DUXBURY — Harwood’s Hayden Adams reminded everyone of his shooting power while opening the scoring in the fourth minute Tuesday.
Milton pulled even in the 71st minute and briefly stole all the momentum, but Adams had the last laugh by using placement and poise. The Highlanders junior capped a frantic counterattack up the right side by slipping a low 20-yard shot through traffic and inside the left post, catapulting his team to a 2-1 victory.
“At halftime I told the kids about (Adams) and we tried our best,” Milton coach Glen Button said. “But he’s one of the best players we’ve played so far. And he’s going to be a handful for anyone that tries to defend him 1-versus-1. The final goal was just a lapse and we lost focus. We had them on their heels, but it only takes one little mistake to be a game-winner.”
Milton dominated the opening minutes, forcing the Highlanders to defend. Harwood freshman Nicholas Moran blocked a 30-yard free kick by Milton’s Chance Rose in the third minute, triggering HU’s first offensive push of the match. Adams raced toward the top of the 18-yard box as a loose ball rolled up to his feet, presenting the perfect opportunity to blast a rising shot into the upper-left corner.
“I knew it was going in from the moment he hit the ball,” Harwood goalie Ollie Hammond said.
Milton’s Nick Desouza showed off his class in the eighth minute with a sharp cutback near the penalty stripe, freeing up time to line a low laser toward the left post. Hammond denied him with a diving save and then robbed Desouza two minutes later with a hard-charging block at the top of the penalty area. Milton’s Cam Fougere collected the rebound and curled a second-chance attempt on frame, but Hammond (eight saves) backpedaled to make another stop.
“I was getting a lot of shots, but I just knew that we could hold them,” Hammond said. “And my center backs (Jasper Koliba and Skyler Platt) played really well. They got the ball out, they controlled the game and they slowed it down. And once I made that first diving save, I just knew we had it.”
Harwood earned a 40-yard free kick in the 12th minute but wasted one of many first-half restarts with an off-the-mark service. The Highlanders served in back-to-back corner kicks in the 14th minute and watched Milton boot away both services.
Adams beat his defender in the right side of the penalty area in the 27th minute and hammered a shot toward the near post that was smothered by Milton goalie Braeden Coragher (six saves).
At the other end, Ryan Cannon’s long throw-ins became an increasingly dangerous weapon for Milton. The fullback took nearly every throw-in around the attacking third, heaving the ball all the way toward the 6-yard box most times.
“Some of those throw-ins were popping up and Ollie had to be brave enough to go into a mob of players,” Harwood coach Joe Yalicki said. ”There’s players on our team that are trying to clear it out, and players on their team that are trying to put it in. And Ollie was just saying, ‘No, I’m taking this over the top.’”
Koliba and teammate Gavin Thomsen made big clearances in the 28th minute. Three minutes later, Rose danced around a defender on the left flank and delivered a far-post cross toward Desouza, but Hammond picked off the pass at the last moment. Thirty seconds later, Hammond thwarted Cooper Goodrich on a quality attempt from the right side. The Highlanders fired off the final shot of the first half when Cole Hill sent a header inches wide of the left post.
“(Desouza) is a really dangerous player,” Yalicki said. “And (Rose) is the best defensive midfielder we’ve seen so far. He’s a possession, pivot player and I can’t think of somebody who’s better at doing that. He just works hard and controls the game. And he’s an emotional leader for them too, so we keyed in him. We didn’t say, ‘We have to do this or we have to do that.’ But we knew that he was a big part of what they were trying to do.”
Koliba blocked a hard shot by Goodrich in the 45th minute and then the HU back line broke up another breakaway bid by Desouza. Coragher caught a 28-yard Harwood direct kick in the 50th minute and the Milton defenders kept HU bay with long, early passes out of the back.
During the 66th minute, Adams sparked a quick transition with a pass up the right side for Finn O’Hara, who whipped in a cross that was headed away by Cannon. Three minutes later, Hammond beat Desouza to a bouncing through ball at the top of the penalty area.
Rose set the stage for the equalizing goal in the 71st minute, taking on multiple defenders while dribbling toward the left side of the 18-yard box. Harwood’s defenders booted the ball out of danger momentarily, but Goodrich was perfectly positioned to intercept the clearance and rifled a swerving 22-yard shot into the upper-right corner.
“(Rose) really picked up their team,” Adams said. “He’s one of the best players I think I’ve ever played against: just his motivation and the way that he carries himself — not verbally but as an example (for others). When his energy picks up, you can just feel it all over the field and you know he’s going to win a tackle.”
Hammond blocked a deflected shot in the 72nd minute, and two minutes later Platt made a slide tackle to stop Desouza from breaking in alone. As Milton’s offensive drive intensified, the Harwood defense did its best to keep the score knotted at 1.
“I had people asking what the overtime rules are with nine minutes to go,” Yalicki said. “And I said, ‘Let’s worry about these last nine minutes.’ And kudos to the guys on the field for doing that. The first minute or so after the goal we were like, ‘Dang, these guys can really play.’ But then we still found ways to get forward, even without necessarily having the ball. The goal was off of a counter and we were hungry around the middle.”
Adams delivered the dagger in the 76th minute after dispossessing the Yellowjackets and charging toward the right side. He pulled a handful of Milton defenders with him, leaving teammate Theron Williams open at the far side. But Adams had no angle to deliver a cross, so he decided to pull the trigger himself. The low blast flew past several defenders, leaving Coragher shielded and vulnerable as the ball skipped across the line.
“Harwood was super organized and they have some really skilled players,” Button said. “It’s hard to defend players who know what they’re doing. They’re a team to reckon with, for sure. They’re going to be tough once it comes to tournament time. But I’m excited to hopefully see them again.”
Milton (2-1) will travel to play Missisquoi at 4:30 p.m. Monday.
“Milton played great, and they played pretty similar to us,” Yalicki said. “It was fun to go against a team that was trying to play their forwards in a lot. And they have a good midfield. If not for Ollie making some saves, it definitely could have been high-scoring. We were playing comfortably with the 1-0 lead. And as soon as they tied it, the game was back on. Either team could have probably gotten one after that. And I’m glad it was us, for sure.”
Harwood (2-1) will travel to play Northfield-Williamstown at 4:30 p.m. Friday. The Highlanders opened the season with a 2-0 victory over GMVS and a 2-0 loss against Burlington.
“(Milton) is one of the best teams we’re going to play this season,” Adams said. “With them and Burlington, we knew we were starting out the season hard. And from the Burlington loss we came into this game with something to prove — because we knew that (Milton) was coming in just as hard. I feel like we showed up, and we showed up at the right moments.”