A spectacular save and a late goal.

That was the recipe for success for the Peoples Academy boys’ soccer team. A stunning, game-saving second-half stop by Wolves’ keeper Dylan Haskins and a late goal by Ollie Nigro helped Peoples return to the top of the Division-3 mountain. The Wolves claimed the D-3 state championship with a 1-0 win over defending champion Green Mountain Union on Saturday, Nov. 7, at the Maxfield Sports Complex in Hartford.

“We ended our season on a WIN!” PA head coach Angie Faraci told her team the day after the state championship game. “No other team in our division gets to say that.”

The title is the first for the PA boys in nearly a decade; the Wolves last claimed the D-3 crown in 2011.

The ending was everything the Wolves could ask for, but for a time it looked like it might not be. As time wound down in the second half Saturday it began to look like a storybook season for the PA boys might not have a happy ending.

Ranked fourth in D-3, Peoples dominated much of the first half of the title game but the Wolves couldn’t punch in a goal before halftime and the scoreboard read 0-0 at the break. That offensive frustration continued into the second, and as the final 40 minutes ticked by, Green Mountain began pushing forward, pressuring Haskins and threatening to break the scoreless tie.

A wild finish

And then, in the blink of an eye, it shifted right back. The play came with just over 10 minutes to play, when Green Mountain’s Everett Mosher blasted a free kick at the far bar of the Peoples goal. Haskins, who started the play near the near post, took a few steps and launched himself into the air, floating across the face of the goal to get a hand on the shot just before it dropped under the crossbar and in, punching the ball out for the save.

The spectacular save breathed new life into the Wolves, who went back on the offensive. Three minutes later, after a flurry of offensive activity, Nigro volleyed in a bouncing ball after a PA corner kick to tally the only goal of the contest.

“At that point in time, I realized that somebody had to do it,” said Nigro, who typically plays defensive midfielder for the Wolves. “I told one of my teammates to drop back in my spot, and I was just going to go for the goal, try to do whatever I could.”

Green Mountain attempted to rally over the final seven minutes but never got another scoring chance like Mosher’s shot. A flurry of counterattacks by the aggressive Peoples offense milked the clock, which expired before Green Mountain could counter.

“Oh my god man, it’s amazing,” Haskins said. The last time PA played in the finals he and his classmates were freshman, and the Wolves lost 3-0 to rival Stowe.

“It was a blowout loss, so to reverse that and come back here four years later, it’s a dream,” Haskins said.

Faraci said that, prior to that 2017 title-game loss to Stowe, she told the entire team it could be the only shot they ever got at a title.

“But if you want the next one, you have to work for it, you have to fight for it, and we battled,” she said. The Wolves fell in the semifinals in the two years following that loss to Stowe, so 2020 was the last chance at glory for Haskins and his classmates.

“They knew coming in, this season was their last opportunity, and I think they really grabbed hold of that and rose to the occasion,” Faraci said.

Momentum shifts

Green Mountain was something of an offensive juggernaut during the regular season, losing only twice and cracking the four-goal mark in seven of their 12 regular season games. But against Peoples on Saturday, the Wolves looked to be the more dominant offensive squad early on. Peoples put together long strings of passes to keep possession during the first half and consistently threatened to score, but the Green Mountain defense packed the center of the field to foul up PA’s shots. Green Mountain senior goalie Skylar Klezos stopped a number of PA shots that did sneak by the defense; he finished with 11 saves.

A free kick for the Wolves that ended with a header by Nigro was corralled by Klezos with 13:20 left before halftime, and a PA corner less than a minute later was cleared by the defense before a shot got off. PA midfielder Gabe Carlson unleashed a shot with six minutes to go that a defender blocked, and Klezos snagged another Carlson shot a minute later. A cross by midfielder Norris Duff with 90 seconds to go was snagged by Klezos before forward Reese Wheeler could get a head on it, and another cross by forward Charlie Veit 30 seconds later ended in a collision between Wolves forward Nathan Nolan and Klezos, who managed to hold on to the ball to keep it 0-0 at the break.

Breaking through

PA’s chances continued after the half, with more consistent counters by Green Mountain. Klezos stopped a hard, low shot by Veit two minutes into the half, and a shot by Nolan three minutes later went just wide.

“The mindset was to keep pushing, we thought we had broken them down in the last five minutes of the first half,” Nigro said about the Wolves’ push after the break. “Our plan was to come out strong and find a way to put one in.”

The Wolves continued to push after those early chances but weren’t able to break through, eventually seeming to run out of steam as the mid-point of the second half approached. During that time, Haskins snuffed out one Green Mountain counter 12 minutes after the break, coming out of the goal to redirect a shot, then did the same for a sliding save a few minutes later.

Green Mountain nearly scored midway through the second, as it was reasserting control, as a long hard shot rang the post after making it by a diving Haskins. After that close call Peoples went back on the offensive, earning a corner with 14 minutes to go that ended with Klezos down but the ball cleared.

Green Mountain’s own steady counter eventually set up Mosher’s free kick with 10:20 to play, but Haskins was up to the task yet again as he made his game-saving punch out.

Haskins, who finished the title game with nine saves, said he was able to stop a similar shot during PA’s quarterfinal win over Leland & Gray.

“I’ve always been pretty confident in my free kicks. I’ve got plenty of time to see the ball, so I just knew that if he struck it well I was going to get there,” he said.

“Dylan, Dylan is fantastic,” Faraci said. “He’s one of the best goalies I’ve ever trained or had the pleasure to coach, and he will get up and make those big plays.”

“He covers his goal well, he’s just amazing, acrobatic,” she added.

Haskins’ diving save reignited Peoples, which flipped the script and went back on the offensive. With 7:40 to play, Wheeler collected the ball and drove to the goal, blasting a shot that went out off Klezos to set up what would be the game-deciding corner kick.

The play the Wolves ran was one they’d only just recently added to their arsenal; it involved a second offensive player fielding a short pass from whoever took the corner kick, then a serve into the box. The resulting scrum in front of the net sent the ball bouncing toward a charging Nigro, who blasted a shot on goal.

Haskins said it can be frustrating at times seeing the offense struggle to find the net, “because I know what these guys can do every single day.”

“I try to do my best by talking to them at the half, or when they see me, but it’s all just faith, faith that they will come through,” Haskins said.

With time winding down and the score still tied, Nigro did just that.

“It’s just a battle of wills at that point, the loose ball bouncing around the box,” Faraci said. “Ollie is solid on the ball, and he just half-volleyed it when he needed to. It was great.”

With the Wolves now up 1-0, the two teams went back to trading shots as things turned rougher. Wolves’ defender Tamirat Tomlinson was dropped on the defensive end with just over five minutes to go; the play earned Peoples a free kick but also saw Carlson draw a yellow for commentary after the fact. Green Mountain’s last, best chance to tie the score went wide 30 seconds later, and another Wolves offensive push over the final few minutes took the wind from Green Mountain’s sails and ended the threat of a game-tying goal and overtime.

Wrapping up the season

The state-championship win pushed PA’s season record to 9-3. After starting the year 3-3, the Wolves reeled off six straight wins to claim the D-3 title, posting five straight shutouts in that span.

Green Mountain finished the year 13-3.

People’s finished the season with a perfect 6-0 mark against other D-3 teams. The Wolves’ only losses were a trio of one-goal setbacks to Division-2 squads U-32, Harwood and the eventual D-2 champ Montpelier.

Peoples also won a pair of contests over D-2 foes and beat Division-1 North Country during the regular season.

On the year, PA outscored its opponents 34-8. In the postseason, the Wolves outscored opponents 16-0. Peoples beat No. 13 Windsor 9-0 in the opening round, beat No. 5 Leland & Gray 5-0 in the quarterfinals and then upset No. 1 Vergennes in the semifinals, 1-0, thanks to a free-kick goal by senior defender Landon Dubie with 20 seconds left in regulation.

The state title also snapped an eight-year run without a championship for the PA boys, who came close several other times to ending that drought. After winning the championship in 2011 the Wolves lost the title game in 2013 and 2017 and also reached the state semifinals in 2012, 2018 and 2019. The win also continues PA’s strong history of success; the Wolves also won the title in 2000 and 2002 and have reached the title game seven other times.

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