LANCASTER — The Harvard boys’ U18 club knew it still had an outside shot to qualify for the Massachusetts Tournament of Champions round of four with a win, but Avon-Holbrook had other thoughts.
Harvard held a 2-1 lead in the final five minutes, but a costly foul inside the 18-yard box set up a penalty kick for Avon-Holbrook’s Evan Simpson. Diaz struck the ball with the ball of his foot and buried it past the diving, outstretched mitts of rising Bromfield senior keeper Ryan Kennedy to end the game in a 2-2 draw.
Avon-Holbrook recorded draws in each of its first two matches.
“We knew they were a tough defensive team coming into the game,” Harvard U18 head coach Nathaniel Adelson said. “When we actually played them, I didn’t see them as strong defensively as their record built them up to be, but we scored on them twice when they hadn’t been scored on the whole tournament.”
Avon-Holbrook got on the board first with a brilliant goal in the fifth minute by Evan Simpson off a curling corner kick from the right side. Simpson jockeyed for position on the far post and timed his header with precision, as the ball squirmed past Kennedy to give Avon-Holbrook the early 1-0 lead.
Both teams had their difficulty creating quality opportunities in the first half, but eventually the boys from Harvard broke through, and it was a beauty.
Mark Ferguson took advantage of an Avon-Holbrook turnover at the midfield, and he bolted up field into the Harvard offensive third. Ferguson dribbled the ball atop the 18-yard box and strung the Avon-Holbrook goalie off his line with an abrupt toe-drag.
The toe-drag seemed to do the trick, as Ferguson nestled the ball over the goalie’s right shoulder to tie the game at 1-1 in the 14th minute. “I am surprised taking gambles like that they haven’t been scored on before,” said Adelson. “They played five back sometimes, which is a little unconventional, so maybe helped them to keep the score down.”
The first half expired with the score all knotted up at 1-1. Avon-Holbrook switched into a defensive shell in the second half, but Harvard still seemed to find way to knife through.
Harvard did not waste much time, as they scored three minutes in the second half on a great one-two pass from Ferguson to Eric McAlpine. Ferguson raced the ball into the offensive zone, side-stepped a few defenders and baited the goalkeeper out of position.
Ferguson fired a shot that was punched away by the keeper, but McAlpine was there to pick up the garbage. McAlpine trotted in and tapped home the slow worm-burner to put Harvard out in front 2-1.
Lady Luck can sometimes be a mean old woman, and she nipped the Harvard club late in Saturday’s match.
Up 2-1 with three minutes to play, Avon-Holbrook caught the Harvard defense out of position, which led to a penalty kick.
“The left back didn’t get a clean touch on the ball,” said Adelson. “He put himself in a bad position to defend him. Because he was in a bad position, he started reaching. It started from a bad touch, and you could kind of see it coming from where he was.”
Diaz made the Harvard club pay as he potted the decisive tying tally.
“We have been playing with 13 guys the whole tournament,” said Adelson. “We have been a bit shorthanded. To break through twice against a good defensive team was pretty nice.”
Harvard finishes MTOC pool play with a record of 1-1-1, and as U18 Nashoba Valley Champions with its 4-3 double OT win over Groton-Dunstable last weekend.