WORCESTER, Mass. -- The Mid-Mass. conference has belonged to Grafton the last five years, but upstart Worcester Combined proved Thursday night that there is room for two at the top of that league.
Behind a buzzer-beating redirection goal and an overtime game-winner from senior captain Jack Gallagher, the Warriors defeated the Indians, 5-4, at Worcester's Foley Stadium.
The win was extra sweet for Worcester, which endured a painful loss at Grafton just five days before when Indian sophomore Chase Kapuscienski threw home a tie-breaking goal with two seconds remaining in regulation. Now, the Warriors are just a win against last-place Hopedale away from a share of their first ever league championship.
"These guys have stuck together," Worcester coach Harry Jones said. "I'm as excited as anybody else (about the Grafton win), but we've got districts coming up, and we're moving on to Hopedale."
With less than 15 seconds to play, Worcester attackman Jahmal Bryan-Massop sprinted downfield, bouncing off defenders and just hoping to create a last-second scoring opportunity. When he launched a shot from the edge of the offensive zone, it appeared Grafton goalie Cadrin Msumba, who had played a nearly flawless game, would snatch the ball up to end the threat.
Instead, Gallagher stepped in front of Msumba and redirected the ball upward, over the goalie's right shoulder and into the net. Moments later, Gallagher intercepted a Grafton pass in Worcester's offensive zone, and threw it home for the game winning goal.
"That last shot needed to happen," Gallagher said. "I needed it, and it happened… I can’t really describe it."
Things started well for Worcester, as the Warriors built an early 2-0 lead. But, thanks to domination of time of possession by Grafton, and the outstanding play of Msumba, Worcester was held without a goal for over 36 minutes of game time. During that span, Grafton's Evan Johnston and Kapuscienski each scored a pair of goals, giving the Indians 4-2 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Even when Quinn Robert ended the Worcester drought with just over 6:30 to play, a Warrior victory seemed out of reach -- well, to everyone but the guys on the Worcester sideline.
"We got scared, but we worked too hard to not win this," Gallagher said afterward. “We came together as a team and made the effort and stuck it out.
The win gives Worcester a shot at history. After winning only 10 games the last eight seasons, the Warriors are 12-1 and need only to beat last-place Hopedale at home on Tuesday for a share of their first ever Mid-Mass title.
After Thursday’s game, Jones expressed just how special the win was to him.
"This is probably the best game as a coach or player I've ever played" Jones told his team in a postgame huddle. "And I played a national championship game guys, at the college level [at Syracuse]. And it's because I love all of you. I come back every day because I love all of you."