MANCHESTER, NH – It took the Manchester Central High School boys soccer team just over 50 minutes to break through for its first goal. However, it took only a couple minutes to respond with a second goal when it mattered most.
Competing in what coaches from both teams agreed was a playoff-like atmosphere, the Little Green managed to squeak out a dramatic win, edging visiting Windham, 2-1, at Gill Stadium Thursday night.
“To be honest, I though it was going into overtime,” said Central head coach Chris LaBerge. “You know, I didn’t think it was going to end in regulation because both teams are so athletic and fast. You know, they’re super fit … so it was a little bit of a relief for us.”
Central came out of the gates strong, possessing the ball for the majority of the first half while creating several quality scoring chances.
“They were getting the opportunities they wanted in the first half (moving the ball) up the wing, and for the most part we did a pretty good job of subduing that, and then in the second half, we finally started finding some composure,” said Windham head coach Mike Hachey.
Indeed, the Jaguars seemed ready to pounce during the first 10 minutes of the second half, but it was the Little Green that broke the scoreless draw.
With 29:15 remaining in regulation, senior midfielder Dino Hurtic put a boot to ball that ended up loose in front of the net and planted it squarely in the the back of the net, and the Little Green regained much of the momentum they possessed for most of the first half.
Yet 24 minutes later, Windham junior Kevin Brooks was able to knot the game with a header, before Central quickly responded with a goal from Celestin Bulose in the closing minutes.
“I thought we were dangerous every time we moved forward, and it was just one of those games, when you play a good team, where we had our chances to go up 2-0, we didn’t and then they equalize and it’s a scrap,” said LaBerge. “That’s high school soccer, and you know, they’re getting to be a big rival. They knocked us out in the semifinal two year ago and you can see we’re not friendly teams. It’s great. It’s a good rivalry game and we both came to play … and it was a good exciting game, so I’ll take it.”
“It was really the matter of a couple unique plays that caught us by surprise, but I think that was probably the proper result there,” said Hachey. “It was either going to go to overtime, or it was going to be a one-goal game.”
The win dropped the Jaguars, who entered the contest as the No. 1 seed in Division I, to 6-2, while catapulting Central into a top-4 position with a 7-2-1 record, including a recent 5-1 victory against D-I preseason favorite Nashua South and a 3-0 triumph at cross-city rival Manchester Memorial on Sept. 22.
“If we win out the rest of the way, we’ll be No. 1,” said LaBerge. “So we’re feeling pretty good about things. You know, we weren’t expecting to be where we are this year. We lost some real quality players who we thought would be with us this year and my team has rallied, which I can’t tell you I was expecting, and we can win this thing. But to do that, we’re going to have to beat some good teams, like Windham. And you saw tonight, that was a tough game, and I’m glad, because it was like a playoff. It was physical, it was fast, and they’re good. There’s a reason they were No. 1 coming into tonight.”
Hachey agreed with his counterpart’s assessment of the teams, and of the rivalry.
“(Central’s) a good team, they’ve got a lot of talent,” he said. “I think my guys weathered things pretty well. We’ve got some different styles, and I think they imposed their will a little more than we did for ourselves, and if we see them again we’re going to hope to turn that table … when it comes down to it, you’ve just got to be sharp at all ends once you reach the playoffs.”
Next up for Central is another rivalry game, at Pinkerton, at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 4, before the Little Green return home to face Merrimack Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Gill.