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Panthers (6-0) get big boys soccer win over Hanover, 1-0

By Tom King - Staff Writer | Sep 14, 2021

Nashua South's Nick Esp celebrates Monday's big 1-0 boys soccer win over Hanover with fellow senior Ethan Emata at Stellos Stadium. (Telegraph photo by TOM KING)

NASHUA – Anyone who was at Stellos Stadium on Monday late afternoon will no doubt attest they witnessed the kind of game that leaves you wanting more:

Nashua South vs. Hanover, two boys soccer teams that between them going in had one loss and a tie in 12 games. Now it’s two losses and a tie, all on the Marauders (4-2-1) side of the ledger, after South’s 1-0 win.

“Any time you get two of the top five or six teams (in Division I) together, you hope the game is decided by the players,” Hanover coach Rob Grabill said. “These are the games that are fun to be a part of. … Well contested.”

South coach Tom Bellen has stressed the last couple of weeks that no game will be easy this season, and this is win No. 2 for his 6-0 squad that has one leg to go in a tough three-game gauntlet of Manchester Central, Hanover and Windham. They own two 1-0 wins with the third test on Thursday at the Jaguars.

“This is part of the culture we’re starting to build,” Panthers coach Tom Bellen said. “Years ago you lose these games because you don’t feel like you can win you’re not controlling the game. Guys feel like we can win even when we’re not playing well.”

South survived a second half onslaught the other day vs. Central, and and at times South was on the defensive and needed goal keeper Leo Kopicko to bail the Panthers out, which he did with eight saves, including a huge stop midway through the second half on Hanover striker Josh Miller, plus another grab in the final five seconds of the first half.

As for South’s offense, it was steady but Hanover really provided only one opportunity, that coming early in the first half. Kopicko boomed a ball past midfield that Panther Jadiel Bomfim took and raced down left wing, beating Marauders keeper Ty Nolon (four saves) to his left for the game’s only goal just 2:38 into the contest.

“Sometimes you can do it,” Bellen said, who preached to his team early on that possession wasn’t just nine-tenths of the law, it WAS the law. “He’s got a big kick, and it’s not the first time we’ve had chances on his kicks.

“And Bomfim was solid, he knows how to use his body and use both feet. His decision-making is going to get quicker and he’ll get more goals and more assists.”

But that was it for the scoring, so the South back line knew what it had to do.

“We’ve got some nice senior leadership back there,” Bellen said. “Fernando (Figueroa), Nick Esp and Dan. They’ve been playing for awhile and understand the game. Today I thought they did a really nice job of keeping that 1-0 lead.”

This was the second game in a row that the Panthers just closed ranks around Kopicko. They survived a Hanover free kick in the 70th minute, and a Marauders’ corner kick with just under six minutes to play.

“Full credit to Nashua South,” Grabill said. “We gave them a goal in the first four minutes, and they were smart enough not to lose their shape. They kept playing. That was one of the ways they won the game.”

The accomplishment wasn’t lost on the Panthers; they knew what a big win this was given the opposition. Esp ran over to fellow senior Ethan Emata for a big embrace after it was over.

“Coming off that tough win against Central, we knew we had to bring it against these guys,” Esp said. “We knew what we had to do to win it, and we did it. The one thing about this team is we trust each other.”

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