MUHS boys’ soccer falls one goal short in semifinal
MIDDLEBURY — The No. 2 seed Middlebury Union High School boys’ soccer team’s dream of a Division II title crashed into a nightmare on Nov. 1 vs. visiting No. 3 Harwood in a snow-tinged semifinal.
The Highlanders took advantage of small Tiger miscues in the first 5:33 to stun their hosts with three goals in that period on the way to a 4-3 victory. The 12-1-4 Highlanders advanced to a Saturday final vs. No. 9 Rice.
That opening burst — plus misfortune for MUHS that included a surprising non-call late in the first half and a second-half shot that bounced off the Harwood crossbar — proved to be enough for Harwood to hold off the determined Tigers.
The Tigers finished 12-3-2 after their second frustrating home semifinal loss to the Highlanders in two years. The program has advanced to the semifinals in each of the past five seasons without bringing home a trophy.
MUHS Coach Chris George praised both teams afterward.
“All credit to them (Harwood). You’re not going to win a game when you give up three goals in the first five minutes,” George said. “We almost did. But that’s because we never stopped believing in ourselves, and we never stopped believing that we could. We never stopped believing we had more goals in us. We kept going, and we never quit. And that has been a hallmark of our whole season.”
The first Harwood goal came 2:55 after kickoff and was the first of three scored by Steele Nelson. Teighen Fils-Aime bolted down the right side and was unhindered in serving about 10 yards out from the Tiger goal. Nelson, cutting in unmarked, hit a one-time volley inside the near post.
Eamon Langlais made it 2-0 two minutes later by cleanly heading a Jack Greenwood corner kick from the right back inside the right post. Nelson made it 3-0 with 5:33 gone, picking up a loose ball at the top of the Tiger box after a failed clearance, bolting past two defenders and drilling a low shot home. Tiger goalie Jonathan Kafumbe had no chance at any of the goals.
The Tigers began to settle in and win their fair share of challenges and move the ball as the half wore on, earning their first corner kick in the 24th minute. But before they broke through, Kafumbe made a key play, smothering a loose ball just before Nelson arrived.
The Tigers got their first goal with 16:41 left in the half, courtesy of the tandem of senior Eddie Fallis, the team’s leading scorer, and junior Oliver Choudhury, a center midfielder. Choudhury, near midfield, threaded a pass through and behind a knot of Highlanders.
Fallis, reading the play, was already in full stride and bolted by the defenders, catching up with the pass near the top of the box. Harwood goalie Finnegan Kramer came out to meet him, but Fallis poked the ball past him and inside the right post.
The Tigers had more chances in the half. Sem Weenk shot high on a feed from Choudhury, and Harwood backs made a pair of saves on defender Milo Rees on a Tiger corner kick.
Then there was the controversy. Another Choudhury through-ball sent Fallis into the Harwood box. Kramer came out to meet him, and apparently knocked Fallis to the wet turf — by then a steady snow had started falling. All eyes went to the official, who made no call. George said later the referee told him he believed Fallis had slipped; few who saw the play shared that opinion.
“It would be a lot different going into halftime down 3-2 instead of 3-1,” George said afterward.
Harwood pressed early in the second half, and in the fifth minute Nelson was first to a loose ball in the right side of the box and pinged a low, hard shot off the left post and in. At 4-1, the Tigers prospects looked grim.
But Fallis and Choudhury weren’t done. At 24:45 Choudhury found Fallis cutting into the box, and Fallis hit a low shot home. It was his 27th goal of the season to go with 23 assists.
About a minute later Choudhury pounced on a loose ball just outside the Harwood penalty stripe, touched it to his left away from several defenders, and left-footed a shot back inside the right post.
Suddenly it was 4-3 with 23 minutes to go. And a few minutes later the Tigers came within inches of tying the game. Choudhury lined up a free kick about 40 yards out on the left sideline and drilled it toward the far post. The ball eluded Kramer, but hit the bottom half of the crossbar. It bounced toward Anderson, but his bid rolled wide of the right post.
Harwood started putting all its players behind the ball, and chances were few in the final 15 minutes, although junior Tiger defender Jake Mitchell did get his head on a corner kick with 13 minutes to go.
As the going got late, the Highlanders used traditional stalling techniques to run out the clock, and the horn sounded to end the Tigers’ comeback and season.
George said he was proud of his team’s grit, which he credits in part to players like Fallis; Choudhury, an assistant captain; captain Gus Hodde, a central defender; Rees; Miles; and senior forward Caleb Burrows.
“The leadership on this team is unbelievable. Gus, the captain, he just never quits. Milo, another experienced guy, never quits. Eddie never quits. Ollie (Choudhury), our vice-captain, never quits, and Caleb, he doesn’t say a lot, he just leads by example. There are just so many leaders on this team,” he said.
And he said the entire group deserved credit for a strong campaign.
“Earning the No. 2 seed, getting to the semifinals; that’s a great season,” he said. “We would have liked to get to the final, and have a chance to do that, especially with teams we know well. But that’s not how it’s going to be.”
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