SHRUB OAK, N.Y.— With nearly 100 minutes played, players exhausted and leaving at stretches due to cramping and exhaustion in a scoreless game, it was a player with fresh legs who came through for the North Salem boys soccer team at the most critical time.
Senior Michael Dutt, who was inserted back into the game in the second overtime period after sitting out the entire second half, broke through and scored with 11 seconds remaining to give the Tigers a thrilling and hard-fought 1-0 victory over rival Haldane to claim the Section 1 Class C sectional title on Saturday, Oct. 29, at Lakeland High School.
The golden goal by Dutt was a long time coming for top-seeded North Salem. In nearly 260 minutes that spanned more than three games of regulation play, it hadn’t scored a goal against third-seeded Haldane, who had beaten them twice during the regular season despite the Tigers controlling play in all three contests.
“I couldn’t believe it,” said Dutt, who was set up by Devyn Sheth on the goal. “We played them twice, dominated both times, but lost lost. Still 0-0 after full time — to score like that — it feels great.”
After Dutt scored the winning goal, the North Salem team piled onto each other in celebration of being crowned champions for the first time since 2008.
“I tried to imagine this, but it’s 100 times better than that,” senior captain Michael Selzer said. “Haldane played hard and didn’t give up. We just kept going a little bit longer.”
The Tigers outshot the Blue Devils 27-5, but most of its opportunities came from outside the final third of the Haldane end of the field. And with 6-foot-7 senior goalkeeper Blaine Fitzgerald in goal, the task of scoring became that much more difficult. Dutt was able to find space in close range and finally get a ball past the Haldane defense and Fitzgerald, who made 18 saves.
“They did a great job on the defensive third keeping us locked up. It was difficult to get close-range chances,” Dutt said. “Devyn Sheth had a nice little touch and put it right where I was and I was able to put the ball in.”
North Salem (13-5) did have two of the best opportunities of the game at the beginning and end of regulation time. In the fourth minute, it was awarded a free kick from 50 yards out and junior Anthony D’Innocenzo put a nice ball in front of the net where Selzer put a header on it and was about to go in the top left corner, but Fitzgerald was able to use his height and reach to knock the ball out.
The second opportunity came in the 75th minute as Matt Schembri got in close and put a header past Fitzgerald, but Haldane senior captain Michael Harmancin made the play of the game to that point by kicking the ball out of bounds just before the ball crossed the line.
“It was frustrating, but we’ve learned from the season that dominating possession doesn’t mean anything,” Selzer said.
Haldane tried to catch North Salem off guard at the beginning of the first half, controlling play for the first seven minutes. They were able to put two shots on goal, the same amount they had for the entire first half. The back line of senior Jake Leicht, D’Innocenzo, along with sophomores Kirby Trageser and Michael Bossi were able to keep the Blue Devils from penetrating deep into the Tiger end of the field.
The Tigers didn’t fall victim to the Blue Devil counter attacks that hurt them in the previous contests. Junior goalkeeper James Buzzetto was able to keep a clean sheet when the opportunity needed him to make a save.
The game appeared destined to go into penalty kicks, which North Salem coach Ron Hendrie was getting ready for. Instead, his team broke through and finally got the best of the Blue Devils.
“I was already thinking of what my PK list was going to be,” Hendrie said. “This feels great. We brought it home. The kids put their entire hearts into the season, working together since the beginning of August.”
North Salem receives a bye into the Class C regional final and will face the winner between Section 9’s S.S. Seward and Section 11’s Pierson/Bridgehampton at Byram Hills High School on Saturday, Nov. 5 with the time to be determined.
In the sectional semifinals, North Salem defeated fourth-seeded Alexander Hamilton 3-0 on Oct. 26 at North Salem High School. The Tigers avenged a semifinal playoff loss from last season to the Red Raiders.
“The captains were letting everyone know about last year and how we didn’t want that to happen again,” Dutt said.
In the 22nd minute, senior Drin Brahimaj converted on a goal with the assist coming from Bossi to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
“One of our guys made a run to the corner flag and then he crossed it in,” Brahimaj said. “I was on the opposing side and I just put it away.”
Junior Mark Ribaudo added to the lead in the 41st minute when he tapped in a cross sent in by Brahimaj to give the Tigers a two-goal lead.
Dutt put the icing on the cake with eight minutes left with senior Alonso Reyes picking up the assist.
“I just put a lot of pressure on the defender, hustled hard, poked it past him and then slotted it,” Dutt said. “We just kept motivating the team and everyone was high tempo. We kept the pressure up and we put some goals in.”
A year of experience did wonders for the Tigers after a season that didn’t meet their expectations in 2015.
“We’re just more experienced and have been playing with each other longer,” Brahimaj said. “We have a better chemistry now. We’re really passing together and playing well.”
Dutt shared the same sentiments.
“Last year we were kind of a young team and this year we’re definitely more experienced,” Dutt said. “We have eight seniors this year so we’re definitely a lot more experienced and older. That definitely helps us out.”