The Manchester Essex boys soccer team was on upset alert in the first half of Thursday's Division 4 North Quarterfinal tilt against Bishop Fenwick
The seventh-seeded Crusaders got a goal from senior captain Sean Kern just 11 minutes in and they rode that momentum into the half thanks to a standout defensive effort.
The Hornets, however, remained patient in their possession approach, continued to work for scoring chances and finally broke through in the second half, which led to a three-goal barrage over the final 40 minutes and a 3-1 win at Hyland Field.
With the win, the second-seeded Hornets (14-2-4) advance to the Division 4 North Semifinals on Monday at Winthrop High School against No. 3 Essex Tech (3 p.m.).
"Big credit to the boys today," Manchester Essex head coach Rob Bilsbury said. "When you go down early it's so easy to get tight. But these boys believed in each other and kept playing to our essence, which is possession and we created some beautiful goals in the second half."
After taking the lead early in the first half, Bishop Fenwick (12-5-4) was committed to its defensive structure, putting an extra back on the field to slow down the Hornet's attack.
That approach worked for the remainder of the first half. While Manchester Essex had a territorial edge, quality scoring chances were kept to a minimum and Bishop Fenwick went into the break with a 1-0 lead.
"We knew they were a tough team to play against, they posses the ball so well," Bishop Fenwick head coach Tony Enos said. "Defensively we had to keep it structured and we did that, especially in the first half. That goal gave us momentum and we played well after that."
Fenwick forced the Hornets to adjust, and they did so by going to three backs instead of four with the hope of creating more offense.
That offense was created just five minutes into the second half when Thomas Birkeland got a step on the defense on the right wing. As he was approaching the goal, he slid a pass into the center of the box where Kellen Furse put it home to tie the game, 1-1.
It took less than two minutes for Manchester Essex to pull ahead as Naderson Curtis gathered a long pass and used his superior speed to blow past the defense and pound it into the net for a 2-1 edge.
"We went to three in the back and that was able to get us the attacking chances we needed," Bilsbury said. "(Fenwick) defended well and were really committed to it but once we tied the game we forced them to open it up a little more, which led to another quick goal for us."
The Hornets capped the scoring in the 63rd minute when Furse directed a header to the right post, where Eli Cox was there to put it into the net with his just to extend the lead to 3-1.
"Overall I thought we defended well the whole game," Enos said. "They just made a few great plays when they got the opportunities."
The Hornets now turn their attention to the sectional semifinals and they hope to get back to the Division 4 North Finals for the fourth time in six seasons.