Souhegan, Lebanon play to 1-1 draw

AMHERST – The boys soccer playoffs don’t begin for another three weeks, but the Souhegan High School team found itself in one on its home field Tuesday night against Lebanon.

With the teams in the top six of the Division II standings, they could easily meet again in a couple of weeks, but with a different outcome.

Simply put, someone will have to win.

Matt Hopfenspringer headed in the game-tying goal for Souhegan in the 49th minute, and despite several opportunities for each side, the Sabers and Raiders finished in a 1-1 tie.

Reed Larson got an assist on Souhegan’s goal, as he sent a free kick across the front of the net. The ball somehow found its way to Hopfenspringer on the far side and he put his head on it to the surprise of Lebanon keeper Miguel Hernandez (three saves).

“It was a great free kick take and a great back-post finish,” Souhegan coach Dave Saxe said. “It’s not something we rehearse a lot, but it was high quality.”

And it was similar to the goal Lebanon’s Graham Chickering scored in the first half to give the Raiders the lead. That score came off a throw-in.

“We score on a restart, they score a goal on a restart,” Lebanon coach Rob Johnstone said. “Often (in the playoffs), that’s the difference. We both had hard-earned opportunities because it wasn’t going to be given.

“Some chances went wide, we hit the crossbar, but that’s for a reason. You don’t have all day to pick your spot. You know there will be defensive pressure, but the chances were generated, which is why I think it was a really entertaining game.”

Lebanon got a good chance right out of halftime, as a shot got over Souhegan goalie Teigue Young (six saves), but hit off the cross bar and was cleared out.

Late in the second half, the Raiders were able to drop a free kick behind the Souhegan defense and into the box, but no one was able to get to it before the ball went out. Moments later, on the other end, Souhegan’s Devan Casey had a chance in front of the goal, but his shot went over the net.

Souhegan had another great chance late in the first overtime, but Hernandez was able to grab the ball over the head of the Sabers’ Ali Eweiss, who had a chance at a breakaway as time expired.

The Sabers’ Josh Anson had the best chance in the second OT, as Souhegan’s precision passing led to Anson getting the ball behind the defense with an open shot at Hernandez. Anson tried to go to the short side, but his shot hit the side of the goal.

“That eight-pass sequence was something we trained for, just a little technical mistake, but creating that chance was awesome,” Saxe said of the play. “I know we can continue to do that because we have in the past.”

Souhegan got a free kick moments later, but a well-placed ball hit Casey and caromed in the other direction. Lebanon was able to turn it into a chance, but the final whistle sounded before the Raiders could get a shot off.

“Maybe that’s the game in a microcosm,” Johnstone said of each team running out of time. “I think it’s a testament to the quality of the teams that there were chances, but to the quality of the defensive organization, we’re talking about a split-second to take advantage.”

Souhegan goes back to work on Friday when it heads to Windham, the first of four road games in the team’s final five.