CORTLAND — Stillwater scored the game's lone goal with three minutes left in the first half to win a second consecutive NYSPHSAA Class C girls soccer championship and deny Unatego its first such title Sunday, Nov. 17, at SUNY Cortland.
When it was over, some Spartans were moved to tears on the field. But anger and frustration were notably absent.
"We didn't have anything to be ashamed of," junior Morgan Perry said.
"This team means more to me than anything. I love this sport, I love the people I've been blessed to play it with, and I just didn't want it to end," Unatego senior Paige McCoy said. "I feel like we gave them a good run for their money, being the defending state champs. We played hard and we don't have anything that we shouldn't be proud of."
Stillwater's Paige Brinsko notched the winning tally for the Section II champions with 3:13 left in the first half. The Warriors won a free kick about 25 yards out on the left side, and Brinsko stepped up to hammer a shot past Unatego goalkeeper Meghan Perry's near post for a 1-0 lead.
"The goal was a beautiful shot, I'm not going to take that away," Unatego coach Sue Herodes said. "But I'm so proud of the girls for keeping them out of the goal in the run of play."
The win gave Stillwater a 21-0-2 record, and the second state title comes with an unbeaten streak of 46 games dating back to a loss in the 2017 state final. According to The Times Union, the Warriors finished the 2019 season with a goal difference of 107, outscoring opponents, 125-18.
Still, Unatego nearly got an equalizer in the dying seconds. With 1:40 remaining, Morgan Perry lofted in a free kick from about 50 yards that fell between Stillwater goalkeeper Kiersten Conroy and the retreating Warriors defense. Spartans leading goalscorer Dana Stepp tried to settle it but could not, and a trio of other Unatego players could not reach the slow-moving ball as it was directed just inches past the right post.
"I really thought that free kick was in from where I was," Herodes said. "They really did not give up."
The Spartans also had a couple decent chances in an even first half, with McCoy seeing her pressured shot after a cross from Anabel Rommer cleared off the line in the ninth minute. Both teams produced quality chances in the frame, with Stepp's runs from midfield powering the Unatego attack, but Meghan Perry and Conroy kept the scoring to one goal in the frame.
Stillwater took control for most of the second half, stretching the Spartans' midfield with consistent possession from junior Keelyn Peacock. Dangerous attacks came from senior captain Brooke Pickett, an Albany commit, and junior Teya Staie.
Despite playing 30 extra minutes Saturday in a penalty-kick win over Haldane and losing senior midfield stalwart Hali Lucia for much of the second half, Unatego held on as Stillwater pushed to double its lead. The Warriors had one goal ruled out for offside and hit the crossbar once, but Meghan Perry totaled 20 saves to keep the Warriors out. Morgan Perry and Kylie Mussaw covered ground in the midfield to keep the Spartans close despite committing numbers forward in search of an equalizer.
"We knew coming into the game what we were facing. My comments were just that we needed to play together and not leave each other out to dry," Herodes said. "And it wasn't just one person, we weren't marking them. It was whoever was there, and it was a team effort."
"We knew it was going to be tough but we knew it was our last game and we just had to do it," Morgan Perry said.
At the final horn, Stillwater owned the shot count, 22-9, and the corner count, 5-2. A 3-2 win over Marion in Saturday's semifinal and Sunday's 1-0 result indicated a tougher weekend than last season when the Warriors notched wins of 4-0 and 5-0 in the final four.
"That's the way you want a state championship game to go. Unatego was a good team from their goalie to defense, midfield and attack," Stillwater coach Christine Ihnatolya said. "I think both teams just left it all out on the field, and that's what you want."
The loss is the first of the year for Unatego, which finishes the season at 19-1-2 with Section IV and Midstate Athletic Conference championships. The Spartans outscored opponents by 70 goals, 83-13, but Herodes said she will remember this team for other reasons.
"We're a team. We've been a team all season," Herodes said. "Like I said after our game the other day, we are more of a family than a team. It's just a testament to how much heart and love they have for each other."
Stillwater 1, Unatego 0
Class C state final
Unatego ..... 0 0 - 0
Stillwater ..... 1 0 - 1
Stillwater (21-0-2): Paige Brinsko 1-0.
Unatego (19-1-2): None.
Shots-corners: S 22-5; U 9-2.
Goalies: Kiersten Conroy (S) 8; Meghan Perry (U) 20.