NASHUA — As the fog rolled in off the Nashua River, Evan Nichols stepped to the spot.
The Hanover sophomore struck it with pace into the left side of the net, sending the Mauraders and their fans into a frenzy as Hanover defeated Manchester Central 3-2 (5-3 penalty kicks) in an intense Division I boys’ soccer semifinal at Stellos Stadium.
The goal capped a chaotic final stretch that saw the Little Green score two goals in the final 10 minutes of regulation and two overtime periods. Nichols’ goal capped a perfect set of PKs for Hanover.
The No. 3 Marauders will play top-seeded Bedford, which beat Windham 4-1 in Tuesday’s other semifinal, in Saturday night’s final at Manchester Memorial High.
“Evan’s kind of a unique individual,” Hanover coach Rob Grabill said. “We had total confidence in him. That’s why we put him fifth.”
It was all Hanover as Charlie Adams headed home the game’s opening goal in the third minute. Adams assisted on Hanover’s second, a side volley from Henry Aspinwall, in the 28th minute.
The Brown University commit put home Hanover’s first penalty kick as well.
“Welcome to Charlie’s world,” Grabill said. “He’s such an exceptional player.”
The Little Green found their legs in the second half and put the pedal down late. Sam Latona got Central on the board in the 71st minute and Samuel Assantha outran the Hanover backline and tipped in the tying goal three minutes later.
Hanover senior keeper Joey Perras collided with Assantha coming out to challenge the ball and had to leave the game. Senior backup Andrew Enelow came in and brought the game home, including making a save in overtime.
“We split goalies the first few games of the season so we know that Andrew is a stud back there,” Adams said. “We have so much faith in him.”
The second-seeded Little Green huffed and puffed but couldn’t get the lead. Haris Suljevic sent the ball over the bar on Central’s fourth PK, which allowed Nichols to win it the following round. Central finishes its season with 16-3 record.
“That was a great high school game,” Central coach Chris LaBerge said. “We had our chances and we didn’t take them. They’re a good team. They finished their chances. I’m proud. You win on penalties, you lose on penalties. The boys played really well. Tonight just wasn’t our night.”
Bedford 4, Windham 1
It was a thrilling second half as unbeaten Bedford did as it had done all season and powered past Windham in the second semifinal.
A scoreless first half gave way to a hectic final 40 minutes. Nathan Statires tapped home a rebound in the 42nd minute to put Bedford ahead. Fourth-seeded Windham answered six minutes later when Owen Larouco sent a feed from Landon Neal into the far corner to tie it.
After a stretch of exciting back-and-forth soccer, junior forward Zach Verow scored from a near-impossible angle in the 66th minute, striking it just inches from the end line and kissing it off the far post and over the goal line.
It was Verow again just three minutes later when he fired a shot from inside the box into the corner.
Jacob Beaudin added the cherry on top when he skied for a header off a corner kick in the 75th minute.
Bedford will look to win its second-straight title on Saturday against Hanover, a team it beat 2-0 back in September.