Exeter takes title back from Bedford

Of all the cheers that were formulated for the Exeter High School girls soccer team during Sunday’s Division I state title game, the most meaningful and resounding call was bellowed by the players themselves:

“We got the plaque back.”

After a year to think about what went wrong in last year’s shocking championship game loss, the Blue Hawks made all the right moves in a flawless 3-0 win over Bedford at William Ball Stadium to complete their journey back to the Division I throne. Casey Estey scored two goals, closing with 99 on her career, and Exeter capped its second 19-0 season in three years, continuing a masterful run of seven state championships in nine seasons.

“It’s been in the back of our minds for the last 365 days,” Exeter senior Katie Day said. “We had a perfect season with a lot of ups and downs along the way, but this was the only way we wanted to finish it.”

The Blue Hawks finished it with their 15th shutout in 19 games, helping senior goalie Megan Defeo break the school’s single-season record with her 14th. She did it despite fighting through a torn labrum throughout the season.

“I did it for my team,” Defeo said. “I wanted to play my senior season. Now it’s done, now I can get better.

“My defensive unit was really, really tight,” she added of Sunday’s performance. “They literally didn’t let anything get through.”

The Blue Hawks struck first in the 17th minute on a brilliant run by Estey. She carried the ball with speed through several waves of Bedford defenders, changed her angle at the left post and beat goalie Brooke Barrett to the right for a 1-0 lead.

“Our halftime talk was about how we could not give up,” Estey said. “We continued the momentum into the second half after that and I guess it was just a matter of time before it all worked out for us.”

The second half opened with more Exeter pressure, the Hawks nearly scoring in the 53rd minute. Estey played the ball wide, Mikaela Army shot it back across and Lauren Defeo’s drive from the left wing hit the crossbar.

But it was only a matter of time before the Hawks broke through. They made it 2-0 when Estey turned Barrett’s errant clear attempt into a 1-on-1 break-in. The dagger came in the 63rd minute, when Lydia Peucker’s cross was redirected by Estey and steered into the goal by a crashing Anna Vogt.

“I thought we gave everything we had from the first whistle to the final whistle,” Exeter coach Megan Young said. “We talked about just putting it all on the line and letting everything play itself out.

“They had something to prove today and you could tell from their reactions that they wanted this more than anything.”

Bedford closed its season at 15-2-2, its lone two losses to Exeter. The Blue Hawks overcame a 1-0 deficit at halftime to win the regular season meeting, 2-1, on Oct. 24.

This was the third straight year that Exeter and Bedford met in the state final. The Blue Hawks are 2-1 in those meetings, winning a 5-1 romp in 2012 before being stunned last season, 1-0, at Southern New Hampshire University.

“They are quality all over the field,” Bedford coach Michelle Winning said of the Hawks. “That’s not to say we aren’t a great team, but when you have eight seniors on the field that have the experience of two championships and losing one, you know they are going to try and take it back.

“They weren’t going to sit back and wait for us, and they just brought too much for us.”

Exeter’s senior starters included Estey, Day, Vogt, Megan Defeo, Lauren Defeo, Army, Taylor O’Donnell and Elise Leavitt. They helped the team outscore the opposition 66-4 this season.

“I think we just really wanted it,” Army said. “After everything that’s happened between the two teams, we just really wanted it and we had a lot of drive going out there.”