Pedro Perez does his best to keep the ball away from Prospectís Ken Gilbert in action on Sunday. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
October 29, 2012BELMONT — Austin Wilder had scored on corner kicks before. Numerous times in fact.
However, none was bigger than the one that slipped past Prospect Mountain keeper Jake Towle with three minutes remaining in the quarterfinal match between the two teams on Sunday in Belmont.
"That was by far the most important and by far the least intentional," the Belmont senior said after his undefeated Red Raiders survived a heated battle with the eighth-seeded Timber Wolves on a chilly afternoon. "And that, of all the chances we had on him (Towle) this afternoon, he performed so well."
Wilder's shot didn't look like much of anything. In fact the crowd didn't even react to a score until the Belmont senior himself threw his hands up in celebration while running across the field. The low corner kick just slipped past Prospect defenders at the near post and into the goal.
While Wilder finished as the hero, the talk of the game up until those final three minutes was indeed Towle, who turned in a stellar performance in shutting down the top-ranked Raiders.
"That's the best game he's played all year," coach Gary Noyes Sr. said of his sophomore keeper.
"Think about the number of shots we had on him," said Belmont coach Mike Foley. "And he made outstanding save after outstanding save."
Wilder noted that it was much of the same story this season for Belmont, as the Raiders dominated in the shots on goal, but couldn't finish, thanks to Towle and a strong Prospect defense, anchored by Nate Farnham, Matt McGinnis and Joe Perry.
"They gave us the best game of the season," Wilder said. "Two teams that wanted to win, this is what you're going to get. We expected a game and we got one."
"I've been saying all year, the soccer Gods have been kind to us and today was no different," Foley said. "We put a lot of pressure on them and had a lot of opportunities to put the ball in the net, but their keeper, he was outstanding. I can't say enough about him."
"They played their hearts out," Noyes said of his squad. "We just couldn't get that one extra pass that we needed."
As expected from both sides, the game was a physical one and the fact that it started 20 minutes late due to a late-arriving official surely led to the build-up.
Prospect got right into the offensive zone quickly, with Alex Rayno and Alex Bennett breaking in on net, but Belmont keeper Kaleb Brace charged out and made a big save, setting the tone early.
Belmont had a couple of chances right back at the other end, with Farnham doing a nice job of stopping a shot after it was deflected toward the open net. Towle followed that up with a diving save on Joe Boles to keep the game scoreless.
Carl Stohlberg cleared out Belmont's first corner of the day and Jake Troy and Rayno turned it into an offensive bid, but they were denied.
Belmont came right back and Ashton Singh fired a shot that deflected off the post and out. Kevin King pounced on the rebound and fired it in, but McGinnis was there to stop the shot.
King, Boles and Brendon Johnson had chances as the half progressed, but Towle was up to the task. Belmont also got good defense from Austin Haddock and Wilder to keep the Timber Wolves off the board.
Troy and Bennett missed connections on a good bid for Prospect and Wilder had a great cross that nobody was able to touch home. David Troy and Marc Fernandez had chances for Prospect Mountain and Jeremy D'Amour and Boles had chances for the Raiders, but the respective defenses held tight and the game went to the break with no score.
The Raiders turned the pressure up in the second half, with Pedro Perez, Singh and Wilder getting early bids. Perez also headed a shot wide of the net. Prospect had just a couple of chances, with Jake Troy sending a shot wide and Ken Gilbert just missing Bennett on a passing pattern.
Towle made a nice save on Johnson and Singh just missed connecting with Perez as the Raiders turned up the heat. Johnson headed a shot through the crease as well, but Farnham and the Prospect defense kept the ball out of the net and Prospect did get a couple of trips up the field, with Jake Troy making a nice cross to Bennett, only to have Haddock clear the ball out. Brace also made a nice stop on a Jake Troy scoring bid.
Belmont had a direct kick chance as the clock was winding down and the ball bounced around in front of the net with nobody able to put it in the net. McGinnis and Perry stepped up with solid defensive plays for the Timber Wolves.
With just minutes to go, the Raiders got a corner kick and Wilder rifled a shot from the top of the box, ticketed for the top shelf, but Towle leaped up and punched the ball over the cross bar, which led to another corner kick.
And on this one, Wilder's low shot found its way through and Prospect was left with just three minutes to tie the game. Cody Yelle and Fernandez had chances, but none found the net and the Raiders moved on to the Final Four.
"We said going in, we've faced Prospect twice, both times it was 1-0, both were great games," Foley said. "So you expected nothing different. We knew it would be a fight.
"That's playoff soccer," he continued. "At the end of the day, it was a good quarterfinal match."
"They left it all on the field today," Noyes said of his squad. "I am certainly very proud of them.
"They gave it their best shot, no doubt about it," the veteran Timber Wolf coach said.
The Red Raiders will now move on to the semifinals, where they face off with fourth-seeded Fall Mountain. Game time is today, Nov. 1, at 6 p.m. at Bill Ball Stadium in Exeter.
For Wilder and the Raiders, it's not unfamiliar territory.
"We've been to the Final Four, it's nothing new, but now we're the team on top, so there's lots of expectations," he said. "But we go in saying we have 80 minutes left of our season and we have to earn the rest."
The Division III finals will take place on Sunday, Nov. 4, at 2:15 p.m. at Southern New Hampshire University.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126