The Johnston High School Panthers rallied from three goals down to beat Toll Gate 4-3 on Tuesday evening during a thrilling Division III boys soccer season opener at Warwick Vets Middle School.
Johnston senior Luke Vincent buried the game-winning shot with 6:30 remaining in stoppage time.
“It felt good,” Vincent said. “We didn’t give up. We kept up, and stuck with it the whole game.”
The Panthers were playing without their head coach, Dan Mazzulla, who is away on medical leave. So, Johnston badly wanted to get the victory for its coach.
“Yeah, definitely,” Vincent said. “He’s been the coach for a long time and we’ve all known him for a long time, so it was good to get the first win for him.”
John Sousa was coaching the Panthers in place of Mazzulla.
“We stepped it up in the second half,” Sousa said. “It was a very physical game. It was a tough game between both teams. Both were hungry for their first game. And glad to see Johnston step it up and take it home. It was all a team effort in the second half to make those goals.”
Vincent finished the contest with a goal, plus an assist, while Antonio Patrone, a junior, topped the Panthers with two goals and two assists.
The Titans were led by seniors Dylan Barlow, who tallied the first two goals of the game, and Jovanny Costa, who assisted both of Barlow’s goals.
In net, Johnston senior Ryan Lavoie made eight stops and Toll Gate sophomore Cascis Mitchell made three saves.
With 24:27 remaining in the first half, Toll Gate drew a 1-0 edge when Barlow dribbled into the Johnston zone and then, floated the ball over the head of Lavoie, who went to the top of the box to try to deny a shot attempt.
Three minutes later, Barlow struck again, and increased the Titans lead to 2-0, a lead Toll Gate would bring into the break.
Toll Gate upped its buffer to 3-0 with 34:35 remaining in the second half after Casey Darcy, a senior captain, used his left-foot to rocket a shot into the left side of the net, following an assist from Nick DaCosta, a junior.
But with only two referees to officiate, Johnston got away with what should have been a penalty with 28:15 to play, when Patrone chased down Toll Gate defenseman Josh Costello, who had possession of the ball and pulled him to the ground before firing a shot past Mitchell, the goalkeeper, and inching the Panthers within two at 3-1. The assist on that tally was awarded to Jimmy Poole.
Eight minutes after that, Johnston cut the deficit to 3-2 when Patrone scored again, this time, after assists from Vincent and Semir Melger.
Then, the Panthers deadlocked the game at 3 with 16:55 remaining, after Patrone and Nick Fagbote assisted to Poole, who ripped a shot into the back of the net.
Finally, Vincent, fired in the game-winner from 15 yards out, which sailed over the head of a leaping Mitchell in net, giving Johnston the 4-3 victory. Vincent’s tally came after assists from Patrone and Carlos Forgoso, a captain.
Now, Vincent and the Panthers hope that Johnston can use the comeback win as momentum for the rest of the season.
“I think if we keep fighting like this all season, if we don’t give up, I think we’ll be good,” Vincent concluded. “But we’ve got to stay focused the whole game.”
On the other side, Toll Gate head coach Mike Kenney preferred the way his team performed in the first half as oppose to the second half.
“First half, I thought we played the way I thought we could play,” Kenney said. “It’s an older crew that can move the ball very well. In the second half, we got a little too emotional, we let a few petty things get to us and we had a few lapses and it came back to bite us.”
Therefore, Kenney plans to work with his players on controlling their affection.
“We’ll definitely improve on this,” Kenney said. “We’ve got too good a core. They’ve got to learn that they kind of got to take the emotion out of the game, and not worry about the little things, and play soccer the way they know they can, and we’ll be fine.”
Johnston starts the season at 1-0 while the Titans fall to 0-1.