MANCHESTER, NH — If Thursday night’s clash between Memorial High and Exeter High is any indication, the upcoming Division I Boys State Soccer Tournament is going to one for the ages.
Memorial celebrated Senior Night and closed out the regular season with a 2-1 win at frosty Chabot-McDonough Field. Dollby St. Louis had a goal and set up fellow senior Artur Moura for the game-winner early in the second half.
It was a huge win for Memorial (11-4-1), which was in desperate need of a momentum boost heading into next week’s tournament. The Crusaders were coming off an upset loss to Portsmouth at home and a disappointing tie against Concord on the road.
“It was a big win for us. This is Senior Night, we have 13 seniors on the roster and this was big for them,” said Memorial Coach Jerrold White. “We don’t know if this will give us a home game in the tournament.”
Memorial will be seeded no worse than sixth in the state tournament but could move up to fifth if Hanover (10-4-1) falls to Pinkerton in its season finale Friday (Oct. 21).
With the loss, Exeter ends its season at 12-4-0 and could drop from the third seed all the way down to fifth, if Hanover beats Pinkerton. Windham is locked into the top seed at 13-2-1, with Nashua North No. 2 at 13-3-0. Eight teams will enter the post-season with between 11 and 13 wins, making for an exciting, wide-open tournament.
Exeter and Memorial offered a preview of what to expect with an intense, tightly marked contest on Thursday. The game was cleanly played but fouls were plentiful, as neither squad was willing to give its opposition space to run freely.
Memorial drew first blood, in the 23rd minute, off a corner kick by Ozzie Flores. His kick lofted in front of the Exeter net and pinballed around briefly before St. Louis was able to make clean contact and knock it past keeper Joe Bernard (9 saves) for a 1-0 Crusader lead.
As the half wore on, Exeter began to carry the play, thanks to their athleticism and raw hustle. While the Crusaders appeared flat, the Hawks were winning most of the 50/50 balls. Exeter nearly evened the score in the 32nd minute but Memorial keeper Sergio Teruel made a terrific diving save on a head ball by Exeter midfielder Jack Herring.
The Hawks continued to press the attack and caught a break when senior striker Sam Henry was fouled by Memorial senior back Josh Socuy in the penalty area. Henry took the penalty kick and beat Teruel cleanly to tied the game, 1-1, with 5:13 remaining in the half.
Memorial was able to use the extended Senior Night intermission to regroup and came out to play, perhaps, its best 40 minutes of soccer this season.
The Crusaders took the lead for good in the 46th minute thanks to some fabulous ball movement. Junior Brayden Merchant sent St. Louis on a run up the right side, into the attack zone. Moura called for the ball, stepped into the crossing pass and ripped a one-timer into the upper corner of the net from 30 yards out for a 2-1 advantage.
“That’s something (assistant) coach Jeff (Auprey) has been working with them on this week and it was a great finish,” said White. “Coach Jeff, coach Sean (McCoubry), coach Corey (Merchant) and coach Kevin (Donahue) deserve a lot of credit for the work they do all season with these players.”
Moura’s game-winning goal wasn’t even his best play. In the 64th minute, Moura very nearly recorded the goal of the season. He began his attack with a sensational back-heel pass to himself to slip past one defender, ran shoulder-to-shoulder for 30 yards with a second defender, got some leverage and used his off-foot to beat Bernard low to the far side. Somehow, the ball clanged off the post and deflected back across the goal mouth before being cleared out of play.
Memorial’s superior conditioning began to show as the second half wore on. Exeter players lost a step and were unable to maintain their ball pressure. The Crusaders took advantage, pressing the attack and peppering the Hawk’s net with shots. Bernard was up to the task, making seven of his saves (including a point-blank stop on Tyler Telge) in the second half to keep his team in the game.
Both teams held their breath when St. Louis and Bernard collided in front of the Exeter net with about two minutes to play. Both players had to leave the game. Bernard was able to return quickly but St. Louis took the rest of the night off. White is hopeful the senior striker will be 100 percent for the start of the state tournament.
“We’ll have to see. It happened with two minutes left, he was looked at by the trainer but we will have to take it day-to-day and see how he is,” he said.