NAPPANEE — It had been a while since NorthWood beat Concord in boys soccer. So long, in fact, that Panthers head coach Brad Duerksen couldn’t recall after the game how many years it had actually been since NorthWood won against their Northern Lakes Conference foe.
Well, Duerksen and the Panthers won’t have to worry about that drought anymore, as they knocked off Concord, 4-3, Saturday afternoon in Nappanee.
“It’s absolutely huge for us,” Duerksen said. “We’ve said from the beginning of the season that, technically, this is the strongest team we’ve ever had at NorthWood. And to get a huge win like this over a team that just beat the number six team in the state in Penn, 3-0 — it was beautiful.”
A dramatic, back-and-forth contest saw NorthWood junior Andre De Freitas be the hero. Already having scored two goals in the contest, De Freitas completed the hat trick when he kicked the ball into the back of the net with 1:43 to go in the game, sending the Panther players and fans into a frenzy.
“I was super excited,” De Freitas said of the game-winning goal. “My whole team was looking for it. I got a beautiful cross (pass) and just hit it and it happened to go in. Just super grateful for that.
“Concord is a really good team, and, going into (the game), I didn’t think we could win. Then, as we started playing, I was thinking, ‘Wow, we have a chance.’ And, as soon as I (scored the game-winning goal) I was just full of excitement.”
Duerksen said he challenged De Freitas at halftime to ‘appear in the game.’ He did that, and more so, for the Panthers Saturday.
“He had some filthy goals tonight. That’s what we like to call them,” Duerksen said. “I mean, they were beautiful. He played really well. All three of them were just pure. He’s a ball player and we’ve asked him to step up.
De Freitas’ goal capped off a game that saw two lead changes and three ties. Concord struck first on a penalty kick from junior Eusebio Espinoza with 13:44 to go in the first half. The lead only lasted 93 seconds, though, as De Freitas countered with his first goal of the game to tie things up at one.
The game would remain tied until 2:12 left in the half, when Espinoza got behind the Panthers defense and shot the ball past the NorthWood goalie, giving the Minutemen a 2-1 lead heading into halftime.
Despite trailing at intermission, NorthWood felt confident in where they were at in the game.
“We knew we could play with anybody,” Duerksen said. “We felt confident. We said, ‘Hey, let’s get the tying goal and go from there. See what happens.’ The fight we had the whole game was impressive.”
A flurry to start the second half resulted in NorthWood taking its first lead of the game. De Freitas made a tough-angled shot to tie the game at two, then junior Chandler Bontrager found the back of the net to make it 3-2 Panthers with 26:28 to go in the game. Concord wouldn’t go silently, however, as they tied the game at three on a shot from sophomore Andres Dixon. The score held until De Freitas’ dramatics to end the game.
The Minutemen are now 2-2 on the season and 0-1 in NLC play.
NorthWood improves to 3-1 and 1-1 in conference play. After losing 4-0 to Northridge on Thursday, De Freitas was proud with how his teammates responded against Concord.
“It’s going to boost our confidence for sure,” De Freitas said. “I think our team is hyped to go into our next couple of games. Hopefully we have the best season that we can have.”
Saturday’s win was also an indication of how far the boys soccer program has come at NorthWood. The Panthers were ranked 14th in the class 2A ISCA poll last week and are looking for their first sectional championship since 2014.
“It’s hard for me to put into words because we have talented soccer players now,” Duerksen said. “It used to be we’d put six soccer players on the field and five athletes. Now, we can run the formation we want to run, we can play the way we want to play because we have 11 guys on the field at a time with high soccer IQ’s.”