Caraquet – The St. Stephen Spartans boys soccer team has claimed silver in the quest for the AA provincial title, after falling to the Rothesay Netherwood Riverhawks 5-1.
The squad defeated Polyvalente Roland-Pépin, the No. 1 host region, and a team Spartans coach Darren Higgins indentified as “a good, quality team,” 2-1 to advance to the provincial final.
Goals were scored by Alfredo Lopez and Lucas Hanson.
“They had a couple key players, and we keyed in on who we needed to key in on. We played hard, controlled the play – it was probably one of our all around best played games.”
The first Spartans goal came in the first 10 minutes of the first half, with the follow up goal scored in the first five minutes of the second half. Polyvalente Roland-Pepin scored in the final 10 minutes of play.
Following the win, the Spartans went on to meet the Rothesay Netherwood Riverhawks in the final, after the Riverhawks downed École Aux Quatre Vents 3-2 in the semi-final.
The Riverhawks defeated the Spartans 3-0 to claim the No. 1 guest seed a week prior in regionals, but Higgins said the team remained confident – the Spartans had defeated the Riverhawks twice earlier in the regular season.
“We were trying to get a little bit of revenge for last week; because we know ‘em, there’s no excuses really. We knew they’re a quality team, but we figured we’d play with them.
“It was anybody’s game, but we had 15 minutes of sloppy play, and it cost us three goals,” Higgins said, adding the squad was down 3-0 at the half.
Jake Hughes scored the sole Spartans goal on a rebound after being granted a penalty kick in the final minute of play.
Despite the loss, Higgins said he is proud of the squad for making it to the provincial final for two consecutive years.
“Two years in a row in a final is tough to swallow, and we’ve been on the wrong side of it twice, but to get there – all the other teams in the province, if you told them they could have a chance to win a banner at the first of the year, they’d be all for it.
“Even if they said they were going to lose in the final, everybody would want to get there. Now we really are motivated for next year,” Higgins said, smiling, and mentioning with only three graduating seniors, the core of eight players will be returning.
Hughes, who plays sweeper, recalled the games in an interview Monday, and said in the semifinal, the squad was “really focused.”
“All the guys were really engaged, and it was a really good vibe ‘cause we knew we had to get it done. We were a bit anxious because [Polyvalente Roland-Pepin] is the best in the north and east region, so we knew they were going to be good.”
Following the win, Hughes said having met the Riverhawks in play in the regular season, the team “felt good,” and added “we felt like we had a shot.”
Recollecting the final, Hughes said “we were staying with them” during the game – but added “we made a few mistakes and they capitalized on them every single time.”
Taylor Hastey, a Grade 10 centre midfielder, said heading into the final game, the strategy was to “carry the morality up from the first game.”
Hastey said there is a chance he will be moving into the sweeper position next year, but echoing Higgins, said he felt the team will be motivated to return to the finals next season.
“It is two years in a row we’ve come second in a provincial final; I do think we can get to the same spot, even though we are losing three big players this year.”
Spartans graduating seniors:
Captain Jake Hughes