By Bill Burt firstname.lastname@example.org
---- — BRAINTREE — The North Andover High boys soccer team fell behind before the game was three minutes old last night in the Div. 2 state semifinals at Braintree High.
The Knights, which surprised a lot of soccer aficionados by winning the Merrimack Valley Conference outright in their first year in the league, had scored three goals two nights earlier against the vaunted Concord-Carlisle program which had been to the last two state finals.
But that equalizer, while close to occurring on several occasions last night, never happened as Medway High added a pair of second half goals en route to its 3-0 win.
“We just couldn’t get that goal,” said North Andover High coach Bill Tarbox, who coached his last game at the school last night after 22 years. “But we played well, real well at times. We have nothing to hang our heads about. We made it to the Final Four teams. We just didn’t get any bounces.”
It wasn’t without trying.
Senior Evan Dudney appeared to have opportunity on a wide open breakaway in the 15th minute, but Medway goalkeeper Brian Kokoszka surprised him by running 15 yards out of the net at Dudney, colliding with the North Andover star to knock the ball away.
It could have been called a penalty kick, but it wasn’t.
The Knights had two other great attempts at tying the score in the first 40 minutes, but Kokoszka stopped a nice re-direct shot by captain Dennis Graef and another header by Dudney from about 10 feet out.
But North Andover also played some defense of its own, particularly when senior Connor Boudreau made a diving save with North Andover’s freshman goalkeeper Paul DeMaio on the turf.
The Knights controlled play in the second half but had nothing to show for it. About the 54th minute, an Alex Morin shot was snared by Kokoszka. But three minutes later, Boudreau made another goal-saving sliding kick in front of the Knight goal.
But just 70 seconds later, two Knights defenders struggled to get control of a high bouncer heading toward their goal and Medway’s Justin Kaplan, who scored the first goal, quickly got control and easily put it past DeMaio.
Morin had two nice plays, one a drive through two Medway defenders and another a booming kick from 30 yards out, but both were turned back by Kokoszka.
Medway finished off the scoring when, while focusing on defense, saw one of its strikers, freshman Jake Warren, kick a 30-yarder from the right side with his left foot for the third goal with 2:25 remaining in the game.
“It’s tough to take because it’s all over,” said captain Boudreau.
“I’m sad that we’re done playing. But I’m sadder about the fact that I am done playing with this group. We had a lot of fun together. A lot.”
Fellow captain, Dennis Graef, concurred.
“We were more than a team,” said Graef.
“We were a family. That’s why we accomplished what we did. I’m so proud of this team.”