BRISTOL — After seven scores and three lead changes during Tuesday’s high school girls’ soccer game between Vergennes and Mount Abraham, the host Eagles enjoyed the happiest goal celebration.
With 1:09 left in regulation, the Eagles capped a late rally when reserve forward Charlotte Paul popped in a loose ball from close range to make the score 4-3.
When the Commodores’ final bid missed — middie Lexa Higbee hit the side netting at 0:45 — the Eagles had earned their second win of the season, and had done so at the expense of a rival squad that has had their number in recent years.
The Eagles are 2-7-1, with six of their losses by either one or two goals. Although Tuesday’s game was tied at the half, 1-1, the Commodores had outworked them, but the Eagles battled harder for the ball in the second half.
Paul said the Eagles did not want to settle for another disappointing setback, even when VUHS freshman Ruby Dombek’s third goal put the Commodores up, 3-2, with 18:39 to go.
“We finally decided that this was the game that we needed to win,” Paul said. “Especially because it was our rival school, we just wanted it enough not to give up, I guess. I think we just decided we needed to go after 50-50 balls, and I think that’s what did it for us.”
VUHS coach Dwight Irish’s team dropped to 5-5-1 and lost a chance to gain points in its quest for a high Division II playoff seed. The Commodores fell behind, 2-1, early in the second half, but in his view righted themselves and regained control. But Irish also felt the Commodores never established their offensive flow, in part because the Eagles wouldn’t let them.
“It was the ebb and flow of the game,” Irish said. “Once we got that third goal, I thought we were back at it, but we just couldn’t establish that rhythm for an extended amount of time, the possession and the shots on goal. But Mount Abe kept at us. So credit to them.”
VUHS struck 53 seconds into the game. The Eagles failed to act decisively to break up a Commodore build-up, and middie Lily Haigis fed Dombek in the right side of the box. Dombek found the left side of the goal, giving Eagle goalie Gwen Merrill (four saves) no chance.
Mount Abe equalized at 32:20 on a counterattack. Middie Evy Jacobs sent the ball in from the left side, and striker Jena Whitaker one-timed the thigh-high serve past VUHS goalie Caitlin Chaput (four saves) from point-blank range.
The half ended tied despite the Commodores’ advantage in territory reflected in their 3-0 edge in corner kicks. Midfielders Michaela Bicknell, Dani Stapleford, Haigis and Higbee, and stopper Casey Shea all stepped up to win balls and keep the pressure on the Eagles.
Merrill came out to deny Dombek at one point, at another no Commodore put a foot on a Kenadi Dattilio corner kick that rolled across the goal, and defenders Megan Ogden and Jesse Martin teamed up to break up a VUHS direct kick.
At the other end, Chaput beat Paul to a ball, defender Ashley Brunet marked Whitaker well, and sweeper Tabby Danyow roamed from sideline to sideline.
Then the Eagles came out strong after the break. Whitaker created two quick threats, and midfielder Nicole Norland gave Mount Abe the lead at 38:04. She won the ball and unloaded from about 22 yards. Her shot hit the underside of the crossbar, bounced out, and spun over the goal line.
Soon afterward, Chaput stopped a pair of Whitaker bids as the Eagles pressed.
The Commodores fought back; 12 minutes in, Dattilio sent striker Abbey Baker into the Eagle box, and Merrill moved quickly to break up the play.
But Merrill had no chance 90 seconds later, when Higbee sent Dombek into the box with a through ball, and Dombek found the left corner.
At 18:39, Dombek struck again for her second hat trick of the fall, taking a feed from Stapleford just outside the box and looping a high, left-footed shot home.
At 8:44, the Eagles knotted the score. Whitaker sent a high ball from midfield to Jacobs at the top of the box. Jacobs outmuscled a defender for the ball, tapped it around the charging Chaput, and rapped it in to tie the game at 3-3.
As time wound down, the Eagles earned their first two corner kicks. Jacobs served the second to the near corner, and Chaput and Norland collided going for it. The ball popped to Paul a few feet away, and she side-footed the ball home.
Everything in that scramble seemed like a blur afterward, Paul said.
“I don’t even know how it happened, but it couldn’t have happened at a better time,” she said. “I think I just happened to be in the right place in the right time.“
Irish said he believed the Commodores had reasserted themselves before the late strikes.
“I was not sure we were going to come back, and then we tied it,” he said. “And then we got back to playing the way we should, that stretch in the middle when we were controlling the play and creating good chances.”
Eagle coach Dustin Corrigan — whose team also got good moments from backs Rachael Zeno and Casey Ogden and midfielders Brooke Lossman, Katrina Camara, Emily Sundstrom and M.K. Charnley — said the Eagles learned they could win a close game and that effort produces results.
“It was a very even match. They’re a lot like us,” he said. “When a game is that close, who wants it more? Who wants to work harder for it? Who’s going to get to those balls in the air and win those 50-50s and the knockdowns? Those kinds of things really end up deciding the match. Our girls picked it up. They started flat, but they picked it up.”
Paul said the Eagles have believed all along they were better than their results, and now they have evidence.
“In all of our other games we could be dominating, and lose by one goal,” Paul said. “Our record really doesn’t show what kind of team we are. So I’m really glad today we had a chance to prove that.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.