Late strike sinks Commodore boys’ soccer in semi-final
VERGENNES — Wednesday afternoon saw the best Vergennes Union High School boys’ soccer season in many years, even decades, end in heartbreaking fashion.
Visiting No. 4 Peoples had been expected to challenge the top-seeded Commodores in the Division III semifinal, and the skilled Wolves did.
Peoples controlled most of the possession with excellent midfield work from Gabe Carlson and Norris Duff in particular, and pressured the Commodore backline for much of the game.
But at the same time, the Wolves’ real chances were few against a stout VUHS back line, and the Commodores created just as many at the other end with speed and flair.
It’s a proven way to win a soccer game: Absorb pressure. Counter quickly.
And as time wound down in a scoreless match the VUHS defense of seniors Tucker Stearns and Aidan Gebo in the middle, senior Xander Deblois on the left, junior Jade Edwards on the right, and senior Gabe Kadric in goal had only surrendered nine goals in 10 games and 79 minutes, four of them to undefeated D-II top seed Milton. Overtime appeared certain.
Then it happened. With 20 seconds to go a Commodore and a Wolf collided going after a ball, about three yards off the left upper corner of the VUHS box. Was it a foul? If so, who was it on?
The whistle did blow. All eyes went to the head official. He pointed toward the Commodore end.
Both teams scrambled into position as the seconds ticked off. Peoples defender Landon Dubie raced up to take the kick. The Commodores had no time to line up a proper defensive wall, nor the referee to insist on 10 yards. Dubie fired.
The ball deflected off a defender’s head.
And with 11 seconds to go it went into the net. Kadric had no time to react. Nor did the Commodores have time to attack. The final was 1-0.
VUHS Coach Kevin Hayes said he would have liked to see a different ending, even in a setback.
“It got a little bit, like I said, confusing at the end for everybody. To me, it looked like somewhat of a 50-50, but a foul was called, and we just have to adjust mentally very quickly and be prepared,” Hayes said.
“It was just unfortunate the ball got through, especially after the way the game was played. There weren’t a lot of chances created by either side, not a lot of shots on goal by either side. But it was definitely hard-fought.”
Peoples improved to 8-3 and remained unbeaten in D-III. The Wolves’ only losses are to good D-II teams, all by one goal, including finalist Montpelier. “We knew coming in they were going to be a decent team,” Hayes said.
The Commodores finished at 8-2-1, their only other loss to Milton.
Certainly, although chances were few, the Commodores had their share. But they dodged a bullet in the 11th minute, when a long Duff free kick rolled in the net after Kadric and a Wolf collided. But the referee ruled Kadric had control of the ball before the bump.
In the 16th minute VUHS striker Jonah Mahé smartly cut past two defenders into the Peoples box, but his shot sailed just past the upper right corner. Shortly afterward Wolf goalie Dylan Haskins beat Mahé and forward Avery Husk at the left post to Jarret Muzzy’s serve from the left side.
The Commodores defended a number of Peoples restarts, and Kadric made three of his five saves in the half. The Commodores had the best chance of the half, when striker Jon Willis ran onto a diagonal right-to-left feed from middie Adam Sausville. But his short, angled shot slid just wide of the right post.
Peoples had an overall shot advantage of 10-6, 7-1 in the second half. In the second minute Kadric tipped a deflected corner kick off the crossbar, and middle Shamus Rooney blocked Carlson at the left post in the seventh minute. But the Commodores settled in after that, and Willis had a chance on a corner kick in the 26th minute.
Then disaster struck as the final seconds ticked away.
“That’s just how it is in the playoffs, a tight game, one goal either way,” Hayes said.
Nine seniors suited up for the VUHS soccer team for the last time: Gebo, DeBlois, Willis, Sausville, Muzzy, Gabe Kadric, Jacob Kadric, Stearns and Husk.
Coach Hayes said they were a major part of a team that rose to the occasion under trying circumstances.
“This year especially it’s about the journey. It took a lot to come here, to get here, all the work to just get out on the field, to practice, to play. They just were awesome throughout the year, attitudes to the masks, attitudes to all the requirements, they just worked their butts off,” Hayes said. “I’m just really proud of the year they had.”
On Oct. 30 the Commodores dismissed No. 8 Mill River, 5-1. The 7-5 Minutemen briefly tied the score on a penalty kick in the 30th minute, but VUHS took the lead before halftime and scored three unanswered after the break.
Mahé, from Husk, opened the scoring for VUHS, and Sausville, set up by Willis, gave the Commodores the lead. In the second half Willis, Jacob Kadric and Francis scored, with assists from Husk, Rooney and Elijah Duprey. Tyler Corey converted the PK for MRU.
Kadric made three saves for VUHS, and MRU goalie Ty Dickerson stopped seven shots.