VERONA – One quick flurry.
That’s what it took for Cincinnatus to knock off top-seeded and defending champion Poland.
Trailing 1-0 early in the second half, the Lions scored three goals in a span of 3:26 to grab a 3-1 advantage and then held off Poland’s rally for a 3-2 victory in Tuesday’s Section 3 Class D Final at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School.
Sensational sophomore Caden Stafford had a goal and an assist to up his section-leading totals to 42 and 34 respectively. Scott Schuyler and Jacob Smith also found the back of the goal as the Lions (17-2) who claimed their first title since 2015 and avenged a loss to Poland in last year’s quarterfinals.
“When we get it going it’s hard to stop us,” Stafford said. “When we scored those three goals it probably was the happiest I’ve ever been. I had adrenaline going and was shivering a bit. It’s big. I’m really happy.”
Poland also got great performances from its superstar sophomores as Kade Ozog had two goals that were both set up by perfect passes from classmate Dale Lepper.
“We were pretty evenly matched,” Ozog said. “We were hoping to go back-to-back, but there were two good teams playing and one had to lose.”
Cincinnatus plays Marathon Saturday at Wright National Soccer Campus in Oneonta. Marathon knocked of top-ranked South Kortright Monday for the Section 4 title.
Stafford and his freshman brother Cason facilitated numerous chances through the game’s first 40-plus minutes. At 36:41 of the second half, the Lions finally cashed in as Caden drove through and around Poland defenders deep inside the box. As defenders converged, Stafford stopped, pivoted and found Smith all alone at the top of the 18’. Smith moved to his right and drove a low rocket past Poland keeper Connor Broadbent and just inside the right post to knot the score.
Just under two minutes later, Schuyler beat Poland defenders to a rebound and flipped it just over a prone Broadbent to give the Lions the lead.
One minute, 18 seconds later the Lions were awarded a penalty on a take down in the box. Stafford stepped up and with patience forced Broadbent to pick a direction and the sophomore sharpshooter guided it into the open side for a 3-1 lead with 33:15 remaining.
“It was the opposite of what we talked about doing, which is always frustrating,” Poland head coach Greg Haver said about the defensive lapse. “I thought it was even for most of the first half but I wasn’t happy with how we played the midfield. We usually dominate the midfield and that didn’t happen.”
After outshooting the Lions 8-6 in the opening half, Poland had trouble getting its offense going throughout much of the second 40 minutes.
“We just were playing the ball up the middle too much,” Ozog said. “They had two or three defenders on me and we still tried to cram it through. We needed to play the ball wider and serve it in … and I think we’d have better chances.
“On defense we just didn’t step to the ball. But they played pretty good though … aside from that stretch. We were leading and they scored one and another then had the penalty kick and we had to play catch-up, and it was tough.”
Down 3-1, Poland began to find some room midway through the second half and pulled to within one with 20:30 remaining on a beautiful set piece. The goal came off a corner as Lepper found Ozog in front for a header that skipped past keeper Kooper Vosburg.
The Tornadoes best opportunity to knot the score came with 6:06 remaining as Jarrett Papp had a good look from just outside the 18’ that was corralled by Vosburg, who made 10 key saves.
The best defense is a good offense and Stafford and his Lions kept pushing for another goal. Stafford just missed on one opportunity and had another stuffed on an impressive stop by Broadbent from point-blank range. Broadbent finished with seven stops in net for the Tornadoes.
“Give credit to their goalie because he made a lot of great saves,” Stafford said.
In the first half, the sides traded scoring chances with the Tornadoes holding an 8-6 advantage in shots and 3-2 in corners. Both keepers stood strong throughout the opening 40 minutes as Broadbent and Vosburg were perfectly positioned to keep the game tight.
Broadbent was the busier of the keepers early as the Strafford brothers applied pressure leading to two great chances.
However it was Cincinnatus defender Ryan Petty who made the biggest early save of the game. Just a few minutes in, Ozog got behind Vosburg and put a shot on goal that was blocked by Petty.
A few minutes later, the Tornadoes struck as their top tandem connected to open the scoring just 8:46 into the game. The goal came as Lepper passed through a defender’s legs and ran it down on the right flank. He moved in and then sent a perfect cross to Ozog, who redirected it in from in front of the goal.
For Haver, it was a tough game between two very good teams. The difference was the trouble Stafford presented and the inability of his team to execute the game plan in hopes of slowing him down.
“We knew coming in how good he was and what we had to do to stop him, but he absolutely had his way with us anyway,” Haver said. “So, that’s disappointing. It wasn’t so much that he took some shots and missed some shots, but it was how he set up other guys because we were way out of position. That was frustrating too because it wasn’t a surprise to us because we knew what he could do and we didn’t respond. Credit to them.”
In the Class C final, South Lewis defeated Cooperstown 1-0 in overtime to advance to the state quarterfinals.
Matt Skorupa scored for the Falcons on a set piece in the final minute of the first overtime. Cooperstown finishes its season 16-2-1.
The Falcons (18-2) play Lansing either Saturday or Sunday at Wright National Soccer Campus in Oneonta. Lansing won the Section 4 title with a 1-0 victory Monday over Trumansburg.
Section 3 Class D Final
Cincinnatus 3, Poland 2
Cincinnatus (17-2): Caden Stafford 1-1, Scott Schuyler 1-0, Jacob Smith 1-0. Kooper Vosburg 10 saves.
Poland (18-1): Kade Ozog 2-0, Dale Lepper 0-2. Connor Broadbent 7 saves.