NEWPORT–St. Johnsbury netted two second half goals in what turned out to be a very physical contest as the Hilltoppers blanked the Falcons 2-0.
"It was a 1-0 game and adrenaline was very high. We are still in the game and then on a goofy play they countered and it kind of took the wind out of our sails," said coach James McKenny.
Said St. J coach Stephen Levesque, "We had to match their intensity. They (NCU) came out from the get-go and I wanted our kids to win their individual battles and we did a much better job of that in the second half."
While the second half turned down right nasty, the first half was a much cleaner, albeit still physical forty minutes.
The Falcons were the dominant team in the first.
Kody Halikas was in the middle of the action all half, creating chances for both himself and his teammates.
North Country's first good scoring chance came five minutes into the contest, but they were unable to capitalize.
Five minutes later, Halikas, along with Chris Bronson and Nate Marsh generated another opportunity, only to be turned away by a diving Linus Nygard.
St. Johnsbury eventually was able to break through the wall of defenders that were Zach Tweed, Jesse Breault and Brody Jacobs to get a shot on Logan Fortier, but the Falcon netminder was there for the stop.
Fortier had two other outstanding saves later in the half, the first on leaping deflection over the net, the second on a great dive.
Halikas kept the pressure up for North Country, firing a direct kick on net, followed by a nice header, but neither found the back of the cage.
The teams traded possessions for the remainder of the half, but nobody could score, so it was off to the second tied 0-0.
After the break, the Hilltoppers came out with a sense of determination that was lacking in the first, but the Falcons had the first scoring chance of the half.
A loose ball in front of Nygard led to a flurry of activity, but try as they might, no Falcon could get a clean shot on net, and the ball was directed out of the box.
As the clock wound down the physicality picked up and what was routine contact in the first became direct and indirect kicks in the second.
Players were charging at goaltenders without fear of retribution, tackles ended in a pile of tangled bodies and tempers were quick to flare up.
Players were jawing with the officials, throwing their hands up in the air on perceived slights and things started to slide down hill fast.
Adam Viens, who went down early in the first half with an ankle injury, could do nothing but sit and watch the action unfold on the field.
"It was tough. I wanted to be out there battling with my teammates" he said.
"We play a tough game, but we have to play smart, and we have to get back to a physical hard brand of soccer that's clean too."
St. Johnsbury really shifted the momentum their way when Natzu Friebel took a corner from Jeb Burroughs and headed down the ball past Fortier to give the Hilltoppers the 1-0 lead.
St. J looked to go up 2-0 as a member of the green and white went for a loose ball inside the eighteen, but a sliding Fortier secured the ball and sent his opponent flying over him.
North Country was then robbed of a call two minutes later when Halikas, who literally gave everything he could until he could give no more, was taken down inside the eighteen and there was no call.
North Country was furious, but there was nothing they could do about it and the game continued.
Kody almost had some redemption, but his header off of a corner barley missed going in.
With 5:50 left to play, the Academy sealed the deal on a pretty goal by Amer Macedonci, who deked past Breault and slid a low shot into the North Country net.
"He is a freshman who was in the right place at the right time and he was able to pick a corner against a very a good keeper in Logan," said Levesque.
Tweed had the last nice play of the game, a diving head save on a ball that got past Logan, but things disintegrated into chaos and the game ended in a see of confusion on whether or not the clock should have been stopped (no sign from the official to do so), a yellow then red card for Halikas (the red card was not issued before the clock ran out, so as of this time it does not count) and a general feeling of dismay by the Falcons.
Said McKenny, "We can't give up. We have to keep going out and playing the brand of soccer that we can and that is playing hard until the end and not giving up."
Fortier ended the game with ten saves for the 1-6-1 Falcons while 4-4 St. Johnsbury's Nygard had six.
North Country will take to the road on Tuesday, traveling to South Burlington to take on the Rebels at 4:00.