LACONIA — After protecting the Mascenic Regional High School of New Ipswich goal for four rounds, senior Chris Wilkins scored the game-winning penalty-kick goal for the Vikings in their 2-1 NHIAA Division III boys’ soccer semifinal victory over Hopkinton Wednesday night at Bank of New Hampshire Stadium.
Third-seeded Mascenic (17-2) will play in its first ever state championship game back here on Sunday at 6:30 p.m., when it meets defending champion and top-seeded Campbell of Litchfield (17-0-2) for the D-III crown. The Cougars defeated fifth-seeded Mascoma Valley of Canaan, 2-0, in Wednesday’s late semifinal.
Seventh-seeded Hopkinton, which defeated second-seeded Gilford in the quarterfinals on penalty kicks, finished the season 13-5-1.
Wilkins (seven saves) denied Hopkinton junior Andrew Beckwith’s penalty kick just before he lined up to take his first shot on goal of the season. Wilkins bested his Hopkinton goalkeeper counterpart, Aidan Burns (seven saves), with a low shot to the left corner of the Hawks’ goal, putting the Vikings ahead, 3-2.
Hopkinton had a chance to answer but junior Logan Rockwood’s attempt sailed just over the crossbar.
When Mascenic coach Andrew Helliesen, who was a goalkeeper in his playing days, told Wilkins he was taking the team’s fifth penalty kick, he replied, “Perfect. I thrive under pressure.”
“Sometimes during practice we have drills where he’s participating using his feet because I like to make sure he can kick the ball,” Helliesen said of Wilkins. “The kid’s got moves. I mean if I had another goalie, he might be playing up top. He knows his way around the goal.”
Nathan Wilkins and Zach Barthel also converted their penalty-kick tries for the Vikings. Hopkinton received penalty-kick goals from junior Ian Heck and sophomore Bryce Charron.
The Hawks led 1-0 at halftime behind Beckwith’s 23rd-minute goal. The junior midfielder collected the ball on the near side of the penalty box, dribbled past a Vikings defender and fired a tough-angle shot inside the top far corner to open the game’s scoring.
Despite leading after the opening 40 minutes, Hawks coach Scott Zipke said his team was not thrilled with its first-half performance.
“We didn’t possess the ball, we didn’t play the ball out wide like we wanted to do,” Zipke said. “We thought we came into halftime up 1-0 having not played a very good game.”
Mascenic constantly pressured the Hawks’ back line in the second half before finding the equalizer with 17 minutes remaining in regulation. Senior defensive midfielder Sam Stauffeneker scored a header goal off a long throw-in from teammate Shea Zina.
Almost every time the Vikings earned a throw-in, they turned to Zina, a junior back, to provide the long-distance heave.
“It’s tiring when that kid throws it in from anywhere on their half all day and you give them enough chances, eventually they’re going to get one and they got a bad one,” Zipke said of Zina and the Vikings. “That’s their bread and butter — take the long throw and try to score off of it. That’s what they want to do. They got it done.”
Helliesen said he felt his team controlled the pace of the game but moved a bit slower than usual and did not create many scoring opportunities. Once Stauffeneker scored, however, the Vikings “definitely kicked it back into gear,” Helliesen said.
Zipke said the Hawks did not play wide as much they planned to coming in and struggled to create threatening scoring chances. When the Hawks did have opportunities, they did not go strongly to goal, he said.
Utilizing a layered approach, Helliesen said the defense has been a strength for Mascenic all season.
“They (the Vikings) frustrated us. No doubt,” Zipke said.
Campbell 2, Mascoma Valley 0: The Cougars earned the opportunity to defend their title.
Defending D-III champion Campbell scored twice in the first half and never allowed Mascoma to create a threatening comeback bid. Cougars sophomore goalkeeper Jack Noury made one save in each half to earn the shutout.
Campbell senior forward Joaquin Heller scored 12 minutes into the game to open the scoring. Freshman teammate Samuel Gomes followed up with a goal of his own in the 32nd minute to give Campbell a 2-0 advantage, which it took into halftime.
Junior Connor Thompson made four saves for the Royals (14-5).