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From The Littleton Courier




Woodsville Retains Class "S" Crown

by Krystin St. George

11/02/2005 - PENACOOK, N.H.—"Repeat, repeat!" was the chant of the ecstatic Woodsville soccer fans last Saturday throughout the boys Class S state final game at Merrimack Valley High School, as they came equipped with signs, flags, and even green and white painted faces, braving the cold and losing their voices—all in support of their hometown team.

A repeat is exactly what those dedicated fans got, as the Engineers held off a strong Pittsfield team 3-2 to retain the state championship crown.

"We wanted to make it back to final four and possibly make it back to the championship game," said senior fullback Alex Tucker. "We have a great team. In my eyes, our team was better this year than it was last year. We had a lot of returning starters a lot of people stepped up and filled some big spots."In a game that featured fast and furious play up and down the field with both teams taking turns dominating the ball, an unlikely hero stepped forward for Woodsville in the second half.

Senior Jeff Stewart, in his first year playing soccer at Woodsville, was in the right place at the right time. He intercepted a free kick from Tucker in the backfield and used all his might to send a perfect header across and to the far right corner of the net past Pittsfield keeper Tom Adams with 18:55 to go in the game.

His goal proved to be the game and title winner, as the Engineers led 3-2, and the defense held off subsequent rushes by the Pittsfield Panthers, erupting in victory at midfield as the final buzzer sounded.

"That was one heck of a head he made there," said Woodsville head coach Mike Ackerman, who was told by Stewart before the semifinal game that he was not a goal scorer. Woodsville's Jim Brant, left, fights for possession of the ball against Pittsfield's Richard Papastefanou (4) during Saturday's championship game.Not believing him, Ackerman's reply to Stewart was, "stick it in the net."

Stewart was fifth on the team in scoring this season, with eight goals and six assists.

Ranked second going into the championship game, the Engineers knew they would have their hands full with the unbeaten Panthers. But they didn't let any fears stop them, going out and taking care of business.

"We just played our normal style game," said junior Dimitri Kapotis. "Move the ball around and get opportunities to the net."

Ackerman said the game was very different than the 4-1 victory over Pittsfield last year, and pounded the left side of his chest when asked about what he saw on the field from his team Saturday.

"They played their hearts out," he said. "Every one of them played well."

Ackerman waited 27 years to win his first championship as a coach, but didn't have to wait too long for his second.

He went on to say that Pittsfield was a tough competitor, and the game was extremely physical and aggressive, but the referees did a nice job keeping things under control.

You get to [this point], you have to play like a man, and we did. They all played like men," Ackerman said.

The game was aggressive from the start, and continued that way throughout, as the referees relied on their whistles all day to keep the aggressive game under control, and numerous free kicks—direct and indirect—were awarded to each team.

With the score tied 1-1 at halftime, Ackerman said he gave his veteran team a little push, which paid off.

"I told them, hey, you want the fire engines, and you want the get together back at home, you've got to produce here. You've got to go win the game; the other team isn't going to give it to you," Ackerman said.

That speech and the desire of the Woodsville players proved to be essential and effective, as the Engineers came out in the second half on fire.

"We all wanted it; we were all motivated, plus we had the wind at our backs, so we were pumped up," Kapotis said about the halftime speech and coming out on a tear to open the second half.

Ryan Hatch immediately took control of the ball, and battled hard all afternoon to maintain possession against some talented Pittsfield players. He chipped a great pass up to Derek Graham, and the Panthers defense was able to clear it at midfield, but only for a moment.

The Engineers pounced on the ball at midfield, and an Engineers player sent it to the left corner. Forward Ryan Smith drove the ball across the net, and the fast and sneaky Jeff Robbins was able to get inside and finish off the play for the goal and 2-1 lead just 1:35 into the half.

Utilizing great teamwork on all areas of the field, the Engineers held off attacks by Pittsfield.

Stewart and Jim Brant worked together to get the ball out from in front, and skipped the soccer ball out of bounds.

After the Panthers nailed a shot way too high over the net from outside the 18-yard box, fullback Tony Manning came up with a nice play, breaking up a Pittsfield rush and carrying the ball to midfield.

As the tides turned back and forth, it became Woodsville's turn to control the ball again, and the Engineers backfield immediately shot the ball up to the ever-dangerous Kapotis.

Despite getting tangled with two Pittsfield defenders, he was able to get loose and beat both, crossing the ball up for Graham on the wing, who just missed a scoring chance.

Graham came back again for another try, and the keeper made a great diving save.

Keeper Brandon Beckley started being tested in the Woodsville net again; both teams had great scoring chances and set-ups on the free kicks and some awesome passing and footwork up the field.

Hatch made a nice defensive breakup on a Panthers try, and after Beckley had a nice catch, Scott Gould showed his defensive skills, trapping the ball and dumping a pass into the left corner for Kapotis, but his rocket shot was blocked by a Pittsfield defender, who apparently was not afraid to take some pain in the thigh.

Tucker continued to show his prowess as a sweeper, running all over the backfield to stop any Pittsfield charges and clear the ball with his long, sweeping boots.

But with 19:42 remaining, the Panthers tied the game, as a free kick on a trip allowed Pittsfield to put a charge into the ball, and Jon Valdez sent a hard ground shot under the dive of Beckley to the left corner for the tie.

As tensions rose and the teams kicked the ball all over the field trying to make things happen, a scuffle ensued by the sideline, and a player off each team was handed a red card and ejected from the game.

Obviously, that didn't' faze Woodsville, as 11 seconds later, Stewart knocked in the game-winner.

Gould saved the day on a scary moment right after the Woodsville goal, as Pittsfield was under pressure to score and able to carry the ball into the offensive zone. Beckley came out of net to make the save, and as the ball got loose behind him and drifted toward the net, Gould blocked it and Beckley was able to recover and make the pickup.

Kapotis broke free from the defenders a few times at the end of the game, sending a long boot over the net on one, and blasting a shot into the back of the net shortly after. But he kicked the ball just as the referee blew a whistle for another infraction, and the tally was called back.

It was hard to believe, but that was the third goal of the day called back by the officials, making for an even more interesting contest.

Less than six minutes into the game, Woodsville thought it was out to a quick lead, but the goal was called back. Hatch picked up the ball at midfield and shot a great through pass to Kapotis. He easily got by his defender and one other, and laced a hard shot right at Adams, who made the deflection. Graham was there immediately to tap the rebound in, but he was off sides before the goal was scored, so it did not count.

"It just got us more motivated," Kapotis said about the call, saying the team definitely knew it was capable of scoring on Pittsfield.

But the calm and composed veteran Engineers did not hit the panic button after the goal was disallowed; they simply got down to business.

Woodsville kept up its pressure on offense for the next couple of minutes, and with 31:14 to go, Kapotis calmly collected a short pass inside the six-yard box on a bounce off his chest, and poked it by Adams.

Kapotis got off a lot of shots in the game, showing his great poise and skill to get by the defenders.

He was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament, scoring eight goals and collecting one assist.

He scored in every single game this season except one, and he now has 80 goals for his high school career and 14 assists.

The junior had 39 goals and six assists this season alone.

"He was just awesome up front," said Ackerman, who added that all the fullbacks had great games as well, shutting down Pittsfield's two top scorers, and Hatch played the best game of his life at midfield, winning many balls during the contest.

As the siren sounded with the tally, the Woodsville fans grew more rowdy, screaming, and showing their presence with the use of green blow horns and whistles that sounded like trains.

Kapotis again went on the attack, chipping a shot wide of the net.

But immediately after the goal kick, a whistle awarded a free kick to the Panthers, and it paid off, as Greg Schurman and Antonio Bifsha combined to put one past Beckley.

Pittsfield kept the pressure on Beckley, as he was forced to make some nice saves and pickups all right in a row before Tucker and Hatch moved the ball out to midfield.

A yellow card on a Panthers player resulted in a direct kick for Woodsville, and Tucker sent one of his picture-perfect kicks up to Robbins for a header. Pittsfield won the 50/50 ball out of the air, and Hatch battled at midfield to gain control.

But another whistle gave the Engineers another direct kick, and Graham almost made Pittsfield pay, ripping a shot that Adams just barely tipped over the net.

Woodsville took back control, and Kapotis set up Smith for a great try that just missed, while Kapotis haad his effort broken up in front of the net by two Panthers defenders.

With 6:54 to go in the half, Pittsfield thought it had grabbed the lead when a long clear by Woodsville was kept in and the Panthers charged the goal for the score. But another off sides call took away the point, and the Woodsville fans went bezerk with joy and relief.

Beckley made a nice scrambling pick up in the final two minutes, and the teams went into halftime in a deadlock.

The Engineers outshot Pittsfield 11-9 in the half, while Beckley grabbed six saves and Adams four.

Woodsville also held a slight edge in corner kicks 2-1.

In the second half, Woodsville erupted for 23 shots, ending the game with a total of 34, while Pittsfield added 10 more for a total of 19.

Beckley ended the game with 12 saves, while Adams had nine.

Ackerman said that after missing a season, Beckley stepped up big and had his best two games of the season in the final two games of the year, when it counted the most.

Woodsville finished out the season with an 18-2 record, while Pittsfield was 19-1.

"Everybody worked hard every practice [and] it paid off in the end," said Tucker, who said he felt there was more pressure on Pittsfield to win after being undefeated two years in a row and losing in the finals last year than there was for Woodsville to repeat.

Graham finished the season second on the team in scoring with 16 goals and six assists, while Hatch had 13 goals and 12 assists, and Robbins seven goals and a whopping 22 assists.

The Engineers will lose Tucker, Gould, Robbins, Jim Brant, Beckley, Josh Stimson, Graham, Stewart, Travis Fadden, and Tyson Goss to graduation, but they will have 10 juniors ready to take their place, along with some underclassmen and a fresh bunch up from junior varsity.