Boys soccer, Division III championship: Gilford finishes off perfection

Nov. 6—MANCHESTER — The Gilford High School boys soccer team's 15th shutout secured both the NHIAA Division III championship and an unbeaten season.

The Golden Eagles led at halftime and erupted for three second-half goals on Sunday at Chabot-McDonough Field to earn a 4-0 triumph over Mascoma Valley in the division final.

The top-seeded Golden Eagles (20-0) did not allow a goal over four playoff games en route to their first state title since 2015 and 16th overall.

"It's a special team," Gilford coach Dave Pinkham said. "In my 46 years (coaching the program), many out there said this might be the best team I've ever had."

The final appearance was the first in program history for third-seeded Mascoma Valley (16-3-1).

Gilford had a heavy possession edge throughout the first half and tested Royals goalkeeper Matt Favreau with runs into the penalty box and long-range shots before finally breaking through in the 28th minute.

Senior forward Thomas Donnelly scored on a low shot from the middle of the box off a centering pass from classmate Alex Burnham to give Gilford a 1-0 lead that it took into halftime.

"We felt like that was coming for us," Donnelly, who played goalie his first three years of high school, said of his goal. "We knew that was going to happen and we were just confident when it happened."

Gilford junior goalkeeper Caleb Giovanditto made a diving save on a Tanner Moulton penalty-kick try in the final seconds of the first half to preserve his team's one-goal lead.

The Golden Eagles opened the second half with noticeable energy and pinned Mascoma in its own half of the field for long stretches before notching their final three goals over a 15-minute span.

Tanner Keenan scored from inside the box off a feed from Donnelly in the 63rd minute to double Gilford's lead. Keenan then assisted on Andrew McDonough's goal from the top of the box three minutes later to build a 3-0 Golden Eagles advantage.

Gilford senior back Tyler Lafond capped the game's scoring in the 68th minute with his header goal off an Alex Burnham corner kick.

"We were just chasing them a lot and eventually you're going to lose steam," Royals coach Ryan Limero said. "They pass the ball around, really make you run a lot. That really got to us in the end and we got tired."

Mascoma gave the Golden Eagles an early scare in the seventh minute, when Logan Isham's free-kick shot bounced off the football field goal post out of bounds and into the back of the Gilford net.

Giovanditto finished with five saves for Gilford and had to make only one in the second half.

Favreau made 12 stops for Mascoma.

The Royals drew six corner kicks. Gilford had five corner-kick opportunities.

"They had a goal and they won a championship," Pinkham said of his players. "No one was going to make it easy for us but I think everybody knew how talented this team was."