Thinking of Division III’s Peoples Academy as the little team that could doesn’t cut it anymore. Rather, it’s the little team that won’t.
The Wolves just won’t lose.
Their 40-game winning streak on life support, a goal away from extinction in double overtime, senior Hannah Merriam came to the rescue. Racing onto Katie Stames’ second assist of the day, Merriam buried the golden goal with 6:38 left on the clock to set off a championship-esque celebration of Peoples’ tense 2-1 victory over U-32 in girls soccer action Tuesday.
“That was the best game of the year. My gosh, that was just an amazing game,” said Peoples coach Jim Eisenhardt.
“I wrote on my book at the start of overtime that we’ve got to dig deep. Somebody had to dig deep — and they all did,” he said. “I thought our best 20 minutes, the best we played, was in overtime. We really came out and there was an urgency. Our conditioning paid off.”
The D-I Raiders (6-1-1) made the Wolves (9-0) rally in the second half to force overtime — Peoples’ first in three-plus seasons.
U-32 held the halftime lead and with a bid to be like rival Montpelier, the last team to beat Peoples, 42 games ago.
“We knew that was on the line,” Stames said. “Our coach has been saying that any team that beats us, it’ll be their biggest win of the season and every team that comes to play us wants to get the headlines. We don’t want to give them that.”
But the Raiders made the first move to that end, getting on the board in the 27th minute when midfielder Emily George poked the ball in the bottom left corner past diving Peoples goalie Carie Wan (four saves).
It was the first and best chance of a half in which U-32 allowed the Wolves’ game-breaking forwards — Stames, Merriam and Kelly Grimes — little room to exploit.
“They have a lot of speed up front so we were holding players behind that to challenge and make sure you’ve got a second defender behind,” U-32 coach Steve Towne said. “We set up, I think, really well defending against that.”
That changed less than 10 minutes after halftime, though.
The Wolves’ rally started with Merriam sliding a well-weighted ball to the right wing for the run of Katie Fish.
After stretching the defense and slipping away from a pair of defenders, Fish crossed to Stames, who probed with one touch at the top of the box before teeing the ball up for Grimes to hammer into the top right corner beyond U-32’s Bailey Starr (seven saves) for the equalizer in the 49th minute.
Stames, who had to left the field late in regulation with an ankle injury, nearly found a winner in the first minute of extra time, but her volley of a cross from eight yards was deflected just over the crossbar.
But the senior didn’t miss her next chance in the second overtime, winning a ball on the left flank and quickly sliding it through to Merriam streaking down the center of the pitch.
“It was Hannah and I and we had one defender to beat. I probably could’ve taken her, but it’s not right if I take her — if I have Hannah wide open I’m going to pass to Hannah and she can finish just as well as I can,” Stames said.
And the Wolves wrote the latest chapter in their streak.
“We’re hard to beat — we’re just hard to beat,” Eisenhardt said. “That’s what we were today. We were hard to beat and our defense gave our offense enough time to get that winning goal.”