And in a flash, just when it looked like the Bombardiers had a chance to find a way in, North Attleboro delivered a knockout punch on the counter attack, scoring the lone goal of the game in the 79th minute to secure its fourth straight Leach and Garner Cup.
In the 34th addition of the rivalry game between Big Blue and Big Red, it was the hosts that had a lion’s share of possession, though not a tremendous amount of scoring chances.
It looked like they might have something going with an attacking free kick late in the game. The service came in from the right flank but North Attleboro junior goalie Kyle Briere came flying out to punch the ball free.
The Rocketeers quickly cleared the ball up field, where senior Joe Hilf did his job by holding the ball up right at midfield. That allowed North sophomore Matt Conley to come flying down the wing. Hilf played a ball in behind and Conley tracked it down. The sophomore delivered a hard cross to the far post where junior Alex Pfeffer connected on a one-timer. The shot bounced right off the ground and bounced over the outreach of Attleboro keeper Andre Mendard for the game-winning strike.
“When we started thinking about that situation was against Mansfield,” said North Attleboro head coach Geoff Burgess of the quick counter against opponents’ set pieces. “We knew when they go forward for set pieces, they push everyone but one defender up. And I think our chances with a 1-v-1 and if we get Matt Conley or one of the other guys on the outside running hard, not many teams are going to get enough numbers back in time. We hit Mansfield a couple of times with that exact situation so we started talking about using it more. Kyle knows when he comes out and catches a ball, find Joe and then everyone runs and we hit the counter.
“The first 10-15 minutes we played really well and moved the ball well but the first time we played them, we dropped hard and sat deep, and they ran out of ideas. They kept bombing it forward, we’d win the second ball and counter. And that’s how that game continued to go. It worked really well in the first game. This is what we’ve decided to play like because we’re pretty fast up front, Matt Conley on the outside is lightning, Joe Hilf is lightning. [Goalie] Kyle Briere is a stud back there, we trust him and we play out of his hands a lot. So we’ve bought into a defense first mentality so it’s just kind of what we expect now.”
While playing the counter is a dangerous weapon for the Rocketeers, it allows their opponents to mostly control the game. And that’s exactly what the Bombardiers did.
In the 18th minute, junior defender Josh Smith ventured into the offensive third and latched onto a cross from Colin Levis, but the difficult shot was wide. Six minutes later, the Bombardiers had their first bid on goal when Brady Holander placed a free kick from 30 yards out on frame but it was right at Briere.
While Attleboro controlled the play, North Attleboro nearly stole the lead right before half. On a corner from Joey Coscarella, a low service was dummied before Hilf ran onto it and delivered a hard shot on frame. Menard, who was going the other way, made a diving save back to his left and made a one-handed save to keep it out.
Hilf had another chance on the next corner but Menard pushed the header over the bar.
While Hilf had a pair of chances to find the back of the net, it was ultimately his hold up play late in the game that led to the game-winning, something that the senior has worked on to add to his game this year.
“He’s been working really hard on that,” Burgess said. “He’s a player that prefers the flicks and touches to himself but we’ve been working hard on having him bring it down, let the other guys come forward and playing it. He does a nice job with his flicks to keep the offense honest but having him bring it down and let the offense run up, we can create some chances that way.”
In the 63rd minute, Attleboro’s Aidan Lancaster saw his low shot from atop the area roll wide. North nearly countered an Attleboro corner in the 70th minute when Hilf played Matt Mordini in behind the defense by Menard came charging off his line for the clearance.
Attleboro senior Will Halben had a bid saved by Briere in the 72nd minutes, and two minutes later Levis’ low shot off a corner kick went just wide of the post.
“That’s been our entire season,” said Attleboro coach Peter Pereira. “We’ve outplayed a lot of teams but we don’t have a true finisher. We had some shots but nothing too dangerous. This is like the sixth game where we’ve made one mistake, in this case not coming back to cover, and we lose. It’s tough because the kids were looking forward to this one. Second half I thought we were better, played some good soccer but they have a good defense, a good goalie…they hold on, hold on, and then they get the break at the end but that’s why you play 80 minutes.”
North Attleboro boys soccer (6-3-8 overall, 5-3-7 Hockomock) finishes the regular season at home against Sharon on Tuesday afternoon as it tries to improve its seeding for the D2 South bracket. Attleboro (5-9-3, 5-8-3) closes its season on Monday afternoon against New Bedford.
“We think we’ll be a tough out in the tournament,” Burgess said. “We don’t give up many goes and if we can counter and hit you once, it could be enough. It’s real important to know we can strike late. I was selling this style at the beginning of the year and now they’ve bought into. So now they have the confidence they can sit, play defense and then all they need is one chance and it can be a game-winner.”