The Westport soccer team was in the thick of an evenly matched heavyweight fight when they took on Millis High School in the Division 5 round of eight at Medfield High School on Saturday afternoon. …
The Westport soccer team was in the thick of an evenly matched heavyweight fight when they took on Millis High School in the Division 5 round of eight at Medfield High School on Saturday afternoon. Sophomore midfielder Ben Novo delivered the knockout punch in what seemed like the fifteenth round, when left footed Antonio Dutra Africano boomed a corner kick just over the heads of the scrum standing in the box with under five minutes to play. The ball hit the turf and tailed away from the goal to where Novo stood, uncovered. The small, skillful midfielder stepped into the ball and kicked a one-timer into the right corner of the goal to give Westport a, 1-0, lead. The Wildcats players, bench and fans exploded in celebration. Novo and teammates ran over to celebrate the goal with the Westport fans in the bleachers. four minutes later the game was over and Westport was in the final four.
“It’s an incredible feeling,” said co-captain Nick Arruda after the victory. “Nothing like I’ve ever felt before. It’s insane.”
“I ran over to Nick and hugged him,” added co-captain Dom Vitorino. “I knew we had just done something incredible.”
Incredible indeed. The seventh seeded Wildcats have now beaten Taconic High School, KIPP Academy and Millis after being awarded a first round bye and are headed to the final four where they will play three seeded Douglas High School at Walpole on Wed., 11/17, at 5 p.m.
“This is by far the best team that we have played all season,” said co-captain John Letendre. “Novo was incredible. He comes back from a hurt wrist. Then comes back in and scores the game winner. It was magical.”
Still work to be done after the goal
Millis was determined to get back into the game. There was still work to be done for the Wildcats. The Mohawks worked the ball down field and forced a corner kick. The ball was kicked from the right side and came towering down in front of the right goalpost. Vitorino rose over three Millis forwards and headed the ball out of danger.
“I told them that we need to settle in and get this done,” Vitorino said. “We knew that there was still time on the clock and Millis was a hard pressuring team. We just had to work. It was the hardest minutes that we had to play in the game. I couldn’t be more proud of these guys.”
Pandemonium struck when the whistle blew and the game was finally over. Westport again ran to the bleachers to celebrate with their fans. Millis players collapsed onto the turf, exhausted and defeated. The Wildcats ran back to the bench to celebrate as a team with the coaches. Letendre and Novo walked the field to help up Millis players back up to their feet. Good teammates and even better victors.
Turf built for Millis speed
The Millis players were big, technical and fast and the Medfield High School turf field fit the Mohawks perfectly. It was long and wide and much different than the chewed up slower grass fields that the Wildcats' have been playing on all season.
“Millis was faster than we expected,” said Westport head coach Chris Parker. “We had to weather the storm in the first half and survive.”
A sun warmed, southerly breeze also made a difference as the game was played with precision and great speed. The Mohawks blistered Wildcats freshman goalkeeper Noah Amaral with shots and kept offensive pressure on the Wildcats defense the whole first half.
“It felt like thirty,” Amaral said, when asked how many shots he faced. “It was a lot.”
“Noah played amazing,” said Vitorino. “He was saving shots that were coming in like missiles. They were hard and he was getting in front of every single shot.”
“Noah rarely makes a mistake, ever,” said Letendre of the freshman. “It’s insane.”
“What he does as a freshman is otherworldly at times,” Coach Parker said of his goalkeeper. “Noah has become composed, takes command and makes spectacular plays.”
Amaral and the defensive back four, center backs, John Letendre, Dom Vitorino, and outside backs, Ryan Borges and Nick DosVais, played brilliantly. The defense broke up plays, moved the ball upfield and kept the Mohawks scoreless.
“They totally carried us,” said Arruda of the defense. “Millis was pressing down on us the whole game. If it wasn’t for our defense. We wouldn’t have won. We would have never got that opportunity for our offense.”
Second half swagger
The Wildcats watered up, coached up and came out of the break with a new game plan and swagger.
“Part of our style of play is to attack quickly. It wasn’t working against Millis,” said Coach Parker. “They were forcing us to make mistakes, counter attacking and then coming right back down our throats."
Coach Parker spoke about slowing the game down during halftime. "We have to play more composed and play one play ahead. Before the ball gets to your feet, you already know what your options are. Once we were committed to doing that, the game opened up for us.”
Also the light breeze had picked up and lended a hand to Westport as they grew more confident and put the pressure back on Millis goalkeeper Jack Catalano.
The Millis defensive game plan had been to stymie Westport striker Hunter Brodeur with double and triple coverage. But the patient and wily striker was able to break through and muster a couple of scoring opportunities.
Westport center midfielders, Novo, Coltrane McGonigle and co-captain Nick Arruda mostly worked the ball up the sidelines to Dutra Africano on the left and Noah Sowle on the right as Millis had positioned their big center backs on Brodeur.
McGonigle seeing Broduer single covered, pushed the ball through the middle and Brodeur sped in alone on Catalano. The tall keeper quickly charged out to meet him and got a piece of the ball as Brodeur attempted to dribble over him. Brodeur had another chance on a corner kick. Dutra Africano lofted a shallow kick to the near left post. Catalano leaped up and mistakingly batted the ball to the ground to Broduer. The composed striker smoothly kicked a one timer, headed for the right corner of the goal. But Mohawks midfielder Ryan Leone was standing in the goal and made the save.
Later in the second half Ben Novo was injured attempting to dribble through a pair of large Mohawk defenders. He didn't make it through and he was knocked hard to the turf. The referee blew the whistle as the young midfielder rolled on the ground in pain and held a hand to his forehead as the trainer came out to the field. Novo was escorted off the field and was attended to on the sideline.
“The trainer said I have a sprained wrist,” said Novo. “It didn’t stop me. I just went back in. It still hurts a little bit, but I’m good.”
He came back in the game minutes later and was again a force in the middle of the field.
Game winning goal
“Ben is very skilled,” said Coach Parker. “He’s capable of scoring on those kind of shots.”
With five minutes to go, Dutra Africano delivered a corner kick from the left side of the field. Brodeur leaped and nearly got his head on it, as it tailed away from the goal. The ball landed and rolled out to Novo, surrounded by larger defenders.
“I saw a lot of maroon shirts,” said Novo after the game. “I couldn’t take any touches to adjust the ball. I had to shoot first time. I didn’t hit the ball the way that I wanted, but it ended up in the back of the net.”
Arruda had a good view of Novo’s shot as he stood right in front of Catalano during the corner kick.
“As soon as it came off his foot, I knew the keeper had no chance,” Arruda said. “It was an incredible feeling.”
“If I have to be honest, I had a lot of nerves coming into the game,” said Arruda. “After the whistle blew. I flushed everything out and played my hardest and I know my teammates did too. That’s why we got that victory today.”
Coach Parker heralded his defense after the game.
“We played very organized and connected on defense,” said Coach Parker. “We were able to minimize any threat that they had.”
Coach Parker on Novo’s goal coming off the corner kick. “In our pregame discussion, said Coach Parker, “One of the bulleted items was that we need to get score on a set piece. I took it a step further and told the team, you will get one on a set piece today.”
Coach Parker said he felt it coming.
“We have been practicing our set pieces a lot. When you get to this level, it’s often the difference in the game.”
Coach Parker was emotional after the game speaking about senior center back John Letendre.
“I don’t know where we would be without him and what he’s done. Most of his career he’s been a midfielder and forward. To ask him to comeback and unselfishly take over the roll of center back was big and he’s done it flawlessly.”
“If there’s a better center back duo than John and Dom Vitorino, I’d like to see those two guys,” Coach Parker said. “That’s goes to how well they have played.”
“They have muscle, but they more importantly have skill. There is rarely a panicked clear. When you are in a playoff atmosphere, you’re going to be under pressure. These two guys handle it so well.”
Coach Parker on Noah Amaral’s big play.
“That ball that Noah got to, at the goal mouth coming right across the frame, which is incredibly dangerous, may have saved the game.”
“I couldn’t be more happy for him and couldn’t be more proud to have a goalkeeper like him on our team,” said Dom Vitorino of Amaral.