LACONIA – After nearly 90 minutes of play, it took but one favorable bounce to deliver the knockout blow to undefeated Gilford.
In a rematch of last year’s Division-III title game, the defending-state-champion Trinity High School varsity boys soccer team secured the golden goal off the boot of senior Eamon Lapalme eight minutes into overtime at Laconia’s Bank of New Hampshire Stadium Monday night to earn the 2-1 semifinal victory and advance to the D-III finale for a second-straight season.
Getting to that pivital moment, however, was a roller coaster of momentum shifts and emotional hills and valleys.
Top-ranked Gilford, which entered the contest with an 18-0 record, came out of the gates and did what it has done all season. It controlled play and kept the defense on its heels for most of the first half. But unlike every other Gilford opponent this season, the Pioneers refused to fold.
“Those first 10-12 minutes they were all over us, and we just kind of weathered it and were able to settle the game down a little bit and play our style,” said Trinity head coach Phil Tuttle. “Obviously, these two teams lined up in the championship last year, so a lot of our guys and a lot of their guys played in that game, so we were very familiar with each other. It was one of those things that going into it, the record didn’t intimidate us too too much because we know them so well.”
Though neither team found the back of the net in the first half, Trinity was able to level the tilted pitch out a bit in the later stages of the first half, and the second half became a back-and-forth affair of missed opportunities by both teams, including several pivital saves from Trinity junior goalie Sam Reine.
“I think the biggest difference with Trinity and what has really changed their season is having (Reine) come in after the season started and really solidify them and made them a better team since we played them early in the year,” said Gilford head coach Dave Pinkham.
Even with Reine’s standout netminding, the game shifted dramatically when Gilford was awarded a penalty kick with 12:34 remaining in regulation. The Golden Eagles converted and appeared poised to avenge last year’s 2-1 championship-game loss and extend its unbeaten run.
That lasted for exactly 80 seconds.
Trinity pushed the ball right down the field and into the box and was awarded a penalty kick of its own. Junior striker Nathan Shipman responded appropriately, knotting contest with a little more than 11 minutes remaining in the game.
Both teams battled for the decisive goal for the rest of regulation and the first eight minutes of overtime, with Gilford once again controlling the ball and Reine making several game-saving stops. But Trinity was able to push the ball deep into Gilford territory late in the first overtime and a failed clearance spelled the end of Gilford.
Shipman headed the ball to the foot of Lapalme who was already in stride outside the box and streaking unobstructed toward the net where he buried the shot past a diving goalie. The flag stayed up and Trinity now advances to the D-III finale for a second straight season.
“Overtime was funny,” said Tuttle. “I thought they had the better of the play, but you know how that goes, just one chance and that’s it.
“For us, our two captains combining for that goal and coming up big when we needed them most, that was huge for us,” added the coach. “Those are the guys cheering the rest of the team on and getting everyone pumped up in the huddles and then they go out and do something about it, which was awesome.”
Now awaiting Trinity is 16-2-1 Campbell, the tourney three seed, which played the Pioneers to a scoreless draw at Trinity on Oct. 19. Kickoff is scheduled for 5:30 Friday night, back at Laconia’s Bank of NH Stadium.
“We know what they have to offer, but they know the same for us,” said Tuttle. “So it’s really going to come down to who wants it more. I think we play a bit more possession style than they do, but man, when we played them it was a battle, so it should be a really good finale.”
About this Author
As a longtime journalist in Southern New Hampshire, Ryan O'Connor has written for several local online and print publications covering everything from school board meetings and local high school sporting events to major crime stories and New Hampshire's first-in-the-nation presidential primary (yes, the last two are mutually exclusive). In addition to spending time with his beautiful wife and four amazing children, Ryan enjoys attending and serving at church, golfing as much as possible, home brewing, playing softball and snowboarding when time allows.
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