DANBURY - The New Canaan Rams began their quest to defend their Class L State Championship on the road against the Danbury Hatters on Wednesday afternoon at Danbury High School and came away with a 1-1 tie in a tightly contested FCIAC matchup.

The Rams appeared to be on their way to a "grind it out" type win over the Hatters, but Danbury's Kenny Wilson had other plans. With just 3:12 remaining in the contest, Wilson pulled his team even after scoring on a high shot that narrowly eluded John-Luke Ferrandino. Ferrandino took over goalkeeping duties after starting goalie Scott Levene was issued a yellow card.

"Regardless of [Ferrandino] being in there, that was a beautiful goal and it would have been tough for anybody to save. That was the first time putting [Ferrandino] in there," New Canaan coach Victor Sanchez said. "[Levene] was given a card because of a little too much talking to the refs; they shouldn't be talking to the refs at all, and after some warnings [the refs] decided to pull [the yellow card] out on him."

Levene's yellow card was a microcosm of the game. Several borderline calls by the officials drew the ire of players and coaches on both teams, and several yellow cards were issued.

After a scoreless first half, New Canaan finally broke the scoreless tie thanks to some hard work by Steven Velente and a strong finish by Ferrandino, whose low shot to the bottom-right corner of the net narrowly got by Danbury goalie Paulo Rey-Frank.

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"I just took on a few guys and looked up for the shot. It was on my left foot, and I didn't want to shoot and miss, so I played it to John-Luke and he slid it in past the goalkeeper," Velente said. "I think we can improve on possession. Possession is key to winning a game."

"Steven made a great run; he got by about three guys and laid it off to me. I didn't have much room so I had to do like a sliding shot and it hit the post and went in," Ferrandino said.

For Ferrandino, it could have easily been his second goal of the game. Just a few minutes into the second half, Ferrandino beat Rey-Frank with a quick shot, but the play was whistled dead thanks to a borderline offside call.

"Personally, I thought I was behind Tom Carey when he hit the ball, and it hit off the defender and it just went right to me," Ferrandino said. "When it was played, I didn't think I was offside."

Both teams were the beneficiaries of stellar goaltending, as Levene made nine saves and Rey-Frank came up with seven.

New Canaan had several golden opportunities to score at the beginning of the second half, but he turned away three consecutive shots Velente, Tom Carey and another by Velente to keep the game scoreless. Levene came up big in the first half with a diving save to his right to rob Wilson of a goal.

"We did improve from the first half to the second half; we had plenty more shots and that's what we need to generate is more looks at the goal. We need to test the keeper," Sanchez said. "Another thing is the counter-attack. A lot of the teams we play will be playing direct soccer, so we have to be able to adjust to the counter-attack."