CANTON, Mass. – Midway through the third quarter of Wednesday evening’s Div. 2 South quarterfinal at WWII Memorial Field, Canton was stuck in neutral. The Bulldogs were struggling to get and keep hold of the ball and trailed by seven against Plymouth South. After scoring only one goal in more than 30 minutes of game action, it felt like summer was about to begin for the hosts.
Goals can change games and the Bulldogs started clawing their way back. Four goals in the final 4:08 of the third, including two in the final 17 seconds, got Canton close and two more on a man-up to start the fourth made it a one-goal game with nine minutes left.
Unfortunately, putting together a comeback like that can wear a team out and the Bulldogs simply ran out of gas down the stretch, as the Panthers grabbed momentum back and closed out an 11-8 victory to reach the sectional semifinal.
“We have a good team and a lot of character,” Canton coach Bill Bendell said, “so I wasn’t surprised that we came back, but it’s still hard to do.”
Canton (12-8) fell behind early in the game, as the Panthers jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the opening two minutes. The Bulldogs cut the lead in half with 3:18 left in the quarter, catching the visitors in transition. Brendan Albert galloped forward after a turnover and he picked out Tommy Vaughan or a quick-release rip to make it 2-1.
The Bulldogs were struggling to break down the Plymouth South defense and get near the cage, settling for a number of outside shots that Panthers goalie Paul Hasenfus was able to corral.
In the second quarter, Plymouth South took control of the ball and the game. Canton struggled at the face-off ‘X’ and struggled to contain sophomore attacker Matt Smith, who scored twice and assisted on another in the second. When the Bulldogs did get a rare possession, they looked rushed and either took the first shot they got or rushed passes that led to turnovers.
“When we got the ball, we had players that wanted to go right to the cage and we actually need to give those guys a break on defense, so let’s possess,” Bendell explained. “That’s hard, especially in the emotions of the game.”
He added, “They jumped on us right away. They made some good plays early and their face-off kid was a beast. We couldn’t win a face-off early and we tried a lot of different things.”
Plymouth South scored five times in the quarter and it seemed like the pressure was unrelenting. That continued in the third, as the visitors kept the ball for long stretches and then added another goal with a little under six minutes to play in the quarter as Smith connected with Matt Daley.
It looked like the game was lost for Canton, but then a mistake by the Panthers at the back allowed the hosts to get one back. Griffin Roach was in the right place to take advantage of a loose ball right on the edge of the crease and he put it away. Three minutes later, Roach beat his marker with a spin to his right hand and fired a bullet into the top corner to make it 8-3.
The visitors were still comfortably ahead until a flurry at the end of the third. Dan Cohen picked the far corner on the run to the right, shooting across his body, to make it a four-goal game with 17 seconds on the clock. The Bulldogs got a rare possession on the face-off, as Nick Mackay scooped a ground ball and started a lightning-quick break, with the ball flowing through Andrew Canto to Vaughan for a goal just before the buzzer.
“I thought Dan Cohen’s goal was big,” said Belndell when asked about moments that sparked his team’s comeback. “That was a senior making a play, which was awesome.”
In the last second of the third, Plymouth South was hit with a three-minute, locked-in penalty. Canton came out for the fourth patiently working the ball around, but it was after a Panthers steal that the Bulldogs got a goal. A poor pass over the head of the goalie was picked off by Vaughan and he finished into the empty net.
Thirty seconds later, David Allen swung the pass around to Canto on the left side and he went five-hole from an acute angle to get the Bulldogs within one with 9:32 on the clock.
Although the Bulldogs scored twice with the man-up, Bendell admitted that they may have not taken full advantage of the opportunity. “You can’t say we didn’t capitalize, because we did,” he said, “but it would’ve been nice to just add on.”
After winning the face-off, the Panthers used up a couple of minutes before Smith got back on the score sheet whipping a shot into the corner while being hit. Three minutes later, Daley added another to get the visitors back up by three. Roach opened up space for another Vaughan rocket to make it 10-8, but the Panthers sealed the win with 1:55 left.
“A man-up early, we had the right plan but we weren’t all on the same page,” said Bendell about the things that put the Bulldogs in the hole that they nearly climbed out of. “They shut down Tommy, which is something we talked about and practiced but didn’t execute and those type of little things ended up hurting us late.”