By Tris Wykes

HANOVER – The Hanover High boys soccer team’s first loss became its last game Wednesday, when visiting Windham posted a 2-1 victory during an NHIAA Division I semifinal at Merriman-Branch Field. 

Hanover goalkeeper Ty Nolon charged off his line a step slow with seven minutes remaining, narrowly losing the race to a through ball in the box. The Jaguars’ Max Husson chipped a shot past Nolon before hopping over the onrushing netminder, the play lifting his team into Saturday’s final at Winnacunnet. 

Hanover High’s Eric Ringer winds up in front of Windham’s Landon Neal.

“It was a crafty little touch with the side of his foot,” said Windham coach Mike Hachey. “You’d think on a night like this the turf would be slick and the ball would get to the keeper. But I saw it hold up a little bit and I knew Max was in.”

Hanover (9-1-1) came out dreadfully flat and Windham (10-0) dominated the first half. The Jaguars cashed in the sort of 2-on-1 break regularly seen in ice hockey, Husson feeding from the right wing to Jack Runde, who buried the chance 12 minutes before intermission.

Trailing by a goal at halftime, the Marauders mingled like guests at a cocktail party. Clusters formed and broke apart. Emisaries were sent from one group to another. Plans were formulated with gestures and chatter.

Marauders head coach Rob Grabill and his assistants gathered in the background. Grabill addressed his troops only briefly before they returned to play. 

“We’re always trying to make improvements,” said Hanover fullback Evan Nichols. “If even one person steps up their intensity, the rest of the team sees that and follows.”

Windham High’s Jack Runde (23) battles Hanover’s Evan Nichols.

It was as if a different squad had somehow slipped on the Marauders’ jerseys, and the hosts tied the match 15 minutes in the second half. Striker Henry Aspinwall, listless before the break, accelerated on the dribble towards the right corner before heel-kicking a pass to Jackson Lake. 

Lake pivoted and found Murphy Hunt, alone in the penalty area’s left side. The junior midfielder, a reserve receiving a rare start, fired a shot over Windham goalkeeper Matt Kearney and under the crossbar. 

“We knew because we played a lot of kids in the first half, that we’d be able to impose ourselves a little bit more in the second,” Grabill said. “Sometimes it just takes a while to settle into the game. That’s why you play for 80 minutes, because you respond and make adjustments.”

The game took a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it turn with nine minutes remaining. A Hanover corner kick landed just past the near post and a chaotic scramble ensued.

Kearney dove to knock the ball off his line and fell into the side netting. The ball bounced once and was surrounded in mid-air and in a tight circle by three Jaguars, Nichols and teammate Eric Ringer. 

Kearney lunged into the bottom of the gathering as all five standing players frantically shuffled together and the ball became briefly stuck between their thighs and torsos. It popped out towards the post and Windham’s Sam Husson kicked it away.

“Obviously, when you hear the crowd cheer and see the net ripple, your heart drops,” Hachey said. “But I didn’t see the (Hanover) players celebrate and that was a relief. If it clearly went over the line, they would certainly have been up in arms about it.”

Said Grabill: “We had three or four guys who said the ball was in the net. I couldn’t tell; I was way too far away.”

Hanover High’s Evan Nichols (5) and Windham’s Charlie Breen (10) face each other amidst a goalmouth scramble.

Windham scored the evening’s final goal two minutes later, continuing a season that only began the last week of September because of a Covid-19 virus outbreak at its school. 

“They never stopped forcing balls long and into the corners,” Nichols said. “They ran us hard and they worked for the win. They’re a great technical and physical team.”

Grabill concurred. 

“We ran into a highly-motivated team playing very well and I’ll be shocked if they don’t win (Saturday),” he said. “A game like this will tear your heart out, but… we could have been more dangerous.”

Hanover held an 11-8 edge in shots and took 6 of the contest’s 10 corner kicks. Nolon and Kearney each made three saves and the latter was impressive with booming goal kicks and punts. 

Notes: Nichols leaves next week for several months of training in Colorado with the U.S. junior national nordic combined ski team. The junior said he’s still hopeful his squad can travel to Finland for the world junior championship early next year… Windham features triplets Max, Sam and Ryan Husson. The latter assisted on his brother’s second-half goal… The Jaguars’ surnames include Gschwend, Guamaccia and Tarrabocchia… Murphy Hunt is the son of 1989 Hanover graduate Josh Hunt, a former Marauders soccer and lacrosse player. Murphy’s paternal grandfather, Jim, taught at Hanover and was one of its earliest boys lacrosse coaches.

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Hanover High’s Alex Stevens listens to associate head coach Sam Farnham during halftime.