---- — LYNN — So often in a state soccer final, space on the field is impossible to come by and goals are few and far between.
Last night in the Division 2 championship match at Manning Field, Masconomet went wide to break that mold. In doing so, they broke into the pantheon of North Shore soccer greats.
The Chieftains scored three goals in four minutes at the start of the second half and held on for a 4-2 win over Walpole despite playing much of the second half with 10 players.
Masconomet (23-1-1) joyously hoisted the second Division 2 state championship trophy in their program history, and became the third area team to win a boys state soccer title in the modern era.
Knowing “2013” would be etched alongside “1996” in Masconomet soccer history was an incredible realization for the Chieftain seniors.
“Amazing. I’m at a loss for words,” said Adam Grammer, one of Masco’s captains. “I was born in 1996. It was just meant to happen.”
A throng of Masconomet fans turned out at Manning last night, bringing huge cardboard head cut-outs of goalie Willie Stewart and senior P.J. Criscione among others. There was one fan wearing a fully feathered Chieftain head dress. The Masco players were sure to run in front of them after each goal, and brought them the trophy in the sea of celebration afterwards.
“The whole school came out. Everyone was excited all day,” said Grammer. “This was an amazing atmosphere and we can’t thank them enough. To have I don’t know how many people out there behind us was special.”
The final was tied 1-1 at half when an eventful opening 10 minutes of the second half changed everything.
First, Masco captain Jeff Panella went down with an injury in the first minute of the half. It was the type of moment that could take the wind out of a team’s sails, especially with the game tied and Walpole gaining traction.
Captain to captain, Grammer made sure his team had no time to worry. Almost immediately after play resumed, he put Masco on top with an assist to Edison Forbes.
“Everybody loves their captains,” said Masco coach Dave Mitchell. “I was over with Jeff, and I’m sure Adam got the guys together and kept them composed there. Everybody stepped up.”
The Chieftains weren’t content to sit back up by a goal (“Way too much time for that,” Mitchell said). Criscione struck 46 second later, assisted by senior Stephen Pease (who had a first half goal). Another 28 seconds later, Forbes found the back of the net and suddenly Masco had three goals in four minutes and a 4-1 lead.
“It didn’t even seem real. It felt like I was in a dream when I scored my goal,” said Criscione. “I could barely comprehend what was happening.”
Walpole added to the frantic pace by potting a goal 46 seconds later to make it 4-2. Then a few minutes after that, Forbes received a red card and was sent off. Masco played the final 31 minutes of the game with 10 players, though you wouldn’t have known it based on how much possession over the 50-yard line they had.
The final half-hour of action was much calmer than those first 10 minutes of the second half. The damage was done and Masco was destined to hoist the state title.
“We pride ourselves on fitness, from the first day of double sessions,” said Mitchell, echoing the sentiments of Lenny Emmons, who led the Chieftains to the 1996 state title and some 576 wins.
Just how did Masco open up the space to create, and finish, three quality scoring chances in such a short time? By using precision passing and playing the entire width of the field. In this instances, going East-West was just as effective and running North and South.
“I was shocked by the pace. Walpole is a very good team. We had some room in the middle, and we were threading it outside because there was so much room,” said Criscione. “We took it wide and crossed it in.”
Forbes, who had a goal and two assists, was one of the catalysts. “The man, the myth the legend. He had amazing footwork,” Criscione said.
Pease, another senior, was also excellent on the wing. Cricsione was hard to stop dribbling both inside and outside, and using his speed on stretch runs. His winning goal, his third game winner of the tournament, was jump-started by a speedy sideline run by Pease.
The Chieftains never trailed in the state tournament. A few of their players went the distance after falling in the state final in 2011. Those magic moments that put them over the top were well earned, but they went by so quickly that before Walpole could blink they were down by three goals.
Credit the Cheiftains for remaining composed in the face of those ten fast-paced minutes. They received three yellow cards, and had to keep their wits about them because of rules that might’ve forced a forfeit if they’d gotten another.
The memories of this night, and this season, may go by like a blur. They’ll remember the roar of the crowd, and the sight of their arms in the air as they ran to each other goal after goal.
If it all went by too fast and they ever forget, they can go back to the gym at Masconomet Regional. There, “2013” will be posted as a reminder, forever, next to the two best words in high school sports:
Matt Williams is the assistant sports editor of The Salem News. You can contact him at MWilliams@salemnews.com, 978-338-2669 and follow him on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.