Gilford’s Anthony Diamantoplos dribbles by Belmont’s Joe Boles during the visiting Red Raiders’ 3-1 win on Homecoming in Gilford on Sept. 22. Jeff Lajoie. (click for larger version)
September 24, 2012GILFORD – The way the rivalry has developed in recent years, a lot of people had Sept. 22 circled on their calendars.
For the big crowd on hand for Homecoming in Gilford, the Belmont-Gilford boys' soccer game lived up to its billing, as the visiting Red Raiders scored twice in the second half to earn a 3-1 win and improve to 9-0 on the season. Host Gilford, which travels to Belmont this Saturday, Sept. 29, for the rematch, fell to 7-2.
"It's a good feeling, definitely," said Belmont senior captain Austin Wilder. "We've been looking forward to this game. The whole week it was all anyone had talked about. We showed up this morning, got right into it and everyone was focused so that was good."
While the action was fierce (and physical) on the field, both teams welcomed the challenge, as the sides have each played their share of lopsided games during the early portion of the regular season.
"I think we got the game we knew we were going to get," admitted Belmont coach Mike Foley. "We knew it was going to be a physical game, (Gilford is) the best skilled team we've seen so far. They have offensive threats, a solid keeper and defense. The result is fantastic but it's that classic Belmont-Gilford rivalry."
Gilford coach Dave Pinkham agreed.
"Whether you win or lose, this is a coach's dream to play these games right now," the veteran head man said. "It's a great game to have. Belmont is very, very solid. They're all seniors, they've got so many seniors on that team and they've all played together for so many years."
Pedro Perez put the Raiders ahead just 5:24 into the first half, as the senior flicked in a goal off a corner kick to give the visitors a quick 1-0 lead.
It would stay that way into halftime, but the Eagles needed just two minutes of the second half to get the equalizer. Gilford tallied on one of its many corner kicks, with Keaton Quigley taking it and sending it towards the Belmont net. The ball deflected off a Belmont player, going into the back of the net for an own goal that tied the game 1-1.
"Traditionally, Gilford's strength has been get as many corner kicks as you can and they have kids who can snipe," explained Foley. "That's been their bread and butter for a long time. I can't even begin to think how many corner kicks we gave them. It was too many."
The goal brought new life to the Eagles, and the raucous crowd watched as the tides turned briefly.
"This is one of the better teams we've had on corner kicks," Pinkham said. "We scored a lot of goals on corner kicks this year. I was happy to see what I saw out there. Particularly after the way we gave up that opening goal. We could've folded right then and there and the kids didn't."
The Eagles had two corner kicks shortly after the tying goal, but the Raiders buckled down and cleared the zone. Belmont would regroup, and the visitors regained the lead with 21:22 remaining. Brendon Johnson hit an absolute bullet from 20 yards out, though Gilford goalkeeper Nolan Dwyer made the initial stop. The rebound went right to Ashton Singh on the doorstep however, and he popped it into the back of the net for a 2-1 Raiders lead.
"It was an uphill battle after (the Gilford tying goal)," Wilder said. "Then once we did dig ourselves out and get that goal to get back on top, I definitely saw a more calming mood. We really slowed it down in the second half and played our game."
Belmont goalkeeper Kaleb Brace made a nice save on a shot from Gilford's Dan Dormody late in regulation, and the Raiders were able to tack on an insurance goal with just 37 seconds left when Jeremy D'Amour broke free and finished off the 3-1 win off a feed from Kevin King.
"You've got to be able to respond when a team scores upon you," Foley said. "It took us a good 10-15 minutes to get our composure and figure out what we were trying to do again. It was a hard-fought game but getting that insurance goal late makes things easier."
Despite the loss, Pinkham was pleased with how his team performed. While the Eagles moved forward to get the equalizer in the second half, the coach thought they played a bit too far back when Belmont retook the lead.
"We knew from a possession standpoint that they were going to control the game at points," Pinkham said. "That didn't bother us at all because it's where the ball is on the field that matters. In the second half, I said I was going to take chances. But I also told the coaches on the bench that we seem too satisfied with tying the game up. So we sat back, sat back. And I said sooner or later they're going to score. And they did."
The much-anticipated rematch is slated for noon on Saturday in Belmont, as the Raiders have a full day of games as part of Homecoming on the docket.