With the exception of a 6-0 defeat at the hands of Shoreline powerhouse East Hampton, the CRHS ‘Lads’, as they are referred to by head coach Chris Cap, were within one goal for nearly every game this season. Bad luck (and arguably some bad calls – more on that later!) had them on the wrong side of five one goal losses. The other two losses were at the hands of Class S regular season champions Valley Regional (14-1-1). CRHS was competitive in the two matches against Valley, being the only Class S team to score more than one goal against them in a single match.
GAME 1 of 4
Back on October 17th, the team headed to Cromwell with a record of 4-6-2. Teetering on the border of the .400 winning percentage required to qualify for the statewide postseason tournament. Junior forward Tyler Kovacs finished junior defender Jeff Peracchio’s long ball to give the Devils the 1-0 halftime advantage. Ten minutes into the second half, Cromwell knocked in a loose ball to tie the match. Despite strong defensive play and excellent goal keeping, Cromwell converted a set piece to take the 2-1 advantage with 20 minutes left to play. With the clock ticking down to less than 13 minutes to play, senior midfielders Connor Brennan and junior Michael Decker combined for a steal that popped the ball loose to senior captain Alan Haberern. He played it through perfectly to his co-captain, Senior Kyle Dupre, who finished the play with his trademark speed. Regulation ended knotted at 2. Two ten minute non-golden goal overtime periods remained. Cromwell wasted no time and capitalized on a missed call. (More on that later!) The goal held up and they won the match 3-2.
With that loss, the Blue devils faced a steep challenge. They had 3 games in a 5 day stretch remaining in the regular season, and needed, at the very minimum, one win and one tie to qualify for the post season. All 3 would be on the road against previous opponents; North Branford (tied 1-1), Valley Regional (Lost 4-2) and Foran (tied 3-3).
GAME 2 of 4
Just when we thought we’d seen the worst officiated game in high school soccer history, the team headed to North Branford. Although not mathematically an elimination game, without a win or tie in this match, the CRHS boys post season hopes would be a very slim possibility.
The teams broke at halftime nil-nil. North Branford struck first, rifling a direct kick past the wall and into the side netting to take the lead with just under 30 minutes to play in the match. But Coginchaug stepped up and answered only a couple minutes later when Mike Lisitano recovered his own crossbar deflection and knocked home the equalizer. Coginchaug stepped up the defense, but once again, it was the captains to the rescue. Good players know their strengths. Alan Haberern has a cannon concealed in his left leg, and Kyle Dupre has nitrous oxide in his cleats. Coginchaug defended an NB set piece and Alan saw the mismatch up top. He played a long left footed bullet, and Dupre left his man in the dust finishing with a carbon copy of his Cromwell goal. Coginchaug had the lead with 16 minutes to play. All they had to do was lock down the defense and outlast the referees; they did, the victory was theirs.
GAME 3 of 4
With the win out of the way, the pressure was still there to qualify for States. They still needed a win or at least a tie against 2 very tough opponents; Valley Regional and Class L Foran HS in Milford.
Two days after the Cromwell nightmare, the team headed down Route 9 to Deep River to play Valley under the lights. Coginchaug would need to bring their A game for a consistent 80 minutes to have a chance. Everyone hoped that the referee woes were behind them – they were, but only temporarily (More on that …well, you know). The game was very well played. Both sides came prepared – the only one who wasn’t, was the cameraman (sorry, no video from this one.)
Valley scored about 15 minutes in to take the early lead. Just a short time later, junior forward Tyler Kovacs combined with senior midfielder Alan Haberern to tie the match. Kovacs won the ball at midfield sideline. He flicked it to Haberern who volleyed it over the defenders for the hard charging Kovacs. It seemed the ball was too long and the keeper would win the bouncing ball, but Kovacs got there a split second sooner and gave it a light touch over the goalie’s head. He was alone in front of the empty net and he evened the score.
Valley proved their might and scored just before the half, and netted one more in the second to deny CRHS from collecting the result they so desperately needed.
It all came down to the last game of the season for the Blue Devils Boys Soccer team.
GAME 4 of 4
The excitement, the tension and the anticipation were all thick enough to be cut with a knife on Friday, October 26th for the CRHS boys. Even though the losses were all close, a 5 win season after a 3-1 start would have been considered a failed campaign.
Clearly the team never lost hope. And thankfully against a skilled team two divisions up and another officiating crew that had the boys in blue in their crosshairs, they never lost heart.
Kyle Dupre announced the team’s intentions when he put the Devils up in the 8th minute. Senior Mike Lisitano made a long throw-in to Tyler Kovacs who settled and laid the ball off to Dupre who drilled it to the back of the net.
Both teams played strong throughout the remainder of the half. Foran combined their passes but could not penetrate the Devil’s defense, except for the more-than-occasional offisides balls that were allowed to be played. Coginchaug had their best opportunity when Dupre and Kovacs tried to connect again. Dupre carried the ball through the defense and played a gift wrapped ball in front of the net for Kovacs. The defender had other ideas and leveled Kovacs at the same time he tried to finish the play. The ball sailed high, and Kovacs was out for the remainder of the match.
With 16 minutes to play in the period, Foran tied the match on a through ball.
On one of the games’ more controversial plays, Coginchaug defender Bobby Jungles was ejected from the game for intentionally handling the ball. If Coginchaug could hold on, they had the tie they needed, but the game was far from over. There were more than 50 minutes to play against a tough opponent and now a man down for the duration of the game.
The ten minute half time break was painful. The silence in the stands was measurable. Coginchaug parents and fans exchanged worried, speechless, depressed head shakes. Three of the last four games were directly impacted by the officiating and this one was no different. CRHS’ leading goal scorer was on the bench. They were on the wrong end of, in hockey terms, a power play. And a 40 minute one at that.
I’ve never heard one of Coach Cap’s halftime speeches, but I’ve heard the legends. This one must have been awe inspiring.
In addition to the realization that giving up a goal without an answer meant the season would end, the boys had to adapt a style of play that is rarely used: defend and attack with 9 position players against 10. Everything changes. in addition, they had the weight of the state tournament on their backs. The CRHS boys soccer team was about to grow up. Fast.
Coach Cap must have alleviated that weight. There’s no doubt that the players did not take the field feeling any of those affects. Instead those obstacles became challenges.
The Devils defense, led all year by Ben Taber and now joined by Connor Brennan, put up a brick wall and stood their ground. The midfield challenged every ball and the strikers tried to pick their spots. If bandwidth would allow, I would simply put the half, in its entirety, as the highlight.
As time wore on, it became evident that no matter what Foran threw at the defenders and goalkeeper Jeff Cummings, it would be in vain. Nothing was going in that net without an armed guard. The offense was creating, but being over aggressive might mean that they would forfeit even more numbers on the defensive end. So they played the half exactly right – they played it smart.
So it all came down to one play. The play of the year. Connor Brennan played another beautiful long ball to the 18. Waiting there was Kyle Dupre. The ball bounced to the ground. He lined it up as he spun towards the goal and fired a laser to the far post.
On to the state tournament. Congratulations team!