Wakefield to meet reigning champion Oliver Ames in State Final tomorrow
By DAN PAWLOWSKI
WOBURN — Sometimes, you need a Valley to reach a peak.
As the Wakefield boys’ soccer faithful looked on at Woburn High in the 10th round of penalty kicks after 100 minutes of even soccer between the No. 5 Warriors and No. 8 Hopkinton, they were certainly happy to have a Valley in net.
In what felt like a split second after Wakefield’s senior goalkeeper Andrew Valley dove to his left to stop a penalty, concluding a wild round that finally ended with the Warriors on top, 8-7, he was swarmed by his teammates, all aware that they had reached a peak not seen in Wakefield since 1997 as the Warriors will finally return to a state tournament championship game, set for tomorrow, 3 p.m. at Manning Field in Lynn against the No. 6 seed and reigning champion Oliver Ames.
“It was the best soccer game I’ve been a part of, playing or coaching, by far,” said Wakefield head coach Matt Angelo. “Hopkinton is as game as game comes.”
The Hillers, who Oliver Ames beat 3-2 in the state finals last year, seemed destined to recreate a rematch with a 2-1 lead over Wakefield when Angelo called timeout with just 8:30 remaining. Valley was already a hero by that point, making multiple incredible stops to keep his team alive.
“Always keep fighting,” said Valley when asked his mentality at that point in the game, a sentiment no doubt shared by the entire squad. “It’s never over until the final whistle. Just keep fighting.”
Sure enough, not 30 seconds after the timeout, Wakefield found their equalizer off the right foot of senior captain Marc Laverdiere, whose long shot fit neatly into the bottom left corner, kissing the post and setting off an epic celebration as the Warriors stole all the energy of a game that had surely reached the Heartbreak Hill point of the marathon.
As it turned it out, it ended up being more like the starting line in Hopkinton.
The two teams battled for the final 8 minutes, neither able to find a game-winner, setting up overtime.
With the next goal sending their team through to the Finals, each found a few chances but neither could convert through two, tense, 10-minute OT frames.
Of course, the penalty kick round needed to be just as wild.
Valley’s big save to win it was actually his third in penalties.
His first came on Hopkinton’s first try after senior captain Reid Festel buried the initial attempt to put Wakefield in the driver’s seat.
Naturally, Hopkinton battle back, their keeper making two big saves of his own and setting up a potential game-winner with the round tied at 4-4. There, fighting again, was Valley whose second diving stop kept the Warriors alive once more.
Seven consecutive makes followed that, ending with sophomore center back Aidan Bligh whose shot muscled past the Hiller goalie to set up Valley’s final save, a play that will immediately go down in Wakefield sports history.
“I’m kind of speechless,” said Valley in the ensuing chaos and shock of what his team just accomplished. “It’s been an incredible season and I knew, there was just no way we weren’t making it to the finals. It was such a team win today, all the boys put in the work and did what we needed to win. Coming back from being down twice – just amazing.”
In addition to Laverdiere’s equalizer, Valley was referencing the first half, a 40 minutes in which Wakefield seemed like the better team even if by just a razor-thin margin. Still, the Hillers had the advantage on the scoreboard after about 15 minutes into the game when a long throw resulted in a point-blank chance in the box.
Wakefield had some golden opportunities while Valley and the defense stepped up to keep it close. Finally, the Warriors evened it up on a goal by senior captain Darragh Casey.
Laverdiere started the sequence with a win and a clear from his own zone. Running onto a bouncing ball against just one defender was sophomore Jack Millward, who got to it first, settled and touched it up to Casey who was flying past with another defender on his hip. Millward’s ball ended up being perfect, just far enough to let Casey out-run his matchup and one-time a chip over the charging goalie, setting off a fun celebration in front of the Wakefield side of the stands.
Valley’s save of the tournament (to that point, of course) came early in the second half on a hectic play in which a Hopkinton striker dribbled through traffic with a little luck and hit a hard, low shot under a foot. Valley somehow anticipated the bid, charging out and getting horizontal on a slide, deflecting the ball away. It’s not often you see defenders high-five their keeper after a stop, but that’s what senior captain Brian Purcell, senior Frank Leone, Bligh and sophomore Aden Stevenson did after this one.
Even still, Hopkinton stuck with it, finding a goal after a perfect cross and one-timer just 8 minutes into the second half.
While the chances continued, coming agonizingly close for a tiring Wakefield front line, the aforementioned defenders stepped up and Valley kept doing his thing, making another incredible save on a direct kick from just outside the 18, then again on an odd-man rush in which he timed his charge perfectly for another sliding stop, this time a kick save with 10 minutes left.
“Call him a small goalkeeper, think you’re going to pick on him and see what happens,” said Angelo of his Warrior of a goalie. “He’s been doing it all season long. Everything that happened tonight was nothing new for us, we just got a chance to showcase it.”
Wakefield’s patience and fight paid off on Laverdiere’s goal. The play was started when junior Charles Gagne beat two Hopkinton midfielders for possession and got it to Elias Anjim on the right wing. The senior made a nice move to free up space and send a low cross in. Millward later battled to maintain possession and sent it back to Gagne who moved it across to Laverdiere in traffic. Surrounded by three or four white jerseys, Laverdiere somehow got his shot off from the top of the box. He didn’t get all of it, but the location was perfect as it bounced a few times, touched the post and went in.
After the tense overtime periods, Wakefield’s 8 scores came from Festel, Laverdiere, Leone, Millward, freshman Alex De Morais, Purcell, Anjim and finally Bligh.
Valley took it from there.
“It’s all a credit to the coaching staff, we work on penalties in practice and I’ve learned some strategies,” said the humble keeper after the historic win.
In the end, the Warriors got to soak in the moment with all their fans who will no doubt be ready to go at the Manning Bowl tomorrow, rain or shine.
“I can’t thank the fans enough,” said Angelo. “Obviously being in Woburn was super helpful for us but just the community coming out and seeing faces we don’t even recognize supporting the soccer team – I can’t thank the parents, families and citizens of Wakefield enough. We greatly appreciate all the support they’ve given us.”
The Warriors are now just one win away in their epic quest to join the ’97 and ’89 teams as Wakefield’s only boys’ soccer state champs.
When asked what his message would be to the team before the biggest game of their lives – unlike the marathon battle they just endured, Angelo plans to keep it short and simple.