HARTSDALE – Memories of blown leads from years past came flooding back to Woodlands senior Marquis Berry when Solomon Schechter tied the game with less 15 minutes remaining on Tuesday, but he quickly reminded himself that this is a new year for the Falcons.
“I was like, ‘Not again,’ because they did the same thing last year,” Berry said. “But I knew we could do it because we’re a great attacking team that likes to score a lot of goals. I knew we had it in us.”
Six minutes after Daniel Kohen scored the equalizer for the Lions, Prince Kermue came through in the 72nd minute on an assist from Kevin Granados to give Woodlands a 2-1 win at home.
“I just saw (Granados) playing the ball to me and I saw some open space, so I ran into it,” Kermue said. “I just tapped it up between (the goalkeeper’s) legs with my left foot. I feel good about that.”
Schechter has had the Falcons’ number on the turf field at Woodlands in recent seasons, but the mantra for this year is to change the perception of Woodlands soccer.
After a strong regular season in which the Falcons (4-1) earned the fourth seed in the Class B playoffs, they were ousted by North Salem in an overtime heartbreaker last season.
“We’re looking to get past the first round this year, because we’ve been knocked out in the first round the past two years,” Berry said. “We’re looking to get as far as we can.”
Woodlands used its speed to apply pressure on the league-rival Lions (2-3) all game, with Berry finding the back on the net on an assist from Kermue in the fourth minute to claim an early 1-0 lead.
“Woodlands has a lot of speed (and) they have a lot of skill,” Schechter coach Bryan Lamana said. “Often, it’s too tough for us to defend. We just couldn’t keep up with them.”
The Falcons dominated time of possession in the second half, but failed to extend their lead to two goals. About 10 minutes after Richard Larocca’s rocket shot hit the crossbar to keep Schechter in the game, Rafi Dodo found Kohen to knot the game up at 1-1.
Rather than panic – which they might have done as recently as last season – the Falcons continued to create opportunities, and the result was a very encouraging win.
“As a matter of fact, I was a bit petrified that they might have dropped their demeanor,” Woodlands coach Colin Hemmings said. “Part of the danger of scoring so early and having that one goal for so long is that, when they finally get the equalizer so close to the end, it’s a given that most people are going to drop their heads. But thank God, they’ve been here before – they’ve been through tough games before.”
• I never had a chance to see Woodlands play last season, but the overwhelming sentiment among coaches was that the Falcons benefited from a relatively soft schedule. And while I agree that they don’t test themselves against the type of competition that we see some of the top teams in Class B play—just look at Blind Brook’s schedule over the past few seasons—it was pretty clear to me that Woodlands has the talent to compete with most teams in the class. The Falcons have a handful of guys who are skilled on the ball, and they really hurt Schechter with their speed on the wings. “We knew that coming in, and we emphasized that we were going to use that to our advantage,” Hemmings said. “And also the pace – the total pace of the game – because we never let up the pace. As you can see, in the second half, we got eight or nine shots off because our pace was just too torrid for them.”
• Kermue and Granados were the top scorers for Woodlands last season, and each made their presence felt in today’s win. But others have emerged—such as Berry and Larocca—which makes the Falcons a very difficult team to defend. Hemmings sounded very pleased with the progress of Berry, in particular, who really has some wheels. “The last two years, Berry was mostly one-dimensional,” Hemmings said. “Now, he’s added a finishing touch to his game. He has that patented low grounder where he pulls the goalkeeper wide. In fact, he has three or four goals this year already. In the past two years, he totaled two goals… We’re not a two-man or three-man team, as maybe they are – no disrespect to them. If you mark out one or two of our guys and leave others, you’re leaving them at your own peril.”
• It appeared as if Schechter might strike first, as they had three consecutive corner kick opportunities in the first five minutes of the game. Junior midfielder Ari Leffell put some great looking balls into the box, but no one could get their head on it to finish. He’s definitely a weapon who can place shots where he wants them on free kicks anywhere from 40 yards in. “That’s another thing that’s carried over from last year. We were very dangerous on set pieces, especially Ari, who has been taking them now for two or three years. He puts a great ball in – whether it’s a shot or a cross, or something like that,” Lamana said. “We could use a couple guys to step up and get on the other end of those balls.”
• The Lions remain the favorite to repeat as Class C champs, but this game served as evidence to Lamana that they still have a lot of work to do. They are a very disciplined team that plays extremely hard, but they also have a short bench and could struggle to keep up with athletic teams like Woodlands. “We have plenty of work to do,” he said. “It’s still early in the season, and we make way too many mistakes – especially when we play some good caliber teams, like Woodlands today, and we played Bronxville and Irvington earlier in the season. When we play these big Class B schools, we’re just giving them too many freebies, in the sense that we make too many mistakes and give these teams such easy goals.”
• This is Hemmings’ third year with the Woodlands program, and they’ve shown improvement in each season. He has the team playing together and buying into the system, and with some explosive athletes, it wouldn’t be wise to take this team lightly. In a year filled with parity in Class B, the Falcons look like a legitimate threat. “This is my third year here, and from the first day that I came in and saw what the players were capable of – my philosophy is a passing game – and I realized that it would be an easy transition,” Hemmings said. “The nucleus of the team has been with me for the past three years. I used 14 guys today, and nine or 10 of them are juniors and seniors. The system is ingrained in them now.”
Best of the rest: Blind Brook’s Sebastian Blanco scored the go-ahead goal in the 57th minute of a 2-1 upset win at Port Chester. … Westlake’s Carmine Cicchillo had a hat trick in a 4-2 win at Croton-Harmon. … Aidan Draper scored twice in Haldane’s 4-0 win at home over Pawling. … Mahopac’s Nick Schiera had two goals and an assist in a 3-0 win at home over North Salem. … Brent Diebold, Liam Kelly and Kevin Salguero each scored in the second half for Brewster in a 3-2 win at Panas. … Moaz Hamza and Tomas Hamaza each scored for Yorktown in a 2-0 win over Putnam Valley at home. … Peekskill’s Cristian Lazaro scored twice in a 5-2 win at home over Poughkeepsie. … John Jay beat Arlington B at home 2-1. … Rye Country Day beat Hamden at home 3-0.