout, stout defensive efforts, a pair of class goals, and some fourth quarter drama.
“It was like a playoff game, a great game,” said Oliver Ames head coach John Barata. “They were well prepared, they came out with a very playoff tactic to get the win. We came in with our tactic to win, we were both playing this game to win no doubt about that. They don’t let you play your game, and we didn’t let them play their game so maybe it wasn’t the best either team has played…it was very intense, but that’s what Canton OA is right? We haven’t had this energy or feel in other games. And we expect the same type of vibe there.”
Oliver Ames scored early in the second quarter and doubled its lead with a goal just minutes into the second half but the Bulldogs took advantage of an opportunity in the 55th minute to get back into the game, halving the deficit.
That goal seemed to give the visitors some life and resulted in Canton’s best passing sequence of the game. Senior Abdul Barrie combined with sophomore Jorge Sanchez, the former getting some space in the corner and whipped a service in. Junior Jacob Crugnale got a touch to the cross but his bid was inches off, hitting off the far post and staying out, keeping the hosts ahead 2-1.
A minute later, the Tigers built quickly out of the back with senior Colin Milliken carrying possession into the middle third, springing classmate Dillon Cupples out wide on the left. Cupples connected with senior Kevin Louhis, who worked around a defender to get to the corner of the area and Louhis blasted a curling shot inside the far post to make it 3-1 just seconds after the Bulldogs nearly tied it.
“Oliver Ames is a great team, they are strong everywhere on the field, really well organized,” said Canton head coach Danny Erickson. “We knew we’d have to play a rather mistake-free game to beat them and we didn’t. We played great moments, I was really proud of our work ethic but we kind of drifted in moments and let them take the game.
“The game really came down to moments, some bounces and some weird mistakes cost us the game. We had a brilliant opportunity with probably our best build up of the game, three of four great passes in a row that led to a great opportunity that hit the far post, and then as soccer goes, a good team will make you pay for missing opportunities and they went down and Kevin scored a banger.”
The game started as expected with two of the best defenses in the Hockomock League this year. OA entered the contest having surrendered just one goal while the Bulldogs had just two goals against. Both defenses shined in the opening 20 minutes, taking away chances and denying passing lanes.
Canton looked to get in behind the defense on a great ball from Colton Mirlianiy but OA senior Ben Cohen, who had a very strong game at outside right back, did very well to recover and thwart the chance.
Meanwhile, Canton keeper Giovanni Ruggeri was up to the task on a low shot from distance from Cupples in the 12th minute, and Barrie intercepted a pass in the area, taking away a combination between Milliken and Cupples.
OA opened the lead in the 23rd minute on a free kick from Matthew Nikiciuk after he drew the foul. On a direct kick from just over 30 yards out, Nikiciuk blasted a low shot that skipped into the area and senior Brady deVos made a run right to the penalty spot and got a touch to it, changing the direction just enough to catch the keeper going the wrong way.
The Tigers went on to double their lead just minutes into the second half. Anthony DaCosta touched the corner into play and Milliken drove a cross into the area that hit off a Bulldog defender and into the net for an own goal.
Canton got on the board late in the third quarter after high pressure resulted in a turnover. Crugnale applied a lot of pressure, getting a piece of a pass out of the back to knock it free. Mirliani latched onto it, taking a touch with his left to set up a blast from 30 yards out that caught the keeper off the line and snuck under the bar to make it 2-1.
The Dogs nearly had the equalizer just before the third quarter came to a close. On a free kick from straight away from just over 25 yards out, Mirlinani touched to Barrie, who skipped on shot on goal that was spilled on frame but junior Dylan Baird’s bid on the rebound was just over the bar.
Canton continued to press in the fourth but Louhis was able to put the game away with his strike in the 67th minute.
“The maturity factor of the seniors is finally paying off for us,” Barata said. “We allowed them to get in and Abdul whipped a wonderful ball in and it ricocheted off the post and suddenly it’s 2-2 and the momentum has shifted. Sometimes with younger kids, you might panic but our senior experience showed today.
“Danny has them well prepared, they know how to play tactically and they are well prepared and ready to go. We didn’t put them away early when we had the chance and it became a much tougher game in the second half. But it was great to have Kevin put in that third goal because then it was done.”
The two teams will clash again on Wednesday as Oliver Ames (7-0) travels to Canton (4-1-2) on Wednesday for a 6:15 PM kickoff. The Tigers can clinch at least a share of the Davenport title with a draw, and can clinch it outright with a win.
“We hadn’t talked about [the division title] until today, we talked about today being a championship game for us, Canton coming in undefeated,” Barata said. “But whenever you play Danny and Canton, you know they will be prepared so it’s a good game to get ready for the tournament, but this is like a tournament game for us this year.”