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.”