Clutch save, golden goal send ConVal into Division II boys soccer semifinals

Oct. 31—PETERBOROUGH — After nearly 100 minutes of taut, grueling soccer, of ebbs and flows, euphoria and despair, the climax arrived swiftly — and most unexpectedly.

One second ConVal Regional High goalie Wyatt Beaulieu was booting a seemingly innocuous free kick upfield; next second Jake Daniels was pounding home the golden goal. It happened that quickly.

Daniels' strike gave the Cougars a 2-1 double overtime win over Coe-Brown Academy of Northwood Sunday in the Division II boys' soccer quarterfinals before several hundred fans at sun-splashed Cougar Stadium.

The match was about two minutes away from the dreaded PK round that would have decided things between the exhausted teams. Instead, No. 3-seeded ConVal moves on to the semifinals Thursday at Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter, where it will take on No. 2 Oyster River of Durham at 4 p.m.

Beaulieu, already a match-extending hero in the first overtime with a brilliant save on a Coe-Brown penalty kick, began the tic-tac-toe scoring sequence with a long free kick. In one motion, freshman Max Cail flicked the ball into the box on a header. Daniels stayed on-side while collecting it, eluded one defender and slammed the ball home past helpless Coe-Brown goalie Alex Readel.

"I honestly thought that it was going to get cleared. I thought [Coe-Brown's Ben Robinson] was going to clear it but he missed it," Daniels said.

Bears Coach Christian Gompert said they knew they could be vulnerable to a quick strike — they sent one of their backs forward to generate more offense as the match wore on — but said it was worth the risk. Neither team wanted the winner to be settled by penalty kicks.

Daniels scored ConVal's first goal with 29:38 left in the match, settling a loose ball with his back to the net, then turning and patiently picking his spot. The 1-0 lead lasted only seven minutes, as Coe-Brown's Sam Drake scored on a penalty kick, his shot barely rising over Beaulieu's outstretched fingers.

That PK would play a factor in Beaulieu robbing Drake of the potential game-winner in overtime. Drake was awarded a penalty kick after a collision with a ConVal defender in the box. With the season and careers of ConVal's 11 seniors separated by 12 yards of turf between shooter and goalie, Beaulieu said he was struck by a sense of calm.

"Everything we've done has led up to this and you just have to do it," Beaulieu said.

He analyzed the situation, remembering Drake's goal earlier went to his left. Thus, Beaulieu guessed Drake would go the other way this time, so he dove to his right.

"I know what I'm doing. I trust myself. I know which way I'm going," Beaulieu said.

He blocked the shot squarely on his dive. A few seconds later Drake fell to the grass, unable to put weight on his left leg, unable to continue. Gompert said Drake was injured on the play that led to the penalty kick and took the PK on pure adrenaline.

It was that kind of match, both senior-laden teams with designs on reaching the state finals this year, and their efforts showed it.

"They set their goals for themselves at the beginning of the season and one of them, of course, was to win a state title," ConVal coach Scott Daniels said.

Conversely, Gompert said it's a heartbreaking loss for his players — he gently patted them one by one on their backs as they collected their gear in the setting sun long after the match.

"The beauty and the tragedy, all at the same time," Gompert said of Sunday's drama. "I thought we had that moment at the end with the penalty, but their keeper made a great save."

Division II has been marked by parity this season and Gompert said he won't be surprised by whoever wins the title. Three of Sunday's four quarterfinal-round games were decided by one goal, and seeds Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 are in the semifinals. In their regular season encounters, most of the results were one-goal affairs, including ConVal's 1-0 win at Coe-Brown a couple weeks ago.

Thus, strategy and execution went hand-in-hand Sunday. ConVal kept close tabs on Coe-Brown striker Adam Ludwikowski, who made made several threatening runs but was often chased down by ConVal's speedy backs. ConVal, in turn, had an edge in possession but the Bears mostly kept the Cougars outside the perimeter of the box.

Two adjustments ConVal made mid-match helped: Daniels moved from wing to the top of its formation to counter Coe-Brown's through balls up the middle; later, Garrett Rousseau dropped into more of a defensive position to utilize his speed.

The first half was mainly confined to midfield as the teams probed for weaknesses in the other's defense. It opened up more in the second half, with both squads generating scoring opportunities but neither converting until Daniels' first strike. Even in overtime — two 10-minute golden goal periods — both teams took chances, and counted on their defenses to thwart counterattacks.