MIDDLETOWN — Make no mistake, Chazy played like the better team Saturday.
But it took one of the strangest goals imaginable to propel the Eagles into today’s NYSPHSAA Class D boys’ soccer championship game.
Brandon Laurin’s goal with 11:56 gone in the second half lifted top-ranked Chazy over second-ranked Poland, 1-0, in a battle of unbeatens at Middletown High School’s Twin Towers Grass Field.
The Eagles (20-0-1) will play Section II’s Fort Ann, a 2-0 winner over Jasper-Troupsburg, in today’s 12:30 p.m. title game at the Faller Turf Field.
Section III’s Poland ended its season at 17-1-4.
After dominating opponents throughout the season, the question was how the Eagles would fare in a close game. Chazy passed the test Saturday, playing against a very physical opponent on a smaller field.
“We’ll take it,” said Chazy coach Rob McAuliffe. “We haven’t had many close games this year. The guys had to fight and battle for 80 minutes today.
“We’re happy with the win and we have a few hours to enjoy it. But we need to win tomorrow.”
Chazy held the edge in play with a 13-3 advantage in shots. The Eagles, however, couldn’t break through until the second half when Laurin never saw his game-winning kick go into the net.
The Eagles were awarded a free kick from 20 yards out after Nathan Reynolds was taken down and Laurin sent it straight on net to Poland keeper Mitch Jones, who made what appeared to be an easy save. But when Jones tried to tuck the ball away like a football player, it slipped out of his hands, behind him and into the net.
“I wanted to put the ball on net, but it was an awful hit,” said Laurin. “I turned right away because I wasn’t happy with the shot. I didn’t see it go into the net, but I’m happy it did.”
The goal spoiled a good game for Jones, who was otherwise strong with 10 saves.
“It was unfortunate that the game was decided on a goal like that,” said McAuliffe. “But I felt we were the better team.
“It was frustrating to go into the half at 0-0 because we had some very good chances to score. We have to do a better job finishing tomorrow.”
Poland was big and physical. The Tornadoes were dangerous close to the Chazy net because of their height. In addition, the Eagles had to absorb their share of physical pounding, most notably sweeper Craig Botten and forward Derek Drake.
“That’s as big a team I’ve played against in five years,” sald Laurin. “I still felt we dominated a lot of the game, just a little unlucky at times.”
“I knew coming in that they were going to be physical,” said McAuliffe. “I felt we handed it well.
“We possessed the ball well, except for about a 10-minute span in later in the second half, and were able to keep the ball in their end a lot of the time.”
The Eagles, in the first half, held the Tornadoes to just one shot on goal and had a number of opportunities off scrambles in front of the Poland net.
Chazy, however, wasn’t able to get many clean shots on net and a number of shots went either wide of the net or over it.
“Overall, we played very well,” said McAuliffe. “This time of year, it’s all about results.”
Kyle Bisonette was called upon to make two saves in net for the shutout, but was steady on everything that came his way. It was a good team effort all around for Chazy.
If the Eagles win today, it will mark Chazy’s sixth Class D state title under the direction of McAuliffe.
Chazy 1, Poland 0
Poland 0 0 — 0
Chazy 0 1 — 1
Second half - 1, C, Laurin, 11:56.
Shots: Chazy 13, Poland 3.
Saves: Bisonette, C, 2. Jones, P, 10.