MIDDLEBURY — An opportunistic host Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team surprised undefeated Mount Abraham by taking a 3-1 lead early in Tuesday’s second half, but the Eagles answered with a surge and a 5-3 win that preserved their perfect record.
Eagle senior midfielder and co-captain Sawyer Kamman tallied the game-winner with 9:25 to go and earned a bit of a fortunate assist on Ethan White’s goal that made it 3-2. That came just 27 seconds after Tiger senior Max Livingstone-Peters’ second score gave his team a two-goal lead.
Kamman said the 10-0 Eagles handled Tuesday’s adversity well.
“To be down, 3-1, early in the second half and know we had to overcome that, that was a huge test for us,” Kamman said. “I’m really glad how we responded to it.”
MUHS first-year coach Bret Weekes saw his team — which lost a dozen players to graduation — fall to 1-10. But he said Tuesday’s effort showed the Tigers have worked hard and gotten better.
“Half to half and practice to practice, there’s continued improvement,” Weekes said. “We are a very young team and we are building … And today we saw a lot of those things coming together, the combinations, the composure, the play.”
The Eagles controlled most of the action, outshooting the Tigers by 33-9, 19-2 in the second half. But in the sixth minute, Livingstone-Peters made the Eagle defenders pay for casual passing. He intercepted a pass outside the box, moved inside the box and drilled a right-footed shot inside the left post. Eagle senior goalie Ira Fisher (three saves) had no chance.
The Eagles continued to control midfield, with seniors Cale Thygesen and Aiden White-Pifer, junior Theo Weaver and sophomore Jackie Gorton setting up runs by senior forwards Ethan White and Rider MacCrellish.
Tiger sophomore central defender Burke Weekes broke up several plays, while senior Cole Bennett marked White closely and juniors Mathias VanOrder Gonzalez and Jacob Lawson held their own on the flanks. Junior goalie Bo Tran (nine saves), back from missing three weeks with an injury, denied White-Pifer and came off his line to break up a couple chances.
The Tigers began to hold their own at midfield, however, with good work from juniors Cal Birdsey, Evan Ryan and Jerry Staret and sophomore Drew Barnicle. Barnicle had a chance in the 11th minute, but shot wide.
In the 18th minute it suddenly became 2-0. Livingstone-Peters served from the left side toward the far post, and an Eagle back failed to control cleanly. The ball bounced to Ryan inside the penalty stripe, and he found the right side of the goal.
Mount Abe controlled possession and pulled to within one with 12 minutes left in the half. The ball bounced from the right side to Gorton, about 22 yards out in the middle of the field. His hard, low shot nestled inside the left post.
As the second half opened, Tiger senior middie Gabrio McCarty went on a strong run down the left side and was fouled just outside the Eagle box. Staret sent the kick toward the near post, and Livingstone-Peters lunged to get a foot on it and deflect it high up into the corner. At 38:13, it was 3-1.
At 37:46, it was 3-2. Thygesen lofted a ball from the right side toward the far post, where Kamman and a Tiger battled for position. The ball struck Kamman and bounced back to White, who rapped it home.
The Eagles nearly equalized three minutes later. White-Pifer served from the right to Kamman at the penalty stripe. Tran deflected Kamman’s header, and Weekes kicked the ball back over his head and away off the goal line.
Mount Abe knotted the score at 26:06. MacCrellish fed Thygesen inside the 18, and his shot found a corner.
A minute later, Tran dove to his right to knock another Thygesen bid wide.
Kamman gave the Eagles the lead at 9:25. He touched the ball around a defender in the left side of the box and pounded a left-footed shot into the near corner. Thygesen added an insurance goal, set up by Gorton, three minutes later.
Kamman said the Eagles talked at halftime about smarter decisions in the back and using the width of the field better on the attack.
“We weren’t even playing that bad of a game. We just had two miscues that led to goals. But we knew we were playing the way we wanted to play. We just had to capitalize a little bit better,” Kamman said.
Eagle coach Mike Corey first praised the Tigers’ effort.
“My hat’s off to Middlebury. They’ve had some tough moments, and they played really well,” Corey said. “I think Bret’s doing the right thing with these guys. They played that one-and-two-touch, and they moved the ball well.”
And he said the Eagles could learn from Tuesday’s game.
“The first thing it can help us do is understand in our defensive third, particularly around the penalty area, we can’t be too comfortable, we have to play the ball out,” Corey said. “The other is being poised enough to play your game until you get what you came here for, the result.”
Kamman said the team’s chemistry and Thygesen’s play in the middle have been big factors for the Eagles. Looking forward to the playoffs, he said the Eagles need to be consistent.
“There will be tough teams in there for sure, and if we make the miscues against them it will be harder to rebound going forward,” he said. “So we’ve go to play our best game from start to finish to do well,”
Meanwhile, the Tigers are building for the future. On Tuesday, Coach Weekes said he saw the elements that can be part of a foundation.
“We did a lot of very nice things,” he said. “It’s satisfying to see us getting back in our direction and playing well.
“I give a lot of tribute to the kids,” Weekes said. “They’ve been able to find ways to stay united.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]