WORCESTER, Mass. – Every time that Milford went forward, it looked capable of scoring a goal, but every time that Winchester lined up an attacking set piece on the other end of the field it looked just as likely to find the back of the net.
It made for a thrilling, end-to-end Div. 2 state championship game at Worcester State’s Coughlin Field. In the end, it also meant heartbreak for the Hawks.
Winchester got a free kick on the left side of the Milford box seven minutes into the first overtime period. The first ball in was half-cleared but Aras Kaya reacted quickest and was able to knock in the game-winner, handing the Sachems a 5-4 victory and the state title. It was the fourth goal that Winchester had scored from a set piece and denied Milford its first ever state championship in its first appearance in the final in 21 years.
“Winchester played really good today,” said Milford coach Brian Edwards. “They were very proficient, they were very effective in what they did and we were not. We were uncharacteristically sloppy with set piece defense.”
He added, “I’m really proud of how hard my guys played this season, but we didn’t deserve to win this game given how we played.”
Milford grabbed control of the ball right from the opening whistle and had the game’s first good looks at goal. Joao Pedro Da Silva hit a long, angled ball behind the Winchester left back to free Pedro Araujo, but the senior forward was unable to hit the target under pressure from the last defender. Just a minute later Lucas Da Silva went close with a shot to the near post.
Although it was the Hawks with the early chances, it was Winchester that grabbed the first lead. William Hofheinz hit a long free kick that went all the way through the box to Diego Diaz at the back post. Diaz had time to bring it down, look up, and slide a shot to the far corner.
The Sachems held onto the one-goal lead for 20 minutes, nearly doubling it when Kevin Gomes was forced into a diving save on a 25-yard shot by Ben Von Halle.
In the 34th minute, Milford sprung into life. Araujo got free on the right side and hit a cross into Leo Coelho that was cleared by the last defender. A minute later, Araujo again went to his right and skipped past his marker. This time he loped into the box and got all the way inside the six before chipping a shot over the keeper and into the corner.
Just about a minute later, the Hawks jumped in front for the first time. Joao Pedro Da Silva raced down the left side, leaving his defender in his wake, and then hit a deft toe poke that left the keeper stranded and snuck in off the far post to make it 2-1.
Jordan Borges had a chance down the right side to add to the lead just before halftime, but the Hawks went into the break with the lead.
“In the first half, I thought we were very disorganized,” Edwards explained. “We fought back, we fought back, scored those two goals at the end of the first half to make it a game but I don’t think we started playing well until we got to the end of the second half.”
That lead only lasted three minutes into the second half. Hofheinz curled a 30-yard free kick to this near post and the ball snuck in after the keeper lost track of his positioning in the goal and, thinking the shot was going wide, allowed it to bounce past him.
Milford came right back just five minutes later and regained the advantage. This time it was Lucas Da Silva on the left and he got all the way to the end line and was brought down as he tried to cut a pass back into the middle. The ref pointed to the spot and Araujo stepped up to score his second of the game and put the Hawks up 3-2.
In the 53rd minute, the Hawks were again guilty of not clearing a set piece and allowed Winchester to equalize. This time the bouncing ball went in off a Milford player at the back post.
Four minutes later, the Sachems were in front. Von Halle created the chance when he jumped on a poor clearance and he sent a ball in from the right side that Diaz was able to bring down at the far post. The forward roofed his shot, giving backup keeper Leo Oliveira no chance.
Injuries cropped up for the Hawks throughout the game, as Coelho, the league MVP, was forced to the bench and senior right back Nuno Mestre also missed a bulk of the second half. Eduardo Castro and freshman Arthur Tome played well off the bench, but those were key pieces that Milford was without down the stretch.
The Hawks went into desperation mode in the closing minutes and played some of their best attacking soccer of the game. It took until the 74th minute, but the pressure paid off. A long throw from Dan Santos bounced in the box and was met by Carlos Terrinha, who was able to turn it in first-time from close range.
Edwards said, “These guys have a lot of guts, otherwise they wouldn’t be here today. They’re here for a reason. This has been the best team I’ve ever coached and not just for their playing ability but for their character and their tenacity and their grit.”
With the joy of an equalizer and a raucous fan section at that end of the field, Milford found a second gear for the final few minutes. A Chris Tocci long throw to Araujo almost turned into a winner, only for the Sachems to crowd out the chance. Joao Pedro Da Silva had a great look off a corner, but his goal-bound shot was blocked at the last second.
“The last 10 minutes were how we should’ve been playing the whole game,” Edwards admitted, “and it wasn’t enough because when you play a good team like that you can’t wait 70 minutes to start playing good soccer.”
Borges forced a save from the Winchester keeper five minutes into the OT period and Milford looked the more likely to score at that stage, until the Sachems earned a free kick. After defending set pieces well all tournament long, the Hawks couldn’t find a way to stop one last chance and fell just short of winning an elusive first title.
“Any set piece near the area, a team that is big and strong they’re going to have chances and unfortunately we didn’t do a good enough job denying the chances and we didn’t do a good enough job defending them. We didn’t execute,” said Edwards.
Milford finished the season at 18-1-2, outscoring teams 71-22 along the way. Edwards, a former soccer player at Milford, called it a historic season despite the loss in the final.
“It’s nice to give the town something to talk about,” he said. “We take the name on the front of the jersey very seriously. We take a lot of pride in how we represent ourselves, how we represent the town, and how we represent our school.”
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.
Hawks head coach Brian Edwards knew his side needed to make a change, so he quickly obliged when junior Leo Coelho approached him before overtime with a request to play forward.
“He told me he wanted to win this game,” Edwards said. “It made me look really smart but it was all his idea.”
Edwards moved Coelho from his defensive center mid spot to striker, and the decision paid dividends nearly immediately.
Coelho scored the lone goal of the game just under 90 seconds into the sudden-victory overtime period, handing the second-seeded Hawks a 1-0 verdict over #6 Bishop Feehan.
“I was playing through an injury and it felt like nothing was going to go my way, I felt like it was probably one of my worst games,” Coelho said. “I asked coach if I could play up top in overtime, and he had the trust and confidence to put me there, and I was able to get it done.”
Milford went to work quickly in the extra session, applying pressure as it had done for the majority of the 80 minutes of regulation. This time, the Hawks were able to find the back of the net.
Senior Pedro Araujo hustled to a ball down the right flank, battling a defender off to earn possession. He got the ball on his right foot and fired a cross/shot that was parried away by Feehan keeper Thomas Potenza.
But the ball fell right to the feet of junior Joao Pedro Da Silva, who was quickly surrounded by a trio of Shamrock defenders. Da Silva calmly carried away from goal before sliding a pass to Coelho at the far post, and the junior let the ball come across his body before depositing a shot into the back of the net for the game-winner.
“We had to change something up, the ball wasn’t going in,” Edwards said. “I trust him and he rewarded our faith in him. He played a tremendous game, I thought everyone did. But we couldn’t get the ball in the net. Thankfully we made the play when we needed to.”
While the ball wasn’t going in, it wasn’t for a lack of possession or chances. The Hawks controlled the game from start to finish, putting nearly a dozen shots on frame while limiting the Shamrocks to just two chances, both coming within seconds of each other.
Coelho registered the first serious chance for either side in what was a rare foray into the attacking third. The junior midfielder controlled a clearance, took a touch towards goal, and fired a shot from 25 yards out but his bid clanked off the top of the crossbar and stayed out in the 14th minute.
JP Da Silva took a pass from Lucas Da Silva and forced a save from Potenza, but the Hawks couldn’t capitalize on the ensuing chance. Two minutes later, Coelho found Jordan Borges but his chance went over the bar.
Bishop Feehan’s best three chances all came in the final 15 minutes of half. A cross to the far post eluded the Milford keeper but Chris Tocci was in position to head the first ball up, and Dan Santos cleared the second ball to keep the game scoreless.
The Shamrocks nearly jumped ahead in the final moments of the first half. A lackadaisical play on a loose ball afforded Feehan’s Zach Stephenson possession. He used his speed to get past the Hawks’ defense and rifled a shot alone with the keeper but Milford sophomore Kevin Gomes made the leaping stop.
The rebound bounced to the Shamrocks’ left wing and to the feet of Samir Kassel, who had a good look to bury the rebound, but his chance was denied by Gomes as well to keep the game scoreless
“Kevin has done a good job, we didn’t ask him to do a lot tonight (two saves) but he actually did a nice job coming off his line tonight,” Edwards said. “He snuffed out some chances and he was very decisive when he came off his line. And that’s important against a team like this that’s relying on you to make a mistake defensively so Kevin was big for us.”
Milford continued to control possession in the second half but the Shamrocks often had five or more players behind the ball, making life difficult for the Hawks’ offense that likes to connect on short passes.
The chances still came though as Borges saw his shot go just over the bar in the 44th minute, and Araujo’s header at the far stick was handled in the 50th minute. Potenza came up with a save on a low strike from Borges in the 57th minute and had plenty of time to recover and handle the loose rebound.
“They could have been wearing red and white (North Attleboro),” Edwards said of Feehan, comparing their defense-first approach to that of the Rocketeers. “They played so well defensively. From what we saw leading up to this game, they gave us a very different look. Credit to their coaching staff and players, they were able to adopt a very different strategy against us that was very effective.
“I think we were more frustrated that it wasn’t going in. I think we generated more chances in the second half. I wasn’t happy with the first half, especially defensively, but we adjusted. I thought we were better in the second, and I think we kept our composure.”
After Feehan made a push into the offensive third, Milford countered with one of its best chances. With more space than usual, Coelho pushed forward with possession, using a nice stepover move to get past a defender. He unleashed a shot from 30 yards out that froze the keeper, but it smacked off the post and stayed out in the 58th minute.
“The first half, I think we were all being a little too selfish,” Coelho said. “We were a little too excited, everyone was trying to be the hero. We talked at halftime about playing our game, and if we do that, we can get the job done. They definitely played like North Attleboro, behind the ball, and we had some difficulty breaking it down.”
Milford had a flurry of chances late in the game but couldn’t unlock the Shamrocks with a final product. Potenza made a leaping stop but the rebound was deflected right off Borges’ foot, too hard for him to control in short range.
Tocci’s cross found the feet of Araujo and he tested the keeper with a low shot but Potenza smothered it. A minute later, Araujo beat his defender to the touchline and fired a low cross across the face of goal to Borges at the far post, but the ball found his weaker foot and was cleared after the first touch, and regulation ended scoreless.
Coelho’s winner sends the Hawks to their first-ever D2 South Sectional Final. The last final appearance for Milford boys soccer was in 1999 when they played in the D1 Central Final.
With Milford as the predetermined site for the sectional final, the Hawks (17-0-2) will end up “hosting” Nauset but as the away team, on Sunday at 3:30.
MILFORD, Mass. – In last year’s playoff, Milford was considered one of the teams to beat in Div. 2 South but ran into a physical, direct Walpole team in the quarterfinal and were knocked out. On Wednesday night, almost a year to the day after that loss, the Hawks faced another tough quarterfinal against Dartmouth with the chance to show what they have learned.
Milford scored once in each half, dominated possession throughout, and overcame the physical battle to secure a 2-0 win and a spot in the sectional semifinal.
“Some teams think we’re soft, we’re a finesse team, but we can be hard,” said Milford coach Brian Edwards. “I thought the guys responded really well physically, especially in the second half when it got nasty because it was a really intense, exciting soccer game and I thought my guys responded. It wasn’t our best performance, but we did what we had to do.”
Dartmouth played direct balls over the top of the defense and tried to take advantage of their size on set pieces, particularly on long throws in the attacking third. The Milford back line held firm, especially center backs Dan Santos and Chris Tocci, and sophomore goalie Kevin Gomes looked adept at controlling the box against the Indians’ aerial threat.
“It’s vital because we work as a unit,” said Santos. “We defend well and we attack just as well, so we sent a message out to the other teams. [Our confidence] is through the roof.”
In fact, it was Milford that looked more dangerous at dead ball opportunities. An early corner from Lucas Da Silva was met by Santos at the near post and had to be cleared off the line by Luke Sylvia. The Hawks used another free kick to grab an early lead.
Pedro Araujo, the Hockomock League’s top scorer this season, curled in a teasing ball that found Santos at the back post. The senior defender knocked the loose ball towards goal and it snuck just past the keeper and just over the line. The Dartmouth players chased after the official claiming the ball went through a hole in the side of the net, but the goal stood.
“It was huge, just for confidence,” Edwards explained. “It really put them under pressure. You could see it in the second half when they switched formation that we were really able to get some more looks.”
A free kick from Leo Coelho in the 18th minute almost made it 2-0, when the ball was spilled and both Araujo and Jordan Borges had shots blocked. Araujo came close again nine minutes later off yet another corner, but his first-time hit from the edge of the box after a weak clearance was blazed over the bar.
Dartmouth’s best chance of the half came off a Sylvia long throw that was met by Matt Furtado, but his lefty shot was wide of the mark. Araujo and Borges combined well on the edge of the box to open space and Araujo played in Eduardo Castro down the right but his shot to the bottom corner was well saved.
Holding a precarious one-goal lead at the break, Milford set out in the second half to try and add an insurance goal. The Hawks would have a number of chances to double the lead and the frustration and concern for an equalizer was growing as the opportunities were spurned.
Edwards said, “I had a feeling where it could be one of those games where you don’t get a second goal and they tie it late because it felt like it was going to be that way, but thankfully we got that second goal from JP.”
Araujo almost played provider in the 48th minute when he was able to work space for a right-foot cross by neither Da Silva was able to get a foot on it. A minute later, Araujo hit a free kick straight at the keeper. Da Silva flicked a header to Borges, but his volley went over the bar and then Da Silva split the defense with a through ball to Araujo but the keeper was out quickly and blocked the shot with his trailing foot.
Dartmouth sent a warning with a Sylvia long throw that was met by Mitchell Taradash, but his shot went over the crossbar. It was a reminder to the Hawks to keep pressing for a second to make things more comfortable, although the combination of Coelho and Carlos Terrinha was protecting the back four and keeping the Indians largely at bay.
“Those two guys have been big for us all year,” said Edwards. “There’s a reason why Leo is league MVP, he’s an animal. Carlos is an absolute beast. Those guys put in really strong performances. They don’t end up on the scoresheet but without those two guys we don’t win this game.”
With the visitors switching to a back three to try and get more numbers forward, Milford started to find more space for Araujo to operate along the right flank. He rose up to nod a header to Joao Pedro Da Silva but the Dartmouth keeper was able to block the close-range shot and then Araujo cut inside a pair of defenders onto his left and forced a solid diving stop.
In the 75th minute, the Milford pressure finally paid off. Borges sent a long free kick into the box and a Dartmouth defender headed it sideways rather than out. Da Silva reacted first, cutting straight down the box and the side-footing the ball into the corner for a critical two-goal lead.
Edwards said, “JP’s been our iceman all year. He’s the finisher, he’s our closer. Joao Pedro’s a real special, clutch kid. He just shows up and plays a great game.”
“I’m proud of the boys,” Santos added. “They’re very hard-working, we went over it at practice all week and we got the outcome we wanted.”
Milford (16-0-2) will take on No. 6 seed Bishop Feehan in the semifinal on Tuesday at Sandwich High.
MILFORD, Mass. – Prior to Friday afternoon’s game with Oliver Ames, Milford coach Brian Edwards was joking about his team’s lack of a long throw. The Hawks used one in the defensive zone to occasionally relieve pressure but rarely utilized a throw in the attacking third.
With the game tied 2-2 and the clock winding down inside the final two minutes, Milford won a throw on the near touch line. Sophomore defender Chris Tocci had made a rare foray forward and he grabbed the ball, stepped back, and unleashed a throw into the middle of the OA penalty area.
It pinballed around, taking several deflections off both teams before finding the foot of junior Joao Pedro Da Silva, who fired a low, hard shot through traffic and into the back of the net. That goal proved decisive for the Hawks, who pulled out a 3-2 victory in a playoff-like atmosphere worthy of two teams that entered Friday unbeaten and leading their respective divisions.
“We’re talking about how neither of us have a long throw and I was like, well Tocci has one but we only use it deep in our own end to get it out of there,” Edwards joked. “He just happened to be up there and said I’ll take it. Not how we drew it up but it was quite a finish.”
He added, “I told the guys after they tied it, ‘You have nine minutes. We’ve been here before. I’m not nervous now because I feel like you can score a goal or two.’ Overall I thought we played a good game, but they’re an awesome team. Anytime you get to play OA you get to test yourself, and I thought we rose to it today.”
The first half was an even contest with both teams creating chances. Milford junior Leo Coelho skimmed the post and found the side netting with a shot from 20 yards, then OA nearly grabbed the lead when junior Colin Milliken slipped a pass behind the defense for classmate Anthony DaCosta, but Milford keeper Leo Oliveira was out quick to smother the chance.
In the 14th minute, the Hawks took the lead. Senior Pedro Araujo created the opportunity with a slick through ball to Da Silva, but OA keeper Drew Nickla was off his line to block the shot. The ball flicked high in the air and had to be cleared off the line. The rebound effort was also sent goalwards but went off the arm of an OA defender.
Araujo, the league’s leading goal scorer, stepped up to the spot and slipped his shot under the dive of Nickla (five saves).
Milford had a couple of good chances to double its advantage before the break. Coelho latched onto a bad clearance, heading past the defender, but he skied a shot when clean through on goal. Jordan Borges set up Lucas Da Silva in the OA box, but his shot was skewed wide.
The Tigers had their own moments to try and get on the board in the first half, only to be denied by Oliveira (four saves). Milliken had the best chance but his curling free kick was palmed away by the keeper at full stretch. The junior almost grabbed a goal with another set piece from a tight angle but just missed the top corner. Jonathan Freeman also tested Oliveira with a long free kick that the keeper was forced to punch clear of the OA attackers.
“That’s the best game Leo’s played,” said Edwards. “He made some big saves. It was tough in the first half cause the sun was in his eyes and the wind in his face. I thought he played great and he’s come a long way because he’s working hard and he’s grinding.”
Just a minute after the break, OA was inches from equalizing. Brady deVos made a slide tackle on the far sideline, taking possession and driving towards the right side of the box. He hit a perfect cross to the back post where it was met by Kevin Louhis, but somehow Oliveira managed to get across and deny the shot in the bottom corner.
Five minutes later, Milford led 2-0. Araujo swung in a line drive corner to the near post and Dan Santos got across his marker to flick in the header, his second goal in as many games.
The Hawks seemed in control, but the Tigers took advantage of a defensive lapse to get right back into the game. Milliken sent in a corner and deVos was wide open in the middle of the box for a simple, close-range header.
“They kept working hard. They’re learning,” said Oliver Ames coach John Barata about his team’s ability to fight back after falling behind. “We gave up some really soft goals on set pieces, really poorly defended, so we have to learn, but it was good to see them come back. It was a good test and good to see them come back again and again.”
Leading by one, Milford had a series of chances to try and put the game away. Borges looped a cross into the box that landed directly on top of the crossbar and then he sprung Araujo on a break that was only stopped when Matthew Nosalek somehow got back in front and blocked the shot with a sliding tackle.
A minute after that chance, Borges whipped a free kick into the top corner from 30 yards, only to have it wiped away because the call had been for an indirect kick. With 10 minutes remaining, Araujo again cut in on his left foot and again was denied a goal, this time by the post. The rebound was put back on frame but Harrison Ahearn cleared it off the line.
The missed chances proved costly, as the Tigers kept going and managed to find an equalizer with nine minutes left to play. Mathias Taylor found himself in acres of space on the right and he hit a low cross to Milliken, who coolly finished over the onrushing keeper.
After letting the Tigers come back from two goals down, Milford could have settled for a draw, but instead fought back to find a winner and extend its lead in the Davenport title race to five points.
Barata said, “Their attack is deadly and we needed to work harder than any other game. It was a great test.”
Edwards noted, “I think you find out who you are when you play a team like that. Today, I think we took a step in the right direction.”
The Hawks are one of the top offenses in the league with a handful of skilled players that can break down opposing defenses at will at times. On the flip side, the Rocketeers emphasize defense first with plenty of numbers behind the ball and then look to hit on the counter.
The game played out accordingly as Milford controlled the majority of possession but didn’t create a ton of chances against North’s strong defense. And the Rocketeers’ best chances came counter trying to get in behind the Hawks’ defense.
The difference came just moments into the second half as Milford capitalized on a North Attleboro miscue defensively to score the only goal and grab a 1-0 win on the road.
“Kudos to Geoff [Burgess], his team is so well-coached and so well organized, you have to be on your toes the entire game,” said Milford head coach Brian Edwards. “If you make one mistake, they will capitalize. We were fortunate they didn’t score on that header right before half, and if they do it’s 1-0 and we probably don’t win that game.
“They are a really tough team to move the ball against. They are athletic, they are disciplined, they don’t give you any good chances. They all communicate well and they all tackle well. That’s the best team we’ve seen all year easily.”
The best chance for each side in the opening half came in the final five minutes. Junior Leo Coelho connected with senior Pedro Araujo, and the Hawks’ striker played the ball wide for freshman Nick Ribeiro. Ribeiro got to the ball first, beating the keeper lower but his shot clanked off the near post and his rebound bid went over the bar.
North nearly struck in the 40th minute when senior Joey Coscarella whipped in a cross from the right sideline and classmate Matt Mordini elevated over his defender but his header was just off target to keep the game scoreless.
After a lack of real chances in the first half, Milford came out in the second half and had three real good chances. Milford capitalized on the first one, just seconds in, as Araujo pounced on an errant pass between North defenders, getting just enough on his shot to North keeper Kyle Briere and the ball trickled over the line for the lone goal.
“You know what they want to do, but we know what we are and we’re a team that’s best going forward,” Edwards said. “We trust our players to not make a mistake that will let them punish us. We weren’t going to change how we play because of their game, we just made some adjustments. They really force you to be focused the entire game.
“They give you some space and you want to take that extra touch, and you want to try and break them down, but sometimes it’s really difficult when you have that space because you fall into that trap. But I thought we did a good enough job today, even without getting many quality chances. They always have three or four guys behind the ball so its tough to create a lot.”
Milford’s offense got some life from the goal as Coelho was able to create some space and rip a left-footed blast that was just high, clanking off the football goal post and bouncing into the net. And in the 43rd minute, Lucas Da Silva took a pass from Coelho and blasted a shot from inside the area but it was wide at the far post.
North Attleboro coach Geoff Burgess called a timeout to relax his squad, and the break worked out as the Rocketeers returned to form, with a stingy defense and wing players streaking down the sideline on the counter.
Coscarella combined with classmate James Sales, playing Sales in behind the defense but Milford keeper Kevin Gomes was quick off his line to thwart the bid. The duo combined again five minutes later but the shot rolled wide.
“I thought after the start of the second half, I thought we upped our level of play,” Burgess said. “We had one mistake [defensively]. We had a couple of chances with through balls, with Sales and Coscarella linking up, and the offsides call was pretty close. Those were three great chances there. I don’t think too many teams are breaking down them like that because they have the four backs plus the holding [midfielder] in front.”
Briere did well to come off his line in the 65th minute to deny a connection from Coelho to Araujo, forcing the shot to go wide.
The Rocketeers thought they had the equalizer in the 66th minute as Matt Conley laid a pass off for Sales, who beat the keeper, but it was ruled Sales was in an offside position.
“Our mantra is stay disciplined, keep the ball in front, intercept passes, and get out on the break,” Burgess said. “That was what we did tonight, and you saw, once we get rolling we can be pretty dangerous. We just have to put it in the back of the net.”
Both teams had chances in the final moments as Araujo flashed a header wide a the near post after a service from Gabe Alvarenga for Milford, Conley had his header go over the bar off a free kick from Andrew Tolfa, and North defender Jeremy Folan won a key challenge in the box in the final minute.
Such was the case for the Milford boys soccer team on Friday afternoon.
The Hawks needed less than two minutes to find the back of the net and then capitalized on a pair of second half chances to earn a 3-1 decision over Franklin in the season opener for both squads.
“I think that’s an incredible Franklin team, I just told [Franklin coach] Fran [Bositis] I haven’t seen a team close down space as quickly and efficiently as they do,” said Milford head coach Brian Edwards. “I was very happy with how we were able to move the ball at times against them. The score is great but we have a lot of work to do. We made some mistakes, I thought we were fortunate in how we scored. I think we showed flashes of what we can do but we’ll need to keep getting better each game.
“But anytime you can get a result against a good team like that, we’ll take it.”
Junior Leo Coelho turned some heads with a terrific individual run, beating multiple Panthers before depositing a perfect shot just under the bar to give Milford a lead in the second minute.
Franklin tied the game in the 17th but Milford scored a pair of goals in the final half hour of play to emerge with the victory.
After Coelho’s strike, the Hawks continued to pressure early and had a couple of chances at doubling the lead. In the 9th minute, senior Pedro Moura played Coelho in behind the defense but Franklin keeper Jack Rudolph (eight saves) came charging off his line and Coelho’s touch was just wide of the post.
It wouldn’t be the last time Rudolph would deny the Hawks on a good goal scoring chance.
The Panthers equalized in the 17th minute on one of their few chances in the contest. Senior Donny Tappin made a darting run down the left side, centering with a low cross. Junior Ben Moccia was able to slide and beat his defender, tapping the pass into the back of the net to make it 1-1.
Thanks to Rudolph, that was the scoreline heading into the half. In the 20th minute, Moura connected with Lucas Da Silva, who flicked it back but Moura’s low left-footed shot was swallowed up by Rudolph.
And then just minutes before halftime, Coelho hit one from distance that forced Rudolph into a diving save, getting his fingertips to the shot to force it to hit the post and out for a corner.
Milford regained the lead in the 52nd minute. Senior captain Nuno Mestre looped a throw into the box where Moura was taken down for a penalty kid. Moura hit one down the middle, and Rudolph was able to get the original stop but Moura was alert to the rebound and sprinted up and tapped it in to make it 2-1.
The Hawks had a couple of other chances to add to the lead but couldn’t solve Rudolph. In the 56th minute, Moura tracked down a ball over the top and had an open chance but was denied by Rudolph and the rebound rolled wide. In the 60th minute, Joao Pedro Da Silva connected with Coelho but his shot sizzled just over the bar. Senior Jordan Borges cracked one off the corner of the crossbar and post on a 30-yard free kick in the 64th minute.
The Hawks stifled any efforts from the Panthers to get forward over the final 10 minutes. Coelho moved back from forward to a center defensive midfield position and helped shore up the defense.
“Jack bailed us out, I thought he played great today,” Bositis said. “[Milford] is very crafty, quick, well-skilled…they are good. For us, it was similar to Xaverian where we just aren’t getting it done in the final third.”
Just before the final whistle, won a challenge in the attacking third, catching Rudolph off his line and he calmly dropped a shot into the far post to make it 3-1. Moura nearly made it 4-1 in the final seconds but Rudolph came off his line to deny a partial breakaway chance.
“You want to play a team like that because they test you,” Edwards said. “They’re so well-coached, they’re so athletic, they are good at every position. When you play Franklin, you know every guy is going to be a good athlete and each guy can defend well. So it was a good litmus test for us. We want to be able to move the ball on the ground quickly against big, strong physical teams.”
MILFORD, Mass. – As the clock was winding down, the desperation to find an equalizing goal ratcheted up from the stands to the fans lining the fence behind the Milford bench to the players, coaches, and alumni on the sidelines to the players trying to make it happen on the pitch.
Every move to create space was met with a roar, every perceived Walpole infraction met with arms thrown into the air and calls for a whistle, and every time the ball went into the box the cheering turned from words (in several languages) into a single, unintelligible sound trying to will the ball into the back of the net.
Unfortunately for the Hawks, every one of the chances that they created in a frenetic final 20 minutes on Wednesday night in the Div. 2 South quarterfinal was cleared, blocked, saved, or just trickled wide and Walpole’s second half penalty kick held up as the winner. The Rebels, who eliminated Oliver Ames in the first round, advanced to the sectional semifinal with a 1-0 victory.
“Frustrating is putting it lightly,” said Milford coach Brian Edwards after the game. “Frustrated at this result and how this game went. I’m proud of how our guys played. I think we stayed true to our style. I thought we played the kind of soccer we’ve been playing all year and unfortunately it came down to a PK call.”
After an evenly-matched opening half, which saw Milford have a goal called back for offsides, Walpole started the second half brightly, putting the Hawks on their heels and pinning Milford back on the edge of its own penalty area. Alex Maclean was peppering the Milford back line with a succession of long throws that forced center backs Tiago Filadelfo and Joao Boaventura to constantly be on their toes.
The Hawks took 14 minutes of the second half before creating anything of note going forward and it was a long-range effort by Jordan Borges that was comfortably saved. Walpole answered right back with a great chance of its own, but Tom Walsh blazed over the bar from only a few yards out.
In the 57th minute, Milford nearly grabbed the lead. Boaventura played the ball out of the back to Leo Coelho, who managed to get a toe on the ball and redirected it into the path of JJoey Madden making one of many forays down the right wing. Madden got all the way to the end line and cut it back to Walisson de Oliveira but the junior couldn’t generate enough power and his first-time shot was saved.
Three minutes later, the Rebels got on the board. Another long throw came in but was allowed to bounce in the penalty area, with the ball striking the hand of Joao Vitor Neiva. The officials deemed it enough to call a handball and a penalty. Aidan Murray got Josh Orellana to go the wrong way and knocked in his shot from the spot to make it 1-0.
“We’ve seen it a few times this year,” Edwards said about the challenge of defending Walpole’s set pieces. “We knew the game plan they had coming in, we stuck to ours and I thought we executed it well. I thought we didn’t finish our chances, but I thought we played well enough to win.”
The majority of the time remaining would be spent in the attacking third for Milford, as Walpole sat deeper and deeper, defending in numbers, to protect its advantage. de Oliveira, the team’s leading scorer and one of the top scorers in the Hock this season, fashioned a chance with skillful footwork in the box but the Walpole defense charged it down and blocked the shot.
In the 70th minute, Anthony Salvador drove into the box from the left and he went to ground under a challenge that the officials ruled was fair. The ball rolled into the path of Lucas Da Silva but his shot through traffic was well-saved by Walpole keeper Dennis Crowley.
A minute later and it was Dan Santos that found himself with room to try a shot. His left-footed effort got through the crowd of players in front but was cleared off the line at full stretch by Sebastian Pignone. Three minutes later, Salvador worked enough space to get off a shot but it was deflected and easily grabbed by Crowley.
A long throw by Madden reached de Oliveira but his header went just wide of the post. in the 80th minute, as the Walpole bench was pleading for a clearance and/or the final whistle, another Madden throw caused a panic in the box. Several Milford players got a touch and the ball seemed to pinball off everyone’s legs before rolling inches wide of the bottom corner.
It would be the game’s final chance. The whistle sounded and the Davenport division champions dropped to the ground in disbelief.
Edwards said, “I told my guys that I’m proud of how they played, but soccer is like that – you can play a good game and lose.”
Milford (13-2-5) won the program’s first Hockomock League title this fall, so there was plenty to celebrate, but on this night there was only the feeling that the Hawks season ended prematurely.
“These guys have done more than any Milford team in the last two decades, so of course I’m extremely proud of them but we felt like we could do a lot more,” said Edwards.
He added, “I’m sure the guys who are coming back are going to use this as motivation because they’re going to feel very angry with how this game was decided.