Boys’ soccer: Bow takes down Lebanon 2-1, wins first ever Division II title
Published: 11-04-2023 8:09 AM
Modified: 11-04-2023 9:07 AM
NASHUA – Bow goalkeeper Aaron Barrieau pumped both of his fists, the ball tucked under his arm. He’d just grabbed it off a bounce after Lebanon’s last-gasp offensive attack. The Falcons held a 2-1 lead late in the second half.
“(The referee) was like, ‘As soon as you kick it it’s over,’” Barrieau said. “I’m like, ‘Oh boy, this is a pressure of a punt.’ I shanked it of course.”
But it didn’t matter. As soon as Barrieau booted the ball into the air, the whistle blew twice. His teammates rushed over to celebrate. For the first time since moving to Division II, No. 2 Bow (17-1-1) was a state champion in boys’ soccer, beating No. 1 Lebanon (16-2-1), 2-1.
“It’s one of the best feelings we’ve ever had in our lives,” said senior Colby Smith. “We dreamed of this moment. It feels incredible. It’s even better than how I could imagine it.”
When these two teams faced off in mid-September and the Raiders won, 1-0, the Falcons’ offense struggled to generate pressure. In the 18th minute on Friday night at Stellos Stadium, Lebanon’s keeper Zach Aldrich gave them a big assist. Bow’s Carter Weiss hooked a corner kick off his left foot right into Aldrich’s hands, but he smacked it down into the ground, and it subsequently bounced into the net to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
Lebanon tied the score in the 35th minute on a goal from Domenico Pentella, but less than two minutes later, Smith blasted a shot into the top corner for the Falcons to retake the lead.
“Came right to me, beat the defender, got lucky enough to put in the top corner, celebrate in the student section,” Smith said of what turned out to be the game-winning goal. “It’s one of the best feelings I’ve had.”
In the second half, Bow played most of the final stretch ultra-conservatively, packing in its defense. Head coach Josh Smith said they’d debated how to approach the final 40 minutes during halftime and initially opted to keep pressing on offense, but they ultimately pivoted to aid their defenders and protect their one-goal lead to secure the win.
The Falcons’ players believed this was possible from the very beginning of Smith’s first season as the head coach. Even though they’d have to adjust to a new person in charge and a new system, they didn’t hold back when they listed their season goals in August.
“All caps at the top of the list was, ‘Win the state championship,’” Colby Smith said. “We knew this was one of the best teams we’ve had come out of Bow, and (now) we’re lucky enough to make history.”
The Falcons eked out a win over Coe-Brown in last Friday’s quarterfinal, scoring two goals inside the final five minutes, before their dramatic 1-0 victory in penalty kicks over Kingswood in Tuesday’s semifinal. After losing to Lebanon in the regular season, Bow got its revenge on Friday and capped off the season with 14 straight victories.
For the head coach who came to Bow after winning back-to-back titles at ConVal, Smith knew what it would take to get the job done. To actually see it come to fruition, though, implementing a new philosophy, getting the players to buy in and bringing everybody together over just two-and-a-half months makes the feat all the more impressive.
“It’s sort of beyond my wildest dreams,” he said of winning the championship. “We talked about that as a goal, and we knew this year we had a pretty good group that we could do it, but to put it all together so quickly has just been a testament to the work that the guys have put in. They’ve been awesome all year, and they’re the reason we’re here.”
The year began with Smith talking about how he wanted to make sure he could develop connections with his players, help build the trust he’d need to have success with them. It ended with Smith standing next to his team, explaining how impactful those relationships were as they hoisted the championship plaque in triumph.
“The relationships that I’ve built with these players in such a small time has been really special,” Smith said. “That’s going to be the thing that sticks with me the longest.”