GUILFORD — Winning low-scoring games has been a strength for the Cheshire boys soccer team this season.
On Wednesday, the Rams found themselves in another tight contest, but this time they came up a goal short in the Class L semifinals.
Playing at Guilford, No. 7 Cheshire fell 2-1 to No. 3 East Lyme.
Senior Robert Stoddard scored in both halves to propel the Vikings (20-1-1) into this weekend’s Class L final against No. 8 Notre Dame-West Haven (14-2-3) at Trinity Health Stadium in Hartford.
Cheshire’s season ended at 16-4-1 and its reign as Class L state champ is over.
“I’m happy with how hard the boys played tonight,” said CHS coach Artur Branco. “When we looked at the stats, we were ahead in every category except the score. Sometimes, it happens that way for you.”
The Rams came within one win of making the state finals for a third straight year. Last fall, Cheshire beat Xavier 3-1 to claim its first crown since 1988.
“It is hard (to lose) when you get to this point,” said senior defensive back Chris Rochefort. “Today just wasn’t our night.”
The Rams held the possession advantage throughout the game. In the first half, Cheshire had multiple free kicks and corner kicks, but the Vikings were able to come up with deflections and clear the ball.
In the 17th minute, Elis Sulollari found fellow senior Jasen Thomaswick in the middle, but his shot was caught by East Lyme senior goalkeeper Benjamin Johnson.
The ball was on the Vikings side of the field for the majority of the opening half, but in a single sequence East Lyme jumped ahead on the scoreboard with 14:27 left before intermission. From the left side, senior Apolonio Montejano made a pass across the field and Stoddard booted the ball into the net.
“I felt that we controlled the game, but they took advantage of the opportunities they had,” said Branco.
After regrouping at halftime, the Rams came out aggressive and tied the game with 36:22 remaining. On a corner kick by Sulollari, junior defensive back Ryan Markarian jumped in front of the net and used the back of his foot to score his first goal.
“That is where he has placed the ball all year,” recalled Markarian. “I’ve had chances to score, so it felt good to get my leg on one in a big game.”
Cheshire’s momentum was brief. East Lyme came back with the eventual game-winner just 2:02 later. On a throw-in, senior Ryan Novick heaved the ball into the box and Stoddard put in his second goal to snap the 1-1 tie.
“We would have liked to keep the tie for awhile,” said Markarian. “Even after they scored, we created more opportunities to score.”
CHS pressured the Vikings in the remainder of the game. Johnson (9 saves) kept them from getting the equalizer.
With less pressure on the Cheshire side, senior goalkeeper Daniel Braylyan had just one save. After playing in the field for his first three years, Braylyan became the starting goalkeeper this fall.
“I’m proud of him,” stated Rochefort. “When we didn’t have a goalie in the summer, he stepped for us.”
After graduating nine from last year’s state title team, Branco feels the Rams overachieved this fall.
“I don’t think anybody thought that we would get this far at the beginning of the season,” reflected Branco. “The boys accomplished a lot with grit and determination.”
Rochefort, Sulollari, Braylyan, Daniel Beecher, Ethan Candal, Alex Clark, Ryan Hays, Michael Mayano, Will Stearns, Thomaswick and manager Sam Hayden are this year’s graduating seniors.
“This is one of the most decorated classes we’ve had come through the program,” said Branco. “They made it to three (state) semifinals and two finals. We had never done before.”