Division I Boys: Central ‘Khanna’ solve Nashua South keeper, fall in semi, 3-0

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EXETER, NH — Back in September, when Manchester Central met defending state champion Nashua South for the only time during the regular season the Little Green offense was operating in high gear had no trouble finding the back of the net in a 5-1 victory.

Wednesday, No. 6 Central generated as many, if not more, scoring chances against the No. 2 Purple Panthers in their Division I semifinal at Bill Ball Stadium. This time, however, Central found nothing but frustration in a 3-0 loss.

South keeper Ansh Khanna was outstanding, making 13 saves, including a few spectacular stops to preserve a scoreless tie in the second half.

“We had a few chances where I really thought we could have just tapped it in and we missed it here and there,” said Central Coach Chris LaBerge. “But that’s how soccer goes, sometimes. It’s a hard game.

“I’m disappointed in the loss but definitely not disappointed in the team.”

South striker Santiago Somorrostro scored the game-winner in the 77th minute, converting a centering pass from Joona Hantula. As the Little Green desperately sought the equalizer in the final minutes, they took risks and moved more players into the attack zone. South was able to take advantage of the gamble and added insurance goals by Rory Olson and Somorrostro.

“3-0 doesn’t tell justify the story of the game,” said LaBerge. “It was just an exciting high school soccer game. If you were just sitting her, watching, non-partisan, it was pretty exciting.

“I feel for the (12) seniors. I know what they’re going through. It’s disappointing. But it was a great game.”


South (16-3-0) advances to the Division I State Final on Sunday. The Panthers will take on No. 5 Hanover High (a 3-0 winner over top-seeded Windham) in a rematch of the 2021 state title game, won by South, 3-2.

Wednesday’s semifinal was an instant classic. Central (13-5-1) and South each came out playing a wide-open, attacking style of soccer, which generated numerous scoring chances for both squads, as play went up and down the field at a frantic pace. Despite being under steady pressure, Khanna and Central’s Jeyson Lopez were up to the challenge and treated fans to an electrifying duel.

For 76 minutes, Lopez was able to match Khanna stop-for-stop, finishing with 17 saves, including 10 in the second half. In the 31st minute, Lopez made a save on a shot from 30 yards by Ethan Schnyer, then stoned Sammy Hadouche, when the South senior tried to drive home the rebound.


In the 55th minute, Central’s defense lost focus and gave the ball away in the crease. But Lopez kept his focus and made a brilliant stop when Somorrostro tried to jam the ball just inside the post.

“It was Jeyson’s best game of the year. He came up big in a big game,” said LaBerge. “He worked hard all year. He’s been a project for us to get him up to speed to play at this level and he just kept getting better as the season went along.”

But while Lopez was keeping South at bay, his counterpart 120 yards away was holding up his end of their game of “can you top this?”

In the 33rd minute, Central’s Estaban Henao looked to have the first goal of the game, off a cross from Jules Pierre., But somehow, Khanna was able to smother the shot and keep the game scoreless.

A short time later, Central’s Dino Hurtic and Martin Lubunga executed a nifty give-and-go, sending Hurtic in alone. But again, Khanna was a brick wall and stymied the bid, with Hurtic shaking his head in disbelief.

Lubunga, a junior, played a strong game, switching back-and-forth between striker and midfield. He controlled play, generating scoring chances for himself and teammates.

As the second half wore on, it became clear whoever scored the first goal would be headed to the state final. For a while, it appeared that goal would have to come in overtime, But with just under four minutes left to play, Hantula made a nice run down the right side and slid a centering pass to Somorrostro, cutting through a seam in the defense. The speedy junior deftly redirected the pass past Lopez to five South the lead.


“It was back-and-forth all game. It seemed like each team had 25 chances,” saiid Laberge. “They broke through and we all knew that one goal, with just a few minutes left, that it was over.”

Olson made it 2-0 with just over two minutes to play and Somorrostro put the exclamation point on the win with his second goal, a minute later.



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Bill Gilman

Bill Gilman is a veteran journalist with 35 years of experience covering community news and sports in New England. He and his wife have two grown sons and two perfect granddaughters.