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.