LYNN — We can pretty much guarantee that North Andover High senior captain Jeff Warden’s surprising 40-yard blast from the right side, that went over the outstretched arms of the Concord-Carlisle goalkeeper with only 15 minutes left in the game, was the biggest goal of his high school career.
And it wasn’t simply the fact that it lifted the undefeated Knights past its state tourney rival, 1-0, and into the Div. 2 North final tomorrow is one thing.
It was also the first goal of the All-Conference (and probably All-State) defender’s exemplary career.
“It’s funny. I usually stay back on corner kicks,” said Warden. “Coach (Kyle Wood) was yelling, ‘Step up! Step up!’ So I did and the ball came right to me. I hit it has hard as I could, kept my head down, and when I looked up the ball was in the back of the net.”
This goal by Warden, as unexpected as it was, had been in the works for a few months, if not years.
“We’ve been talking about Jeff scoring a goal all season,” said Knights coach Kyle Wood. “When there is space in front of him, we want him to come up and play the ball. On that play, it’s exactly what happened.”
The game was exactly as expected — tough. Last year, North Andover beat C-C, 3-1, in the Div. 2 North Finals. Concord-Carlisle, which hadn’t lost a game since its season opener against Cambridge Rindge & Latin (1-0), seemed to have an edge, as expected, with skill.
The top-seeded Knights are noted for one of the stingiest defenses in the state, with Warden usually in the back.
“We’ve beaten them now twice, but before that we’ve had problems with them in the state tournament,” said Wood. “It is one of the well-coached, well-disciplined programs we play. They have tons of skill.”
Amazingly, Concord-Carlisle, only had two great scoring opportunities, one with only 17 minutes left in the first half, but the strike went wide by a foot as Knights goalkeeper Marc Patnaude just missed the ball. On C-C’s other close call, Marc Patnaude barely steered the ball away, thanks to a dive.
Which brings us back to North Andover’s four-man defensive unit — all seniors.
Mike Canale came out of nowhere from behind to kick away what seemed to be a breakaway with 14 minutes remaining. Conor Lacy, one of the fastest players on the field, was his usual solid self. And Todd Patnaude was, according to Wood, one of the best players on the field.
“Our defense is as good as it gets,” said Wood. “The thing is we were playing a flat formation (four across), but they were killing it in the first half. We changed up to a triangle, with Todd at front of it. He was great. They all were great.”
North Andover’s top offensive performer all year, Mike Skarbelis, was marked closely by C-C’s 6-foot-2 defensive star, Julien Feshbach-Meriney, for most of the game.
But for one game, it didn’t matter, thanks to Warden.
“Defense will always be my game,” smiled Warden. “I got my one goal. That’s enough for me.”
North Andover now goes against its biggest rival in soccer the last three decades, Masconomet Regional, back here in Lynn tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. The programs haven’t met since North Andover left the Cape Ann League last year.
“They are a great team,” said Coach Wood. “It’s never easy this time of year.”
Warden: I love defense Most kids, from the first time they play a sport, focus on the offensive side. North Andover High senior captain Jeff Warden is not like most kids. In fact, he's a rare breed. Ever since he started playing sports, particularly soccer and basketball, his calling card has been defense. He not only is one of the best defenders in the state in soccer, but his one-on-one defense in basketball might be as good as it gets in the Merrimack Valley Conference. "I've always focused on defense because other kids don't," said Warden, who scored the game's only goal in the 1-0 win over Concord-Carlisle yesterday at Manning Field in Lynn. "In my mind, defense is the epitome of hard work and team," said Warden. Warden says he has played defense in soccer almost as long as he has played, "probably since kindergarten," he said. As for his defensive mentality, it no doubt has a genesis with his father, John Warden, a noted local basketball coach who professes defense like no other. "I think he'll be OK with the goal," said Warden. "It's all about winning."