Crusaders pull off a Houdini in rallying past Millbury

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ASHBURNHAM — There are games throughout sports history that many people claim to have seen. Ask anyone in New England about the night Carlton Fisk beat the Reds with an 11th inning homer in the World Series and many will start their story with, “I bet you didn’t know this, but I was there.” On Thursday night, the Groton-Dunstable boys’ soccer team gave people an “I was there” game.

Trailing 2-0 with just over 20 minutes left to play, the Crusaders season laid on the line and they needed someone to step up. Two people answered the call. Daniel Beyh came off the bench to score two goals, including the equalizer, while Nate Pomeroy recorded a pair of goals, including the game winner. Groton-Dunstable scored four times in 14 minutes to eliminate Millbury and advance to the Central Mass. Division 2 finals against Nipmuc, the team that knocked them out of last year’s playoffs.

“When we got down 2-0 and called a time-out, I stressed to the guys not to panic, to continue to play our game and the chances would come,” said Crusaders first-year coach Sean Wisbey. “Our patience was the key tonight. The kids kept their cool and then we just hit our stride. I thought we could come back, but the way in which we did it was just amazing. I almost can’t believe what happened; it feels like I am in a dream.”

Groton-Dunstable controlled the flow of play in the first half with a large territorial advantage. Despite this large edge in control, the Crusaders were unable to get any quality chances as they put nine shots on target, but only three were on goal and they were all turned away.

After holding the fort on the defensive end, the Woolies broke the ice on a questionable call in the penalty area. An attempt to clear the ball led to contact which led to a penalty kick. Ryan Santoro got the call and calmly drilled the ball into the left side to give Millbury a 1-0 lead 34:42 into the game.

“That was a tough call on the penalty kick,” said Wisbey. “There was definitely contact on the play, but I thought that it was initiated by their player. I didn’t think it warranted the call, but it was made and we had to move on.”

Early in the second half, Groton-Dunstable continued to press the issue on offense, getting three quality chances. Twice Kyle Romich outleapt the defense to put headers on net that were saved by Woolies keeper Erich Kahn. In the 46th minute, Doug Rosa shook off a pair of defenders and lined a shot from 20 yards, but Hahn (seven saves) was there to make the save.

The Crusaders switched formations up with just under 30 minutes to go as they tried to get more pressure going on the offensive end. While it did help on that end, it also opened up more chances for Millbury, and the Woolies took advantage of that opening at the 58:12 mark.

A long ball found the foot of Kyle Santoro, who beat a defender down the right side before sending a pass to the top of the box on the right side. Ryan Baroni was waiting for the pass and unleashed a low line drive that slipped inside the left post, giving the Woolies a 2-0 advantage.

With its season on the line, Groton-Dunstable sprung into action, storming back just 81 seconds later to cut the lead in half. Pomeroy made a move to shake a defender and lined a shot from 20 yards out that was saved by a diving Kahn. The rebound came to Beyh, who had been inserted into the game just moments earlier, and he put the ball into an open net to make it a 2-1 game with just over 20 minutes to go.

Just over nine minutes later, super sub Beyh tallied the equalizer. Alex Merlino drove down the left sideline and sent a crossing pass towards the box. Beyh collected the ball on the right side and calmly slipped a shot pass a diving Kahn into the left side of the net to draw the Crusaders even at 2-2.

“All season long, Daniel has been used off the bench to give us a lift on the offensive side,” said Wisbey. “I have watched him improve in all facets of his game as the season has worn on and for him to come up this big in a game of this magnitude is just outstanding. I could not be prouder of him.”

Before the eruption from the game-tying goal could die down, Pomeroy tallied the eventual game-winner 38 seconds later. Devin Goudey evaded a pair of defenders and sent a chip pass towards the front of the goal. Pomeroy controlled the ball and then unleashed a liner that rippled the back of the net and set off a long celebration as Groton-Dunstable had come all the way back to take a 3-2 lead.

In search of an insurance goal, the Crusaders took advantage of the misplay of a ball to put the game on ice. A long throw-in went toward the middle of the box and Kahn came out to make a play. The ball was punched away, but not far enough as Pomeroy picked up the loose ball and quickly sent a shot into an open net. Groton-Dunstable had made it all the way back, claiming a 4-2 victory and moving onto the championship game.

“What can I say about Nate that I haven’t already said before,” said Wisby. “All year long he has been a rock for us offensively. Tonight he stepped up and put the game away for us. He was great tonight, Dan was great, Doug played a strong game, and Mike Keating in the middle was solid. Everyone did something tonight. I know we have a tough game coming up against Nipmuc, but I like where we are as a team right now. We are 9-0-2 in our last 11 games and are peaking at the right time. We will celebrate this tonight, but tomorrow it is back to work.”