ONEONTA – As the top seed and the three-time defending champion, Oneonta was the favorite entering the Section IV Class B boys soccer tournament. But after giving up nearly as many goals in the first half as it had conceded in the entire season and playing one of just two teams to beat them, the final proved to be far from straightforward.
"Especially this year, it's been very exciting," Oneonta senior goalkeeper Brad Morell said. "During the regular season, Chenango Valley was our main competitor, but in a section final, it's always going to be even tougher. You never know what's going to happen."
Matt Shultz' late goal helped the Yellowjackets overcome a chaotic first 20 minutes and defeat Chenango Valley, 4-3, to earn a fourth consecutive section title Saturday, Nov. 2, at Wright National Soccer Campus.
In a game that saw six goals in the first 18 minutes split evenly between the teams, the second half remained scoreless until less than five minutes remained. The decisive tally came as Oneonta's Dylan Davi worked his way down the left side of the CV defense before cutting the ball back and finding Shultz at the near post for a close-range finish. The assist was Davi's third in the match.
"We just kept trying to pressure. We knew we would get one eventually because they were kind of backing off," Shultz said.
Davi has contributed to eight of Oneonta's 17 goals in three section games, totaling one goal and seven assists.
"Mr. Brannan told me to cut it back and I was looking at the goalkeeper but I saw Matt open," Davi said. "These kind of games, you just have to get up for them. I don't really care about scoring, as long as I get those assists and we score, I'm happy."
The goal put Oneonta back in front for the first time since there were 29 minutes left in the first half, with two blown leads preceding an eventual 3-2 deficit. E.J. Kavrazonis put Oneonta ahead after five minutes, converting a feed from Davi, who was played through by Nick Stalder. But the lead was short-lived as miscommunication between Morell and Oneonta defender Andrew Carrington saw Aidan Marroquin pass into an empty net and equalize 87 seconds later.
The Yellowjackets needed just 43 seconds to respond as Kavrazonis struck again. Stalder's long throw from the right sideline was allowed to bounce in the box, where Kavrazonis won position to notch from close range.
"I was timing my runs and getting ready for the crosses from Dylan," Kavrazonis said. "He sent in a great ball for the first one and we went from there."
The Warriors responded again, this time scoring twice to take the lead with 26 minutes left in the frame. The first goal saw Billy Clark make his way through the right side of the Oneonta defense before sending a ball across to Aaron Salisbury for a finish in close. CV took the lead two minutes later as Morell's attempted punch missed a lofted ball in the box, allowing Marroquin to pounce and put the second-seeded Warriors ahead.
"Mistakes are good if you don't get beat because then you can work on stuff," Brannan said. "But now it's win and you're in, lose and you're out. If you make that mistake you and we're out, you better learn from it because all the seniors are gone and you're on your own."
"Our emphasis has been to find the joy, then just go out and play," CV coach Ted Hoffman said. "We did that in the first half, and we had a good second half too. But Oneonta has been number one all year, why shouldn't they be on top at the end?"
The goalscoring flurry concluded five minutes later as Finlay Oliver tied it at three with the sixth goal in 15 minutes. Davi made a physical, marauding run down the left flank, cutting back and driving toward the CV near post before dishing to Oliver for a tap-in at the back post.
At halftime, Oneonta held an 8-6 lead in shots while the corner count belonged to CV, 3-0.
The second half saw the Yellowjackets produce the superior scoring opportunities, but fail to convert as CV goalkeeper Eric Jewson (13 saves) stood tall to keep the score knotted at three. Eventually, the Warriors put pressure on the Oneonta goal with Morell being forced to make a diving save low and to his left with 18 minutes on the clock following a CV header. After the go-ahead goal, Morell was again called into action to tip a lofted shot over the crossbar.
"It's a tough thing to do after letting a couple in, but coming in for the second half, it's basically 0-0, and I needed to be there for my team," Morell said. "I was so happy when we got that goal because I think we were the better team, but I wasn't the better 'keeper today."
The decision also handed OHS the season series, 2-1, after the teams split a pair of regular-season games. The Yellowjackets won at WNSC, 5-0, on Sept. 6, before the Warriors dealt Oneonta its first loss, 2-1, in a physical game at CV on Sept. 27. Despite a history of clashing physically, the game finished with just two yellow cards (both to CV) and cool tempers.
"We wanted this one because that was such an intense game (at CV) and we don't really like them," Shultz said. "The loss really got us mad, and it feels so good to get one back."
The win not only gives OHS a fourth straight section title, but also a third consecutive appearance in the NYSPHSAA state tournament. The Yellowjackets (16-2) will play the Section III champion in the regional final Nov. 9 or Nov. 10 at Liverpool High School.
Westhill, which has knocked out OHS in the regional final each of the last two seasons, plays Skaneateles in the Section III final Monday, Nov. 4.
"I don't think it was our best performance, but we grinded it out," Brannan said. "Now we are just getting ready for the regional final, and we will see what happens. Maybe we will steal one up there this time."
Oneonta 4, Chenango Valley 3
2-Chenango Valley ..... 3 0 - 3
1-Oneonta ..... 3 1 - 4
Oneonta (16-2): E.J. Kavrazonis 2-0, Finlay Oliver 1-0, Matt Shultz 1-0, Dylan Davi 0-3, Nick Stalder 0-1.
Chenango Valley: Aidan Marroquin 2-0, Aaron Salisbury 1-0, Billy Clark 0-1.
Shots-corners: O 17-3; CV 11-7.
Goalies: Brad Morell (O) 7; Eric Jewson (CV) 13.