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Panthers shake off rivalry effect for 4-1 win over North

Telegraph photo by TOM KING Nashua North's Gabe Buxton, right, looks to beat South's C.J. Dawe to the ball during the Panthers' 4-1 Divison I prelim win Wednesday night at Stellos Stadium.

NASHUA – The Nashua High School South boys soccer team was determined from day one this season to get past the first round of the Division I tournament, something it hadn’t done the previous three seasons.

But there was this school the Panthers know well called Nashua North that was ready to get in the way.

That didn’t happen, as the Panthers beat the Titans Wednesday in the drizzle at Stellos Stadium by the same score they won during the regular season, 4-1.

But it certainly wasn’t easy. And Panthers coach Tom Bellen knew it wouln’t be.

“I think overall we’re a stronger team,” he said, “but rivalry games change everything. … These guys have been really good getting up for teams. It wasn’t a matter of being overconfident for this game, they knew it was going to be a tough battle.”

The fifth ranked, 12-4-1 Panthers will now head to Windham on Saturday to take on the No. 4 Jaguars, who snuck past Goffstown 1-0 yesterday.

What helped take the rivalry factor away were two first-half goals by Jacob Dukeshire, one at 13:18 in and the second one five minutes later, assisted by Manny Orozco Alvarez, who beat North keeper Simon Costa (six saves) at the 28:44 mark to make it a 3-0 game.

“It was pretty exciting to play a playoff game against North, especially,” Dukeshire said. “This is pretty big. It was pretty big to get through the first round. Just to get that playoff win is pretty exciting.”

“Monster game for him,” Bellen said of Dukeshire. “He’s been having trouble scoring, but has been getting around the ball, doing well, and it’s nice to bury two right away for him.”

“We put ourselves in a hole, but they (the Panthers) played great soccer, you can’t take anything away from them,” North coach Josh Downing said. “And Dukeshire, I’ve known the kid since elementary school when I taught him. He’s a heckuva athlete and a good soccer player. And he did a great job.

“Our guys played to the final whistle, they just had us.”

The No. 12 Titans (7-9-1) did have their moments. Right after Dukeshire’s first goal, they put two great shots on South goalie Elliot Mason, who has been pressed into duty of late after being a backup most of the year after an injury to starter Leo Kopicko. Mason made one up-close block and then recovered to get back in position to save the rebound, and finished with five stops overall.

“He comes in and makes two huge saves and keeps our confidence going,” Bellen said. “It’s big. It’s big for him, too. Big confidence builder for him.”

Down 3-0, the Titans did gain some momentum on a Joe Morse penalty kick with just over three minutes remaining in the half that cut the margin to 3-1. They took that and pressured the Panthers at the start of the second half, Colin Miller putting a shot just wide of an open side of the net.

“Those are the ones, if you finish those, then games change big time,” Downing said.

“We’ve been able to score all year,” Bellen said. “It’s just whether we can keep teams off the board.”

Ethan Emata – he of the hat trick vs. North in the Battle of the Bridge – pulled an instant replay with a powerful shot with his left foot that made it 4-1 in the 64th minute, and that was the clincher.

The rivalry hurdle behind them, Bellen thinks the best is yet to come for the Panthers.

“I think we have a legit shot at going to the semis and finals this year,” Bellen said. “We’re good enough to get there. It’s just can we put it together for three games.”