It was déjà vu all over again for the boys’ soccer team Sunday as the team again found itself in a sudden death penalty kick shoot-out in the opening round of the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association tournament.
Although the Vineyarders prevailed in the shoot-out against Dighton-Rehoboth, thanks to the efforts of goaltender Nico Cuba, to win the game 3-2, there was a surreal quality to the game which marked the third time in three consecutive state tournament games the team’s fate was decided by a shoot-out.
The Vineyarders went on to lose in the second round of the tournament to number one seed Medfield, although Sunday’s game at home packed as much emotion as a championship game for all the marbles.
Although the two teams were clearly matched from the start — the Vineyarders were seeded eight and Dighton-Rehoboth was nine — the home team did a better job of controlling the pace of the game and creating quality scoring opportunities.
The Vineyarders took an early lead about a minute into the game when Alex Poole fired a corner kick in front of the Dighton-Rehoboth net that was headed by Billy Reagan for a score. Although bundled and chilled on the first cold day of autumn, the goal electrified the crowd of about 200 that packed the stands and lined the fences.
Many thought the game would end quickly when the Vineyarders expanded their lead to 2-0 in the 19th minute after another corner kick by Poole was redirected by J.P. Oliveira. But the Falcons had other plans and cut the lead to 2-1 with 16 minutes left in the period when Patrick Landry fired a rocket past Cuba in net.
The score stayed that way until the second half, when the Falcons’ Jake Soifert shocked the home crowd by sneaking one past Cuba in the left corner to tie the game at 2-2. Although the goal deflated the crowd, it did not deter the Vineyarders, who buckled down and shut down the Falcons’ offense for the rest of the game.
The remainder of the second period was frustrating for both teams, as the Vineyarders failed to capitalize on several good scoring chances. The game also got a bit chippy late in the frame, as the two players battled for possessions and continually knocked each other down. At one point, Vineyard coach Bob Hammond screamed at a referee when he failed to call a penalty after a Falcons player blatantly pushed Poole to the ground.
The Falcons had a shot to win the game in regulation time when they lined up for a free kick about 20 feet from the Vineyard goal. The shot by Soifert, however, sailed wide left and the game headed to overtime.
Cuba’s experience in goal proved invaluable, as he turned away 12 shots in the first extra frame alone — including a frenetic sequence when he stopped four quality shots in less than a minute. But Falcons goalie Sean Guimares was also impressive, turning back shot after shot to stymie the Vineyarders attack.
At the end of the second overtime, all eyes turned to Cuba, who again was faced with the unenviable task of keeping his team’s playoff hopes alive in the shoot-out.
Cuba experienced the highs and lows of the shoot-out last year, winning a shoot-out against Dedham in the first round followed by a loss to Needham in the second round.
Most players and coaches will tell you they don’t like the shoot-out as a means to decide a game — it’s like having a home run derby to decide a baseball game after 15 innings. Although Coach Hammond isn’t a huge fan of the shoot-out, he noted it’s a fact of life in the postseason.
“It’s not the ideal way to end a game — it puts a lot of pressure on the goalies and kickers. But you have to live with it,” he said.
Cuba came out of the goal to boot the Vineyard’s first penalty kick, a rocket into the bottom left of the net to give his team a 1-0 advantage. Back in goal, Cuba could not stop a shot by Carlos Alvarez that tied the shoot-out at 1-1. Reagan then scored to put the Vineyarders back up again 2-1.
In the third round Cuba found himself staring down the Falcons’ Keith Rose, trying to glean some clue as to whether he would shoot left or right. Penalty kicks are essentially a coin flip.
Whether he picked up a clue from Rose’s body language or simply guessed correctly, Cuba dived to his right and swatted the ball out of play. Sensing the win, the crowd began to buzz, and the game was decided in the next round when a shot by Greg Moulding sailed wide left.
For Coach Hammond, it was an exhausting yet deeply satisfying win.
“This team has a lot of fight in it . . . it was a battle through two periods and two [overtime], but the kids kept their composure and stayed focused,” he said.
The coach said his team was loose and confident headed into Tuesday’s match-up against top flight Medfield — one of the better soccer teams in the state. The Vineyarders once again put up a tenacious fight, holding the prolific Warriors offense to a single goal through most of the game.
But the Vineyard offense never got going and was unable to tie the game. The Warriors didn’t seal the game until the last minute, when they scored again to make the final 2-0.
Cuba was again stellar in net, making 20 saves, while Oliveira and Leondro Trindale were solid at forward.
“We felt like we could play with anyone, and I think we proved it against Medfield,” Coach Hammond said after the game. “This is one of the best teams around and we were right there with them until the end . . . I’m proud of how we played and I am proud of what we accomplished this season.”
After losing back-to-back games to conference rivals, most thought the football team’s chances of making the postseason were deader than disco. But with several conference opponents losing key games, the team’s hopes of making it back to the Superbowl again have a slight pulse.
“We’re on life support again,” quipped coach Donald Herman. “We have a shot . . . and it’s something to play for.”
Although the Vineyard scenario for making the playoffs appears complicated at first — possibly involving three-way or four-way ties — it is actually fairly simple.
If they win this Friday on the road against Bristol-Plymouth it will give them a 3-2 record in the Mayflower League Large. Bristol-Plymouth would then need to beat Blue Hills on Thanksgiving, and Cape Cod Tech would need to lose one of its last remaining conference games.
Even if there is a three or four-way tie for the conference title, the Vineyard will advance to the MIAA state tournament due to a unique tiebreaker system which counts out teams locked in a tie that most recently qualified for the postseason. “It’s not impossible — we can go [to the tournament],” the coach said optimistically.
The Vineyarders kept their slim postseason hopes alive last Friday with a businesslike 14-0 home win over conference rival Southeastern. The 7-1 Hawks were also battling for a playoff spot, and proved to be a tough matchup for the home team.
The Hawks dominated the first quarter, driving 80-plus yards on the ground with runs up the gut and off-tackle. Although the drive took up most of the first quarter, the Vineyarders held their ground at their zone, forcing the Hawks to turn the ball over at the ten-yard line on the fourth down.
It took the Vineyard only two plays to score on a sweep by Josh Paulson, who took the handoff and skirted down the sideline for a 70-yard score. Although the Vineyarders had only six plays on offense in the first half — and were dominated in time of possession — they held a 7-0 lead at the half.
The second half turned into a defensive standoff as drives by both teams were snuffed out by their opponents. The Vineyarders again featured the shotgun on offense, allowing quarterback Mike McCarthy to air it out, but several key drops ended promising drives.
Ben Rossi sealed the win for the Vineyard when he recovered a Hawks fumble and ran untouched for a 55-yard score.
Coach Herman lauded his defense, which notched its fourth shutout of the season. “We bent a little on some of their long drives but we didn’t break,” he said.
The Vineyarders play tonight at Bristol-Plymouth at 6 p.m.