VERGENNES — In a Friday game that both sides badly wanted, with a minute to go in regulation it looked like the Vergennes Union High School boys’ soccer team would snap its five-game winless streak: The host Commodores had rallied to lead Middlebury, 2-1.
But the Tigers were also hungry: At 1-4-3, they had already lost two one-goal games and two others by two goals.
And with a minute to go, they earned a corner kick on the right side. The ball went short to senior striker Fernando Hernandez, who lofted a perfect ball to the far post to the perfect target: six-foot, six-inch senior sweeper Graham Barlow.
Barlow rose above a knot of players and headed the ball — perfectly — into the upper left corner. Suddenly the game was tied at 0:48.
“When I saw the ball floating up top I wanted it,” Barlow said. “It was just what we needed.”
After what might be the goal of the year, most of overtime belonged to VUHS junior goalie Stephen Paquette. In the first extra session he flashed his right foot to knock sophomore Connor Higgins’ 10-yard shot wide left.
That play was set up by senior forward Holden Amory, who Paquette next robbed with what might be the save of the year. Junior middie Shaw McCabe sent Amory behind the defense, running left to right. Paquette came out to meet him, and Amory kept moving, waiting until the goalie was off balance, and then fired from close range behind him. But Paquette, falling to his left, flung his right foot into the air and knocked the ball over the crossbar.
“Paquette came up big several times, in that first overtime, especially,” said MUHS coach Doc Seubert.
But at 3:00 of the second overtime, the Tigers came up with a play Paquette could not stop — but not until after Tiger junior middie Connor Collins had to clear a VUHS corner kick and the Commodores just missed getting a head on a serve from senior middie Colin Babcock.
The winning play started with junior middie Marrott Weekes hitting McCabe in full stride at the top left of the box. McCabe moved past one defender and used the outside of his right foot to nestle the ball inside the far post, and the Tigers celebrated the 3-2 win.
“It was incredibly important,” Barlow said. “It was really good for motivating the guys. I’m sure a lot of people were starting to think they couldn’t score, but it was really nice to get the goals when it counted. We’ve been working on it in practice. We’ve been working on striking the ball, and obviously it’s paid off.”
VUHS coach Kevin Hayes acknowledged the excitement of the game, and that his team could have used the victory. Still, he was happy with the way his 3-5-1 Commodores dug out from their 1-0 halftime hole.
“It was a back-and-forth game. That’s what you want from high school soccer,” Hayes said. “We just came out on the wrong end of it. It was one of the pivotal games we wanted to win to get home field in the playoffs ... A win today would have been huge. But I’m not disappointed. They battled.”
For most of the first half, both defenses were firm. For VUHS, Devin Hayes, Cody Quattrocci and Lane Kessler helped keep the Tigers away from Paquette (seven saves), and Barlow, Stephen Peters-Collaer and Joseph Neidorf were steady in front of MUHS goalie David Burt (four saves).
The Commodores dodged a bullet in the 24th minute when Higgins hit the post from long range and Weekes shot high on the rebound. At 11:49 a miscue gave MUHS the lead. A miskick at the top of the box gave Weekes the ball, and he one-timed it into the lower left corner.
Then VUHS controlled play early in the second half. Senior Julian Hattler, Babcock and junior middie Zach Ouellette all had chances before Ouellette put VUHS on the board at 28:22, when his 22-yard free kick snuck under the crossbar.
Seven minutes later, it was 2-1. Senior forward Timmy Johnston served from the left to the penalty stripe, and Hayes, who had moved up into the attack, knocked it inside the left post to give VUHS the lead.
But ultimately, that goal simply set up the late drama.
“It was a nice effort to not quit and with a minute to go score that equalizer,” Seubert said.
Despite the disappointing record so far this season, Barlow said the Tigers’ morale has stayed strong, and he believes the win can trigger more positive results.
“We’ve been holding our heads high in practice ... We’ve been taking the right approach,” he said. “It started here, and I think it’s going to continue.”
Hayes said his Commodores — who have only five seniors on a roster of 20 — are an improved team, although he is preaching more patience on offense. He liked the way they fought back on Friday, something he said is an important positive trait.
“I’m proud of them,” Hayes said. “The good thing about them is they don’t lay down. They battle to the end. So that’s going to take us far, I think.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]