HINESBURG – An Essex-Champlain Valley matchup in high school boys soccer requires no additional fluff or hype.
Yet Saturday’s cool temperatures and soggy field conditions set a mood befitting for late-October playoffs. And CVU’s unbeaten streak, now into a third season, teetered on the brink earlier this week before a miraculous rally.
“We talked about having a chance to make history,” Essex coach Jake Orr said. “It’s not like we are playing in the Champions League — we don’t need to get carried away — but for Vermont high school soccer beating CVU is really special, and we really wanted that.”
So excuse the overjoyed reaction from Orr’s boys, rushing the field en masse at the final whistle of a dramatic 2-1 win to halt the Redhawks’ unbeaten march at 37 games. After 80 hard minutes, they earned it.
“I was thinking, ‘This might look a little crazy celebrating like we just won a state championship,'” Orr admitted. “But to see what CVU has done the last couple years, which is such an incredible run, the excitement was just through the roof.
“I’m super happy for our guys and proud of them.”
After the Hornets (2-0) staved off waves of pressing CVU attack with composed defenders and steady goalkeeping, senior forward Stefan Digangi provided the winning strike, a left-footed volley in the box with 2:21 to play.
“Three years and they haven’t lost and we come in here and beat them?” Digangi said. “It’s something that we need to celebrate, but we have Colchester on Tuesday and this game is over now.”
Colchester nearly stopped CVU’s streak on Wednesday until the Redhawks scored three goals in 90 seconds of game time for a 3-2 overtime win. After 34 wins, three ties and a pair of Division I titles, CVU’s run met its end against an old rival.
“Sometimes the ball bounces your way and it did for a couple years for us,” fourth-year CVU coach Rob Cole said. “This is not the anomaly. The last two years have been the anomaly.
“We knew we weren’t invincible, now we know for sure.”
Though, Saturday’s affair started well for the hosts.
Essex’s defense held for most of the first half before a miscue in the back spilled to CVU’s Ben Sampson, who hit a square ball to Holden Batchelder. The crafty junior, in the face of two Essex defenders at the top of the 18, coolly deposited a low shot past Andrew Seavers (four saves) and inside the left post for a 1-0 lead with 2:23 until the break.
The Hornets answered CVU’s opening strike 70 seconds later.
Patrick Herrin’s well-placed cross from the right corner found Elvis Salkic, who had time to settle and boot a left-footed blast past CVU goalie Jett Barbic (three saves) to equalize before intermission.
“The immediate response we had from getting scored on was massive,” Orr said. “I was a little worried we’d be shell-shocked after playing a really good 40 minutes.
“Our guys were full-belief at halftime.”
CVU had the edge in possession and chances after the break, but failed to put away a second goal. Seavers made his biggest stop on a kick save about six minutes in and, at the midway point, CVU’s Riley Gauthier drove a header a couple feet over the bar.
“Today was a day we didn’t put away those chances. A good team like Essex will punish you for that,” Cole said.
Essex’s winning sequence started with a throw-in down the left sideline. CVU was unable to clear Aiden Nick’s throw into the 18, and Salkic found space to curl a cross toward goal. As Digangi turned to locate the ball, he swept his left leg, getting just enough on it to push a shot off Barbic’s hands and into the back of the net.
“We were fired up at halftime. The energy that we’ve had around this group this year is amazing,” Digangi.
After the goal, Barbic received a red card for arguing with an official.
Cole said his players will find a way to rebound.
“It’s going to be a new experience for these players,” Cole said. “They have high standards for themselves and they will be highly motivated from this.”
If any Essex player wondered about their status as contenders, Saturday’s outcome put those doubts to rest.
“By no means can we say we are a finished product, but today solidifies that we can play with any of the teams,” Orr said.
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