NEWPORT– Coming off back to back shut-out losses in the first two games of the season, the North Country boys soccer team finally ended their scoreless streak on Saturday as they won a thrilling contest 2-1 off the foot of Josh Puckett.
"We played a solid 80 minutes of soccer," said Coach James McKenny, "We talked about it before the game, if we do that we are going to be in every game."
North Country had a bit of a different look as they took to the field for the early morning contest. Instead of utilizing players like Brian DeLabruere and Dylan Colombia to generate offense, Coach McKenny's team seemed to spread the ball around the field more, with players like Chris Bronson, Clint Provencha, and Zach Tweed getting more chances at the net throughout the contest.
They also made good use of the mid and back field players as outlets to stop, regroup, then attack the Cougar half of the field.
In the early going North Country and MMU traded chances. First Colombia broke down the wing and fired a shot that missed the twine, then the Cougars responded on a corner kick attempt that was thwarted by the Falcons.
After the early offensive pressure, NCU turned to a more physical type of pressure that did not result in goals, but instead a Cody Halikas yellow card, the first of two for the Falcons on the day.
At the mid point in the half, while still remaining physical, North Country went back on the offensive, but their best chance would come late in the half.
After being awarded a direct kick, the Falcons were able to get the ball on MMU keeper Dan Ebenstein, who collided with a charging Colombia. Colombia was attempting to get a foot on a loose ball that Ebenstein had a hard time making the initial trap on.
After laying on the ground for a few moments while simultaneously receiving some profane words from the Cougars' Hayden Pochop, Dylan would get back to his feet. However the impact did take it's toll on the forward, and he was quickly replaced by a sub.
The half ended in a scoreless tie.
Pochop would be a thorn in the side of the Falcon's attackers the rest of the way as he whined and complained to officials about the rough contact only to initiate it while the officials backs were turned.
A sign of the Falcons growth was the lack of retaliation to these goon like tactics.
"(Last year's) juniors are now seniors this year, and they are playing a more intelligent brand of soccer, having the ability to keep their cool where a year ago they may not have," said McKenny.
Mount Mansfield opened the 2nd half with a flurry of chances, which were all turned away. After surviving the storm, North Country went on the attack, and Puckett would have scored North Country's first goal of the season had it not been for a finger tip save by MMU's Ebenstein.
Motivated by their keeper's play, the Cougars would return the favor to the Falcons as they came barreling down the field, forcing NCU into a foul with 35:33 left in the half. On the ensuing kick, Jack Loud sent the ball over the wall of Falcon defenders onto the head of Jeff Estes and he deflect it into the net for a beautiful goal and a 1-0 lead in the contest.
MMU almost went up 2-0 a minute later when Falcon netminder Logan Fortier made a huge mental mistake, grabbing the ball outside of his box, giving the Cougars a free kick from up close.
Perhaps it was the closeness of going down two to nothing or the possibility of starting the season 0-3, but whatever it was, something lit a fire under the Falcons as they proceeded to live up to the coach's game long message of relentlessly pressuring the Cougar net.
Says McKenny, "Any time you can put a ball on frame and have some traffic in front of the keeper it is going to bode well. It increases your chances of putting the ball in the back of the net."
Attack the net they did, but their momentum was temporarily derailed when Bronson was called for the team's second yellow card midway through the second half.
With 24 and change on the clock, Bronson seemed to be trying for the ball near the Falcon's 25 yard line, but his sweeping motion caught zero ball and all Cougar, sending the opposing player crashing to the ground.
Bronson left the field, the Cougars get another crack at a two point point lead, but Fortier and the D held strong, and it was back to the attack for the Falcons.
Finally,when it seemed like all of North Country's scoring chances were going to be for naught, sophomore Clint Provencha would break through with a header past Ebenstein at 13:44 mark to tie the game with the Falcons first goal of the season.
"It felt pretty good," said Provencha of his first career varsity goal, "I didn't think it was going to happen, I haven't had that much playing time because I am one of the younger players, but hopefully I proved myself."
North Country would not let up, as consecutive corner kicks would test the talent of the Cougar defenders.
Going the other way, a loose ball near the Falcon goal line nearly found a way past Fortier, but the tall goalie was able to get his out stretched arms around ball to prevent any further damage.
With the clock winding down, the smell of overtime seemed to be floating through the fall-like air, but extra time was to be denied on this beautiful September morning thanks to the work of a pair of Joshes.
As the clock ticked closer and closer to the final minute of regulation, Josh Brien came blazing down the right side of the field and crossed the ball inside the 18 in front of Josh Puckett. It was now a race to the ball between Puckett and Ebenstein with the game on the line.
Just as MMU's goalie was about to get to the ball Puckett's foot was able slide under the keeper and tip the ball past Ebenstein and across the goal line with a mere 59 seconds left to play.
"I was thinking I would break every bone in my body just to get that ball in the net," said an exhausted Puckett, "It was a great ball from Brien across the middle, I saw my chance and went for it. Luckily the deflection went the way it did."
North Country was able to keep the Cougars at bay for the final seconds of the game to earn their first win of the season.
Puckett credited the team's heart and their teamwork as the key factors in North Country's comeback win on Saturday.
The Falcons will have two days to prep this week before hitting the road to take on Spaulding in Barre on Wednesday.