By Danny Atkinson
OLD SAYBROOK — During the regular season, Old Saybrook was the best team in a highly competitive Shoreline Conference boys soccer season. In the CIAC Class S playoffs, nothing has changed, as the No. 2 seed Rams painfully reminded Portland and now No. 10 seed Valley Regional in the quarterfinals.
After the Warriors tied the score at 3 with just under two minutes remaining in regulation on Saturday to force overtime, Old Saybrook picked itself back up on Sunday after a weather-related pause and looked excellent in overtime play, going on to win 4-3
Kevin DeCapua scored the winning goal with 58 seconds remaining in the first 10-minute OT period. The sophomore scored off a play he said the Rams call “the Norwegian” – a throw-in to multiple teammates’ heads near the net, and whomever gets possession will try and flick the ball in over the keeper.
DeCapua gained the ball amid a scrum and flicked it in just to the right of Valley keeper Ian Silva.
The squads got only 1:11 into OT on Saturday before a thunderstorm and darkness forced the teams to resume play the next day. Valley leapt out a 2-0 advantage with just over 28 minutes left in regulation on Saturday, only to see the Rams storm back and quickly tie it before Cam DeAngelo put them up 3-2 with 8:26 remaining.
Tucker Burr delivered an exhilarating goal with 1:30 left to keep his Valley season and career alive.
With the win, Old Saybrook (17-0-3) moves on to face No. 6 Somers (14-3-1) in the semifinals Thursday night in New Britain. Somers defeated No. 19 Bolton 6-0 Saturday. The Rams are trying to pull off a three-peat in Class S.
The Warriors, who defeated Terryville and Hale Ray in the first two rounds, end their season at 13-6-1.
Old Saybrook played outstanding defense in both overtime periods and never let Valley move the ball downfield efficiently. The Rams’ physicality was hard to counter for the Warriors, as their elite offense had just six shots on goal in more than 100 minutes of play.
“It was all about winning the first overtime. Once they did that, they were able to defend the ball and we didn’t get any scoring opportunities,” Valley coach Mick Fearon said. “Old Saybrook played and beat us three times and just showed they have something extra.”
“You do what you have to do to survive and advance. Players worked hard to get to balls,” Old Saybrook coach Steve Waters said. “When you get this far in the tournament, pretty doesn’t matter. Being effective as you can when you have the ball does.”
Valley grabbed a quick lead in the first half and held on tight despite Old Saybrook placing a ton of pressure on its defense. Just over three minutes into the game, Michael Kollmer received the ball on a throw-in and delivered a nifty pass to senior captain Jake Burdick, who fired it in high and to the right of keeper Ryan Slisz to get on the board.
Soon after falling behind, Old Saybrook began to control possession and would do so for the remainder of the half. The Rams consistently set up good scoring opportunities despite the aggressiveness of Valley’s defense.
However, they could not break through due to a combination of poorly located shots and passes and outstanding defensive plays. At 6:30 in, Silva blocked a penalty kick by DeCapua as well as a shot by DeAngelo on the rebound. A second penalty kick by Drew Kulmann midway through the half was blocked.
The Warriors struggled to generate good scoring opportunities for much of the first half and early into the second. They still managed to add to their lead just under 12 minutes in when Deryck Livichuzhca beat Slisz, with Burdick earning an assist. The goal occurred just after a diving save by Silva.
Old Saybrook made the adjustments necessary to start scoring and regain control of the game. After having DeCapua playing in the midfield during the first half, he and DeAngelo were moved up top, and in DeCapua’s words “confused the defenders.”
DeCapua was the first to score. He got out in front of a defender and fired in a shot just under the crossbar with 26 minutes left. Just over a minute later, Kulmann tied the game at 2.
In the last few minutes of regulation, the game become even more physical. DeAngelo put the Rams ahead 3-2 with 8:26 left, knocking the ball into the right corner of the net after it bounced free off a header. DeCapua and Nick Rothman earned assists on the play.
Tucker knotted it up seven minutes later off a rebound to send play to overtime
“Even when we got up 2-0, I felt like they were getting good scoring opportunities,” Fearon said. “In the second half, I think we just got disjointed. Once they went up in overtime, it was too difficult to come back.”
Waters said that to defeat Somers, Old Saybrook will need to maintain possession more and finish shots efficiently when they have good scoring opportunities. The Spartans, who finished second in the CCC North, have not lost since Oct. 7 and outscored its tourney opponents 15-3.
DeCapua says that after this weekend’s win and the Rams’ second-round 1-0 win against Portland that was scoreless nearly the entire game, his team has demonstrated it can handle any challenge.
“These wins take a lot of character. Ever since we first started training, we have shown a winning mentality. It’s amazing what these boys have done.”
Fearon indicated that while he was disappointed with the end to the Warriors’ season, it was a strong one overall.
“I’m so proud of the fight my players showed and the adversity they fought through,” he said. “They played really great all year.”