With a roster full of skilled players, the Chesapeake boys soccer team probably expected to win its senior night matchup with visiting Northeast on October 10.
They just had to overcome a considerable fight by their local rivals to do so.
In a physical battle chock full of playmaking on both sides, Chesapeake received goals from Samuel Adams, Julian DeNardo and Nick Wells to overcome a spirited Northeast effort and claim the Pasadena derby, 3-1.
Leyton Calzado scored a second-half goal for the Eagles, who received 14 saves from junior goalie Jason Meckley in defeat.
Chesapeake coach Drew Belcher credited Northeast with bringing a hefty challenge to Mountain Road, saying his Cougars played to their strengths to come out on top.
“Hats off to Northeast,” said Belcher. “These derby matches, there’s a lot of energy, there’s lots of excitement, they played great, they played hard, and that’s what these games are about. It was great.”
Chesapeake’s aim to mount steady attacks was met with stiff resistance early by the visiting Eagles, including Meckley and the starting defensive unit of Justin Wirth, Mason Switzer, Angel Amaro and Jacob Bartlett. With the Cougars pressing high into Eagle territory throughout the first half, Northeast almost turned the game on its head with a counter-attack chance. Senior captain Karl Maloy chased down a long ball forward and sent a cross to the foot of Kaden Koester, but Koester’s one-time shot was batted down expertly by Chesapeake goalie Ethan Belcher.
On the other end, Adams put teammate Juan Jose DeNardo into space nicely, but DeNardo’s shot was saved with a diving punch by Meckley.
Chesapeake midfielder Eli Belcher nearly opened the scoring after 20 minutes when he one-timed a curling shot with the outside of his foot from 30 yards away, but his lofted attempt drew the crossbar and was cleared away. Switzer saved his Eagles from going down 1-0 on another Chesapeake attempt by making a great sliding tackle just off the goal line.
Shortly before halftime, Chesapeake earned its breakthrough, as Julian DeNardo sent a pass into the middle that was misplayed by the Northeast defense, and Adams was there to take advantage.
“I saw the ball go through, made the run and was thinking, ‘This is it,’” said Adams, a junior.
Adams calmly left-footed the ball past the charging Meckley for a 1-0 lead before the break.
Chesapeake’s skill and passing through the middle of the field allowed the Cougars to take control of gameplay to open the second half. Eli Belcher sent passes from the central midfield position to Adams, DeNardo, Grant Dickerson, Christian Angel and Lucas Panzer, and one found Julian DeNardo perfectly in stride for an easy strike and a 2-0 lead with 35 minutes to play.
Chesapeake’s march toward a relatively easy win on senior night was then interrupted by a wondrous display of Northeast skill that pierced gameplay like a lightning bolt. Maloy took a throw-in on the right sideline in the Eagles’ attacking third of the field, and Calzado was there to receive it. The sophomore midfielder/forward trapped the ball with his chest and in one motion turned and blasted the ball on the volley into the top right corner of the net, leaving Chesapeake’s Ethan Belcher flat-footed without a diving chance and pulling Northeast to within a goal at 2-1.
“It feels really good,” Calzado said of scoring in the rivalry match, adding that the Eagles have improved in every way since last season. “This is my second year on varsity, and it’s just different this year, more chemistry.”
The goal galvanized the Eagles, who pushed for an equalizer and tightened their defense on Chesapeake for much of the remainder of the game. Meckley made save after save on Chesapeake chances, including a point-blank stop on DeNardo’s bid for a brace, but a few minutes later he earned a yellow card and had to exit the game temporarily when he came off his line to make a sliding challenge. He quickly gave his shirt and gloves to Wirth, who was suddenly called into goalie duty and charged with stopping a penalty shot to keep the game within reach.
Wirth was up to the task, diving to his left to punch away the penalty attempt of Micah Diggs and fire up his Eagle teammates.
Their celebrations were short-lived, however, as Northeast couldn’t find its equalizer, and Wells bookended the game on the other end, finishing a pass from Eli Belcher with three minutes remaining to give the Cougars their final advantage of 3-1.
Northeast coach Cliff Buck has seen his much-improved Eagles bring strong efforts against deeper competition this season. Maloy, a senior, said his side had no fear coming into the game, and they knew they would play hard against the Cougars.
“I’m proud of the hard work and dedication we put in tonight,” Maloy said. “One thing I’m extremely proud of is we kept our heads high even though we were down. We didn’t come out with the mentality of no one expects us to win. We came out with the mentality of, we’re going to fight, and we’re going to work our butts off and see what happens. I’m proud of the boys for keeping their heads up and fighting to the end.”
Chesapeake, meanwhile, has a group they believe can make some noise in the playoffs. The Cougars moved to 5-4 on October 11 with a 4-0 win over Meade in which Angel had a hat trick and Juan Jose DeNardo scored. Eli Belcher had 2 assists, and Adams and Wells both had an assist. Ethan Belcher posted a shutout with 7 saves.
Ethan Belcher, a senior and the Cougars’ goalie, wasn’t tested repeatedly against the Eagles, but he showed his ability in a 2-0 loss to Arundel on September 24 in which he made 23 saves. With his booming, 60-plus-yard free kicks and aggressively high line, Belcher is also the rare offensive weapon from the goalkeeper position, forcing gameplay deep into Chesapeake’s attacking end of the field. He scored a free-kick goal while playing goalie in Chesapeake’s 4-1 win over Southern on September 21.
Still, he believes defense will be key for the Cougars.
“We’ve got to clean up defensive mistakes from when we play bigger teams with better offenses, but for the most part we can hang in there and beat a team 1-0,” Belcher said.
His brother, Eli, also a senior, said the team has had several strong results in victories, like a 2-1 win over South River in September, but also in losses, like a 1-0 loss to Broadneck and a 3-2 loss to Annapolis.
“We just have to keep playing our way. Our results don’t show it, but we have been unlucky,” he said. “We just want to keep creating chances and make the defense turn.”
Their coach and dad knows the Cougars aren’t the most physically imposing team around, but they have the skill and smarts to go far.
“We’re not big, we’re not fast,” said Drew Belcher. “Our big strength is technical ability. When we can get the ball in the middle and move it quickly, it’s beautiful. That’s what they’re really good at. They’re listening and getting better and better and better. The next three weeks, we’re going to shock some people and do some really good stuff. I feel it.”