St. Stephen – The St. Stephen Spartans boys soccer team is headed to provincials after claiming a thrilling must-win 4-3 victory over Polyvalente Thomas-Albert in a shootout at St. Stephen High School Saturday.
The shootout (the winner of which moved on to a seeding match later in the day) did not change pace from the nail biting second half and overtime of the game.
After Spartans members Alfredo Lopez, Curtis Snow, and Jackson Furlotte each sunk a shot in the shootout (PTA missed two and scored two), Spartans captain Jake Hughes stepped up to the shootout spot.
Hughes eyed the net and took a deep breath before sniping the shot which would take the squad to provincials.
Following the game, Hughes explained the shot was of a redeeming quality, recalling the Spartans loss in a shootout in the provincial final last season – Hughes missed his shot on net.
A sea of green jerseys rushed to Hughes in a loud roar of celebration.
Chuckling, Hughes said it was a great feeling to bury the shot.
“That was pretty good when I scored that; I exercised some demons for sure,” Hughes said with a laugh.
“The nerves were high for sure, but we took our five guys, we had faith in them, and it paid off – it ended well.”
Earlier in the match, the Spartans took an early lead in the first half with a goal from Lopez.
Shortly thereafter, Alex Hart nailed a shot from around the 20-30 yard line; which sailed over the head of the PTA keeper and just below the post to hit the back of the net.
The Spartans continued with a strong intensity – Hart followed up with a near goal on a breakaway, which to the misfortune of the Spartans bounced off the side goalpost.
PTA used the bounce to gain some momentum, and went on to score two goals before halftime.
A goal from Lucas Hanson in the second half brought the Spartans up 3-2, but the lead was short lived after a PTA goal following a corner kick – which subsequently threw the match into two ten minute overtime periods.
Though the Spartans dominated play in both overtime periods, a near PTA goal was kicked out by defensively solid John-Luc Landry.
Following the match, Hughes and Landry, standing together, signs of exhaustion apparent on their faces, admitted the team faltered in its intensity after the two goal lead.
“I think we just took a step back and relaxed and played down to them, and then a few quick goals came in; a few missed marks,” Hughes said.
“A lot of times we have teams that we might think is lower than us, then we’ll play down to them, but usually when the teams are upper caliber we’ll do the exact opposite and play up to them – it’s a habit we need to fix, for sure.”
Added Landry, “I think we had a lot of confusion and not everyone was marked.”
Higgins called the strong 2-0 start “our best start of the year” and said despite nerves running high, heading into the shootout, the team was ready.
“We just rolled the dice and I knew my guys were ready because of last year’s letdown in November – that really emotionally hurt ‘em, and they were ready to go,” Higgins said.
“I’m glad that Jake Hughes got to step up and be the hero, ‘cause it’s his team. He’s been a four year starter for me.”
The Spartans moved on to meet the Rothesay Netherwood Riverhawks Saturday evening to determine the No. 1 seed in the southern conference, but fell to the Riverhawks 2-0.
The Spartans are now slated to travel to Caraquet to compete in provincials as the No. 2 seed in the southwest conference.
“It’s kind of bittersweet we lost [the seeding match], but next weekend we can play the No. 1 team from the other side fresh first thing in the morning, which is good.”
As the team prepares for provincials, Hughes said he wants to work on the team’s intensity.
“Just playing right from the start and playing up to teams; we have to be ready for better teams,” Hughes said, while Landry added “communication and getting everybody marked, not having open spaces.”
Though the team’s intensity is something Higgins, Hughes, and Landry all agree has been a work in progress over the course of the season, Hughes said he believes the team can bring a strong game to provincials this weekend.
“I think we can – it’s going to be a big competition, so we should live up to our expectations, and give them a run for their money, for sure.”
The Spartans are slated to meet Polyvalent Roland-Pépin at 12 p.m. Saturday. The winner will move on to meet the winner of a match between École Aux Quatre Vents and Rothesay Netherwood for the provincial final.