Rams boys stay alive in PKs thriller at Avon
AVON -- Scott Levene was the perfect weapon for New Canaan to pull off the upset.
For most of the season Levene's been reliable as a top-notch goalie. But last Thursday afternoon, his foot was just as needed as his hands. After 100 minutes of play, No. 3 Avon and the 19th-seeded Rams went to penalty kicks for the right to play in Saturday afternoon's quarterfinal of the Class L CIAC boys soccer tournament.
Levene, considered one of the strongest goalies in the state, not only stopped two Avon penalty kicks, he also delivered the game-winning strike, giving New Canaan (9-4-4) a 3-2 advantage and a date against No. 11 Fermi.
"What you usually see is keepers get all nervous and start freaking out," Levene said of his preparation for the penalty-kick session. "You just have to stay calm, pick the side you're going to go to."
Avon and New Canaan made their first two shots apiece, and then things got interesting. Levene stopped Conor Lanahan's shot, which was waist-high and to the goalie's right. Jon-Luke Ferrandino then fell to his knees after he couldn't fool Avon keeper Alex Andrews.
With two shots remaining for each team, both sides remained quiet. Levene then banged home his shot before stepping back into the box to win the game for the Rams. Jameson Neseralla was stoned after he tried to take the score to Levene's left.
"It's not all really about guessing," Levene said. "You try to read certain clues off the guy about his walk-up, the way he puts the ball down, certain clues you've been taught over the years. You kind of read where he's going, and if you guess right, you save it."
The Rams goalie had the benefit of embracing, knowing the mindset of a player on both sides of the penalty kick. He reminded teammates about the approach and how to play the mind game with the Avon goalie.
"I told my teammates, `Know where you're going even before you step on the field,'" Levene said. "Don't look at the keeper. Don't change the way you're going, even if the keeper's directly on the side you're going to. The way I went up, I picked my spot as soon as I was walking up."
New Canaan head coach Victor Sanchez knew who his men kicking in extra time would be. It's something that gets established fairly early in the season.
"You go over this in practice and figure out the guys who are the most technical, the most confident -- a combination of those two things," Sanchez said.
The teams played to a scoreless first half, and Avon got on the board at 28:58 after Drew Montano banged home a goal to break the tie. Avon had 18 shots to New Canaan's 10, and a 6-to-4 advantage in corner kicks.
"The wind was at our backs, and that seemed to be an important factor in this game," Sanchez said. "I felt we didn't get enough good, clean shots (in the first half). In the second half we came out a little flat-footed. We had the wind against us, Avon was attacking a lot and they got their first goal."
Just as New Canaan switched to a 4-3-3 formation, the Rams tied the game off a shot after Andrews saved a ball, but couldn't corral it, then watched as Steven Valente booted in the game-tying goal.
The three-hour-round-trip drive from New Canaan to Avon and back ended well for the Rams, as Sanchez has now gotten his team to upset two teams in three days; New Canaan defeated No. 14 Branford Tuesday afternoon, 3-0.
"Playing a school like this, we don't know much about them," Sanchez said. "We always know they're going to be tough and physical. And they were -- and they were a little more technical than I expected. We're a bit on the smaller side, so it says a lot about being able to make a long trip, play a high-ranked team, a team that's good -- they were a legitimate 3."
The Rams defeated Fermi, 3-1, before their dramatic game Monday night, when they upset No. 2 Watertown.
Only the title game now remains.