NHIAA girls’ soccer: No. 5 Concord falls in D-I semifinals to No. 1 Manchester Central, 1-0

Monitor staff
Friday, November 03, 2017

NASHUA – Entering his first year as head coach of the Concord High girls’ soccer team, Phil Tuttle was told 2017 would probably be a rebuilding year for the Tide.

Dispatched from the quarterfinals last season by eventual champion Pinkerton, Concord lost nine players to graduation and it was hard to predict what the new coach and his team would accomplish this fall.

The Tide defied such expectations. Instead of taking a year to rebuild, Concord extended its playoff push one game further than last year with a trip to the semifinals.

But an appearance in the championship game will have to wait at least one more year as No. 5 Concord (13-5-1) was defeated, 1-0, by No. 1 Manchester Central (17-1) in Thursday’s semifinal match at Stellos Stadium in Nashua.

“We played as well as we could, so it was a good end to the season,” junior captain Grace Devanny said. “No one expected Concord to go all the way to the semis, so just showing everyone how strong of a soccer program Concord has, and especially with this team – it’s just an incredible experience.”

The Tide knew it was going to have its hands full with Central’s red-hot offense, which had tallied 68 goals while allowing just five heading into the semifinals. Tuttle brought a defensive game plan into the match with Devanny, a forward, sitting back to help the defense keep Central’s shooters at bay.

The plan was effective through the first half as Concord limited Central to two shots on goal. But Heather Jennato’s goal in the 60th minute gave the Little Green the 1-0 lead that would ultimately decide the game. 

A Concord defender tried to clear the ball out after making a stop on the goal line following a Central corner. The clear instead went directly to Jennato, who settled the ball on the 18 and let loose a scorching, low shot through traffic and into the back of the net.

“I just saw it right in front of me, saw an open net,” Jennato said. “I’ve been shooting it all season, Coach (Chris) Pearson tells me to get open on the 18 and just smash it, so that’s what I did.”

The Tide had to abandon its defensive set and increase its pressure in the offensive end as the minutes ticked away. Central countered and dropped an extra defender back. Five minutes after falling behind, Concord nearly tied it on Abigail Crawford’s direct kick from about 25 yards out. The shot, taken from the left side of the goal, sailed over a trio of Central players but deflected off the crossbar as it sloped down toward the goal.

“Defensively, we were playing really well throughout the whole game and then we just needed to become more offensive for the last 10 to 15 minutes,” Tuttle said. “It’s what we had to do, and we created some of our own chances up top but we just didn’t do enough offensively today to put one in the back of the net.”

Concord put three shots on goal in the second half while sophomore goalkeeper Autumn Nudd handled four saves to keep the Tide within one.

“With Devanny and (sophomore forward Allison) Silverstein, it’s a great 1-2 punch,” Central Head Coach Peter Lally said of the Tide lineup. “They moved them back to midfield … and they tried to shut us down, but if you keep pounding and pounding, sooner or later you hope it works in your favor.”

The Little Green are back in the championship round for the first time since 2009 and are chasing their first state title since 2008. They were knocked out of the semifinals in each of the last two seasons.

No. 3 Bedford defeated No. 2 Exeter, 1-0, in the first semifinal match of the evening. The Bulldogs will face Central in the championship round on Sunday at 4 p.m. in Exeter.

Despite the loss, Tuttle could only smile when asked to reflect on the Tide’s season. If some didn’t expect Concord to push deep into the playoffs, he was happy to see his team flip those expectations around.

“It was the complete opposite, making it all the way to the semifinals,” said Tuttle, who coaches the team with his wife, assistant coach Kaylin Tuttle. “The girls really came together. Just an incredible team and we’re really proud of every single one of them.”

(Nick Stoico can be reached at 369-3339, nstoico@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @NickStoico.)