CANTON, Mass. – For about 77 minutes, Stoughton had yet to put a foot wrong. The Black Knights were organized, compact, and keeping Canton’s dynamic attack at arm’s length. Unfortunately for Stoughton, all it took was three minutes for the Bulldogs to finally find a way through and pull out an unlikely victory.
Stoughton led Monday’s game at WWII Veterans Memorial Field for more than 50 minutes following Shayla Ford’s opener, but in the closing moments Emily McCabe finally found space in behind the defense to equalize. With nearly the last kick of the game, McCabe played a one-two with Mekhala Costello, who curled a shot inside the far post to break Stoughton’s hearts and snare a 2-1 victory.
“I think it was good that we fought all the way to the end and we were able to grind a result out,” Canton coach Idris Senyonjo said. “That’s the league, the games are coming thick and fast now and you have to respond to what’s in front of you and hope that you can get a good result out of it.”
The Black Knights have shown a lot of resiliency so far this season, having lost close games to Oliver Ames and King Philip, and came into Monday on the back of two straight wins. They were intent on making sure it wouldn’t be easy for Canton, which went with a rotated lineup as the Bulldogs were playing their fifth game in 10 days.
Canton still had some good early moments. Gisella Berardi played a nice cross from the wing that found Lauren Shatkin in the middle, but the shot went wide. A minute later, Caira McKinney cross clipped off the head of a Stoughton defender and fell to Shatkin, but the shot was blazed over the bar.
In the 21st minute, the visitors went in front. A clearance out of defense was played up the far sideline towards Ford. The senior speedster felt the defender on her back and was able to spin her, racing onto the ball and into space in the right channel. With a full head of steam and at an acute angle, Ford fired her shot just inside the near post.
“I’m waiting for a team to realize you can’t play high on her and you’ve got to drop somebody back,” said first-year Stoughton coach Jon Grant. “Canton did have somebody dropping back in the first 10-15 minutes but I think they got antsy, they wanted to push, push, push, and Shayla was able to turn that girl and get past her.”
The goal gave the Black Knight confidence with Emma Tran pulling the strings in midfield and Ford and Cook regularly combining. Sofia Issa had a go from distance, but Staffiere was right behind it for the save.
Canton went to some of its regular starters following the goal, notably McCabe and Costello, to try and turn the tide. McCabe, who came into Monday with eight goals in her first four games, nearly equalized with her first touch. Shatkin’s ball into the box ricocheted off a pair of defenders before falling to McCabe, who poked a shot just wide.
Emma Cahill passed the ball from the left wing to Shatkin, whose nice first touch played the ball into the path of McCabe, but Stoughton keeper Katrina Varnum was off her line quickly and bravely got down at the forward’s feet to deny the shot.
“We stayed organized for I’d say 77 minutes and they kind of caught us with that last three minutes,” Grant explained. “They played great coming out of the gates, staying organized, shutting them down, not letting them through us. They got around us, a few dangerous crosses, but other than that we played a great first half.”
The game started to fall into a familiar pattern. Canton was able to have the lion’s share of the possession, while Stoughton worked hard to keep its shape and not allow any great chances. Costello nearly opened things up with a cross from the right to McCabe but Emma Tremblay got across to block.
Tran tried to double the lead with a long free kick, but it was right at Staffiere, who held onto it comfortably. Two minutes later, McCabe was given a chance with a 30-yard free kick, but Varnum used her long reach to safely tip it over the bar.
“They boxed all our forwards in in the right areas and they knew exactly what to do and when to do it,” Senyonjo said of the Stoughton defense. “The goalkeeper is also very commanding in the air, so nothing was going past her easily, which is credit to them.”
Costello played a ball into McKinney, who teed it up for Han Hong, whose second attempt was held by Varnum. It was hardly one-way traffic, as Stoughton showed its ability to counter quickly. Ella Derby played a give-and-go with Tran to find room to run in the right channel, but as she bore down on goal Kristina Keefe recovered to make the block.
McCabe had a shot closed down by Isabella Rodrigues on one end and on the other Tran’s free kick was glanced wide by Makenzie O’Connor. Stoughton had one golden chance to double the lead with four minutes to play. Ford broke free again, getting behind the Canton defense but Staffiere closed the angle and was able to make the kick save. The ball came out to O’Connor, who spun and fired but curled it just wide.
Grant said, “Shayla had that opportunity and then it bounced out and Kenzie was able to get a shot off as well that just went wide. Even after they scored, right off the kickoff, we went back down and I love that mentality they have, let’s just go.”
After being so close to sealing the win, it was shocking to see what happened next. Costello played an angled ball in behind the Stoughton back line. McCabe ran onto it, getting the slightest touch to take it past Varnum, and then slid in to get the ball across the line ahead of two Stoughton defenders.
“The middle was so clogged up,” Senyonjo said. “I just said let’s move Mekhala somewhere else because you know she’s going to be dangerous wherever you put her and as long as there’s half a chance in the box you know Emily will take it.”
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors. As time was just about out, Costello passed it into McCabe on the edge of the box and she slid a perfect pass inside the right back. Costello collected it, picked her spot, and coolly bent her shot around Varnum and into the bottom far corner to win it.
“The nature of the game, coming off the game we played Saturday (against Norwell), how well everyone played, the morale was up,” said Senyonjo. “This would’ve deflated us going into the next couple games, but the way they fought until the end could actually elevate us even a little bit more.”