Essex buries CVU with overtime free kick to reach D-I boys soccer title game

SOUTH BURLINGTON – Cooper Biederbeck wasn’t the first choice to take the free kick. The sophomore had only recently worked his way into Essex’s starting 11.

But in the third minute of a scoreless overtime battle with rival Champlain Valley, there stood the defensive midfielder, hovering over the ball, 35 yards away from goal — a spot in the Division I championship game at stake.

“I told him, ‘Make sure you read the wind and just drive it hard to the back post,'” Essex coach Jake Orr said.

Biederbeck did more than that. The first-year varsity player buried a walk-off winner.

Uncorking a high, curling shot into the swirling wind above Munson Field, Biederbeck’s direct kick from distance dropped over goalie Aiden Jaremczuk’s outstretched hand and into the back of the net to send No. 3 Essex to a 1-0 victory over second-seeded CVU in the D-I high school boys soccer semifinals on Wednesday.

“That just proves (Biederbeck) can step up in big moments and he did it,” Essex center back Kevin Lyon said. “We’ve grinded all season. We didn’t come here to lose, we came to win.”

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The Hornets (9-1) advance to their first title game in four years and will face the St. Johnsbury-Burlington semifinal winner at Buck Hard Field on Saturday. 

Biederbeck said he was attempting to serve one of his teammates for a header in the box. But he’ll take the end result.

“I thought it was good, I thought it looked like it was going in,” Biederbeck said of his second career goal. “It feels great. It’s a new feeling, but it feels great.”

Picking Biederbeck was a “spur of the moment” decision, Orr said.

“Cooper puts a good spin on the ball and he really knows how to hit it correctly,” Orr said. “That was awesome.”

The loss ends a two-year title run for the Redhawks (10-3).

“We just missed some shots today. It’s a tough one to stomach because there’s not a great explanation for it,” CVU coach Rob Cole said. “Total credit to Essex, they hung in there … and they countered and took advantage of our inability to finish our chances. Good teams will do that.”

Essex celebrates the overtime goal by Cooper Biederbeck, center, to beat Champlain Valley in a Division I high school boys soccer semifinal in South Burlington on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

A bend-not-break defense, led by Lyon and Aidan Nick, and goalie Andrew Seavers’ sure-handedness on his line and confidence in the air served the Hornets well against waves of CVU pressure.

“We just had to keep the energy high and our heads up,” Lyon said.

The Redhawks controlled possession and racked up 11 shots, forcing Seavers to make a save on six of them. CVU also earned four corners to Essex’s none.

But it were the near-misses that will likely bother CVU the most.

Riley Gauthier curled a 20-yarder in the 11th minute that grazed the side netting. Then in the game’s final 13 minutes, Sam Dennison’s poke over a hard-charging Seavers sank over the bar while Chance Therrien’s lefty liner whistled past the right post.

“They definitely had a lot of scoring chances and it felt like we had nine lives back there,” Orr said. “It was a nerve-wracking on the bench.”

Champlain Valley's Sam Dennison, center, reacts after his shot lands on top of the net during a Division I high school boys soccer semifinal in South Burlington on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

The Hornets’ best scoring opportunity in regulation came on Matt Correia’s outside-of-the-foot bender in the 51st minute, forcing Jaremczuk (two saves) to dive hard to his left to push aside.

“In my opinion, we dominated the play if you look at where the game was being played,” Cole said. “It was just a matter of finishing the chances we created and most days we do that.”

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The odds of a grueling overtime appeared likely. But CVU hit the accelerator at the start of the extra period, in search of a winner. Inside the first minute, Ben Sampson found space in the box, but Seavers gathered the shot without a rebound.

Seconds later, CVU forced a turnover, and Holden Batchelder made a sharp cut toward goal from the left side, ready to unload onto frame. Before Batchelder could let loose, Lyon dialed up a clean slide tackle.

“I’ve been doing slide tackles my whole soccer career, I love them. I just have them down to a science,” Lyon said.

Champlain Valley's Holden Batchelder, center, tries to cut back around two Essex defenders during a Division I high school boys soccer semifinal in South Burlington on Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020.

That set in motion an Essex counter and a CVU yellow card on a tackle in front of the Hornets bench, 35 yards away. Enter Biederbeck.

“I told my guys in the huddle after, ‘Right now, we can talk about how he was crossing it, but in 10 years it’s just a free kick that went top corner,” Orr said.

With five one-goal victories this season — halting CVU’s 37-game unbeaten streak among those narrow wins — the Hornets take aim at the program’s first title in a decade.

“We’ve been talking about this group writing their own story and trying to become an historic piece of the program, and they are doing it,” said Orr, a 2010 Essex grad and program alum. “Some may describe it as luck, but I think we have a certain toughness and competitiveness where these guys keeping finding ways in these close games.”

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Contact Alex Abrami at aabrami@freepressmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter: @aabrami5.