Was it just coincidence or a premonition that at nearly the exact time Belmont Boys' Soccer's Michael Chertkov scored his critical first goal early in the game to pull ahead of Belmont's arch – and long-time dominating – rival and unbeaten Winchester High in their decisive rematch last night, an earthquake in Maine shook the earth in Belmont?
Or was it all the other way around?
Whether nature or fate, the Marauders scrubbed away five years of frustration at the hands of Winchester with a hard fought 2-1 victory Tuesday night at Belmont's Harris Field, Oct. 16, doling out the season's first loss to the 14th-ranked Sachems.
Chertkov scored a brace, the second an open net goal with less than a minute remaining in the game which proved the winning margin as Winchester's Evan Carey headed in a goal off a crossbar rebound past Belmont's goalkeeper Robbie Montanaro with five second left.
With the Belmont Girls' Soccer 0-0 tie against 9th-ranked Winchester – held earlier in the day – both Marauder teams earned a win and a tie against the Sachems this fall.
"For the last four or five years, we haven't had a real signature game to talk about. I think this win is as big as it gets," said Belmont's Head Coach Peter Guellnitz, who noted the progress the team has made since a disappointing loss to Watertown in the first game in September.
"We are playing more as a team. We don't have any superstars that the other team can point to. So we need to win as a group and that is something when we needed to bring 15 new players to (the varsity)," said Guellnitz, who had never defeated Winchester in his five years coaching the team.
As for the earthquake? "Maybe it tilted the field our way," said Gurelintz.
Belmont countered Winchester's speed and passing skills with athleticism and dogged defense. Yet it was a great through pass from Belmont's Kingston Lockwood who found a streaking Chertkov between two Winchester defenders who slotted the ball past a diving Chris O'Connell into the left-side netting at the 17-minute mark.
From there, the game produced highlight reel material for both O'Connell and Montanaro. The Marauders' Montanaro made three outstanding saves in the first half including a diving left-hand save from Winchester's Zachary Landau in the final minute.
"It was a reaction play, I just laid out for it. I guess I was lucky on that one," said Montanaro.
Lead by tireless midfielder Nicholas Stern, Winchester stepped up the speed of the game and found opportunities at goal, by Zach Samson whose shot hit a charging Montanaro's chest, and Stern's in close attempt that was swept away.
Montanaro was helped by the work rate from backs Nick Pearson and Sam Kerans.
As the time ran down, the style of play became rougher with numerous examples of hard challenges that bordered on dangerous charges, enough so that the referees needed to stop play for a minute to calm both sides.
But it was the play between the posts that impressed the more than 100 fans in the stands: O'Connell robbed Belmont's Holger Cruger with a brilliant bang-bang save from five meters with 11 minutes to go only to see Montanaro match him a minute later as he dove in front of Landau at the right post to stir the ball wide of the post.
"I just told myself that any ball coming into the box in the second half was going to be mine," said Montanaro.
With less than two minutes remaining, a Belmont clearing kick caused a panic between O'Connell (who had moved to midfield to add more bodies in the Belmont half) and a defender allowing Chertkov to swoop in and take the ball on a solo run before scoring his easiest goal in his career, sealing the victory.
Gurelintz said Winchester has beaten back every challenge in a talented Middlesex League "so this shows that when we give it our all, we can match any team on the field."