WINSTED — In a Covid-19 season presumed to be rife with meaningless games for lack of ultimate goals like league and state tournaments, individual games keep demanding more and more meaning.
It was true again Friday afternoon in a fierce boys soccer match between Berkshire League leaders Litchfield (8-2) and Northwestern (6-3-1).
The Cowboys won 2-1, overcoming an 18-4 shot advantage by Northwestern with notable help from a career day in goal by Litchfield’s Erik Tieman (10 saves) and a determined Cowboys defense.
“They played like it was a state tournament game,” Northwestern coach Andy Campbell said.
Highlander Gavin Hester scored his first varsity goal nine minutes into the game on a pass into the penalty box from Josh Boucher. Cowboy Daniel Dieck tied the score in the 22nd minute on a nearly identical play off a pass from Harrison Barnes.
After that, it was an all-out physical race up and down the field until Barnes scored a penalty kick following a takedown nine minutes into the second half. Northwestern countered by mounting a barrage only to saved only by Tieman and his defense.
And the game literally didn’t count, not even for seedings in the upcoming BL tournament.
For that experience, games qualifying for seedings were reduced from 12 to nine because Wolcott Tech and Wamogo postponed multiple games due to Covid-forced school closings.
“The kids just want to play,” Litchfield coach Rob Andrulis explained after Friday’s all-out battle.
Still, the player who quite possibly felt that most sat on Litchfield’s bench in civilian clothes the entire game.
All-American senior striker Timmy Donovan, the all-time Berkshire League scoring champion with 92 goals, went down with a possible meniscus tear after scoring 14 goals in five games this season.
Though the knee won’t require surgery, his record-shattering career as an active Cowboy is over.
“It was tough; it was sad,” said Donovan, who committed to Division I Colgate University last February. “I’ve talked to a lot of people who played for Litchfield and they all said playing Litchfield soccer was the best time of their lives.
“Playing for the blue and white is very special to me.”
Nevertheless, just like Friday’s game, bound to stick in the memories of his teammates, there’s an upside for Donovan in the midst of the wrenching obstructions, first of the virus itself and then his injury.
“My senior year was not as good as I’d thought it would be, but in mid-summer I thought we wouldn’t have a season at all,” said Donovan, a lock to have achieved his original aim of 100 career goals without the injury.
“I thought the CIAC did a good job with all its protocols.
“I’ll still keep playing soccer,” said Donovan, expecting to return to full strength within two months — in plenty of time to begin his career at Colgate.
Donovan’s playing days in the Berkshire League are over, but the swath he cut on the field will continue to grow in legendary status.
Northwestern’s Coach Campbell, a 19-year veteran in the league, recalls Donovan playing as a sophomore on a good Cowboy team full of seniors.
“He was still the best player on the field,” says Campbell, applauding Donovan’s team leadership after the seniors graduated.
“Every team in the league would double- and triple-team him,” said Campbell, recalling a game when the Highlanders limited Donovan to four touches. He scored on two of them.
“He just had a nose for the back of the goal,” Campbell said.
League and state championships are the goal in a normal year. For those who don’t achieve those ultimate heights, with or without Covid-19, Friday’s contest and every game in which Donovan played have very special meaning of their own.