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.