The brief but memorable playoff run for the high school boys' soccer team ended Tuesday, following a gut-wrenching 2-1 defeat to Hingham in the Division II quarterfinals. The game was decided by penalty kicks after two frames of scoreless sudden-death overtime.
With the loss, the top-seeded Vineyarders exit the playoffs after two exciting post-season games at home, both of which ended in penalty shoot-outs. At the high school level shoot-outs are used only in playoffs if the score remains tied after two overtime periods.
And while the Vineyarders experienced the highs of winning the shoot-out on Sunday, besting the Dedham Marauders 3-2 thanks to a diving stop by goalie Nicolas Cuba, two days later they experienced the lows, losing a heartbreaker to the Harbormen of Hingham in front of a stunned home crowd.
Despite the disappointing loss, the team's 2006 season was nothing short of spectacular. The Vineyarders finished the season 17-3-2 overall, won the regular season title in their first year in the South Coast Conference and earned a number one seed in the southern region of the Division II state championships.
Coach Bob Hammond had only words of praise for his team.
"They had the type of season other teams in the future will measure themselves against. They should be proud of what they accomplished. I know I am," he said.
The Vineyard's playoff run began Sunday against Dedham in front of a packed home crowd, bundled up on a chilly November day with a strong wind off the field. Many fans left the metal bleachers cast in long shadows to find a warm spot along the sunny sidelines.
Over 500 fans stood and cheered when the Vineyarders took the field.
The Vineyarders got off to a quick start when midfielder Ben Post rocketed a shot past Dedham's goalkeeper 58 seconds into the game. But Dedham answered right back when Davlv Tavares emerged from a sticky scrum in front of the Vineyard's net to punt a fifteen shot past goaltender Nicolas Cuba, just six minutes later.
Midfielder David Campbell got the lead back later in the half on a penalty kick. The score remained knotted at 1-1 for the rest of the first half and most of the second, as both teams failed to capitalize on scoring opportunities.
Emotions ran high in the stands and on the field, and players on both sides grew increasingly physical as the end of the game inched closer. At one point, Post was fouled 10 straight times and bounced back. After arguing a foul with a referee, one Dedham player received a yellow card. Another opposing player got a red card and was thrown out of the game for unsportsmanlike conduct.
Coach Hammond said the Harbormen's aggressive style upset the Vineyard's game plan.
"They were all over the place. They clogged up the passing lanes and prevented us from doing a lot of the things we wanted to do," he said.
In overtime Coach Hammond gave his forwards free reign to push the ball. But the Marauders' aggressive play continued to break up the Vineyarders attack, and the score remained tied through the first and then a second overtime.
At the end of the second overtime, the focus shifted to the two goalies and the ten players - five from each side - selected to participate in the shoot-out. Remaining players put on warm-up suits and lined up at midfield, lying on the ground for the best view.
The usually confident Cuba stood alone on the sidelines, his hands on his knees as he adjusted to the sudden weight thrust upon him. The noise from the crowd was deafening, and the student section began to chant his name.
The Vineyarders missed their first penalty kick and Dedham made theirs to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. As if stopping goals wasn't enough, Cuba then lined up for the Vineyard's second kick, punting a laser to the lower left corner to tie the shoot-out at 1-1.
Dedham then missed their second shot, allowing the Vineyarders to take the lead when Adam Herman made his kick in the third round, and Dedham missed theirs. The Vineyarders now had a 3-2 lead and all Cuba had to do was stop one penalty shot.
Penalty kicks are a bitter pill for goalies, who must make a 50-50 chance call: dive right or left. Goalies either try to read the kicker's body language, or wait until the last second before deciding which way to go.
Whether Cuba read something in the kicker's eyes, or whether he just won a coin flip, the stop was at once improbable and dazzling. Catlike, he dove to the left just as the ball took flight, getting his hands on the bending shot just as it appeared to lick the edge of the goal.
There was a brief pause as players and crowd alike took in what had just happened. The Vineyard had won by a final score of 3-2. Suddenly there was nothing but noise.
The ambulance next to the field blared its siren, the crowd erupted in cheers and the players, bruised but unbowed, embraced on the field as if they had just a won a war. And in a way, they had.
The frenzied home crowd rushed the field to share in the celebration.
On Tuesday the weather was a bit warmer and the crowd even larger for the matchup against eighth-seeded Hingham, and in the end the game played out the same as Sunday's but with a different outcome.
Once again, the Vineyarders took an early 1-0 lead when Post put back a shot from striker Antulio Neto that bounced off Hingham's goalie. The Harbormen tied the score in the 26th minute on a goal that sailed under the upright and through a hole in the net, confusing some Vineyard players, who argued it wasn't a goal.
The Vineyard almost regained the lead two minutes later when Neto streaked down the left and redirected a pass from Post with his head, but the ball hit the post. It was the closest the Vineyard came to regaining the lead all game.
The Vineyarders were able to control and pass the ball more effectively during the second half, but the Harbormen, cheered on by about 100 of their own fans who made the trip, consistently foiled the home team's attack.
When the game went into two overtimes, there was a sense of disbelief. Cuba once again isolated himself from the rest of the team, shaking his head.
Hingham took the advantage during the first round of the shoot-out when their goalie made a diving stop on a Vineyard kick similar to the one Cuba made two nights before.
The Vineyarders made two kicks to keep Hingham's lead to 3-2 heading into the fourth round, all of which focused the spotlight once again on Cuba. Heading into the fourth round, he needed to make another save just to give the Vineyarders a chance at a tie. As the crowd again began to chant the goaltender's name, Cuba left the goal, walked up to the Hingham player and gave him a large hug as he lined up to take his shot.
The Vineyarders missed their fourth kick just seconds later, giving Hingham an unbeatable 4-2 shoot-out lead and a 2-1 victory. The fans fell silent. But many stayed in their seats to cheer the team as the players walked off the field.
For the home crowd, it had been one heck of a ride. Twice.
"That was amazing. Those were two of the best games I can remember in a long time," said one fan wearing a purple Vineyard cap. "It doesn't get much better than that."