Raiders Deny Raptors
Stowe, Vt. —Despite a resume that includes collegiate posts at Middlebury and Johnson State, first-year Stowe High boys soccer coach Brian Buczek felt pressure to succeed when he arrived to take over a program that won four Vermont Division III titles in six years under previous mentor Jamie Birmingham. Fortunately for Buczek, the Raiders know how to apply their own pressure on the field.
Junior midfielder Blake Duffy had a hat trick despite sitting out the second half for disciplinary reasons and senior Robert Buonanno had a goal and two assists as top-ranked Stowe beat No. 5 Rivendell 6-0 in a D-III semifinal Tuesday.
In a rematch of the Raiders’ win in a 2-1, double-overtime thriller in Orford last Halloween, Stowe ensured there would be little chance for such suspense in the first half Tuesday. The Raiders scored three times in a span of 3 minutes, 14 seconds in the middle stages of the first period and added two more before the break to the pave the way to Saturday’s final against neighboring rival Peoples. The tenth-ranked Wolves upset No. 3 Williamstown on penalty kicks on Tuesday following a scoreless game through two overtimes.
“I felt tons (of pressure) coming in here,” said Buczek, a former men’s assistant at Middlebury College and men’s and women’s head coach at Johnson State who has also coached the Vermont Olympic Development Program and several club outlets. “This program built a really strong tradition and foundation under (Birmingham), and then I come in and it’s back to basics as far as the kids getting used to a new coach and a new system.”
The Raiders (13-2-3) didn’t appear to be working through any kinks Tuesday, exhibiting superb ball control while handing the spirited Raptors (12-3-2) just their first loss of the year by more than one goal. Rivendell was outshot 16-12 and struggled to generate quality scoring chances against Stowe’s speedy midfield and well-positioned defense. The Raiders also got behind the Raptors’ “D” on numerous occasions, giving Rivendell goalie Josh Marshall (six saves) little chance to thwart one-on-one bids at close range.
“Even the least experienced spectator would tell you that their technical level is excellent,” said Rivendell coach Bob Thatcher, whose team was in the semis for the third time in four years. “I would equate them with Hanover. They’re just really solid and they don’t hurt themselves.”
Play was back-and-forth early, as both teams sent shots over the crossbar before Stowe took control with a flurry. Buonanno picked off a Rivendell goal kick on the left side and did all the work himself for the Raiders’ first goal, dribbling into the corner and lobbing a high-archer that came down inside the far post in the 17th minute.
“That was the spark we needed, because Rivendell was not letting us get comfortable,” Buczek said. “For him to come out and score a highlight goal like that, it really set the tone for us.”
Duffy headed in a corner-kick feed from Vince Van Patten — who scored the winner in double OT last year — for his first goal at the 23-minute mark, then potted his second just over two minutes later on a crisp give-and-go with senior midfielder Wyatt Galfetti. Galfetti threaded the needle through traffic on the left side to set up the goal after an initial pass from Buonanno from midfield.
“They all just have advanced ball skills,” said Rivendell forward Scott Calhoun, who led the Raptors this season with 21 goals, but had limited opportunities Tuesday. “They didn’t have anyone who made more bad touches than good ones.”
Added fellow senior captain Luke Bell: “You can tell they’re all soccer players and that’s what they love. I imagine that a lot of them play the game year-round.”
Buonanno and Cam Taylor passed back-and-forth twice for Stowe’s fourth goal, the latter depositing it past Marshall’s left side in the 28th minute.
Duffy added his third of the game unassisted 3:31 before halftime, then received a yellow card for unsportsmanlike conduct with 1:07 left and sat out of the rest of the game.
“It’s kind of our policy (to bench players who receive a yellow card), and we didn’t think it would be worth risking him getting another one,” said Buczek, who also sat Van Patten after he received one midway through the second half. “We don’t think (yellow cards) are how you earn playing time, so that was certainly part of it.”
The Raptors remained competitive in the second half, Calhoun clanging one of the cross bar in the 52nd minute and Nate Eastman nearly connecting on a header after a corner kick from Calhoun in the 66th. Chris Gendron also set up Sam Emerson for a bid that went just wide left as Rivendell ripped off six shots in the period to seven for Stowe.
“I was proud of our guys in the second half,” said Thatcher. “They showed they don’t know what ‘quit’ means.”
Raider defender Alec Wense was also relentless for Stowe’s sixth goal, staying with the ball through pressure out front to score on his own rebound with 12:42 to play.
Free Kicks: Buczek, 41, was a captain and all-North Atlantic Conference player at Johnson State before he went on to coach the Badgers. ... It was the sixth consecutive double-digit win season for the Raptors. ... Stowe committed 22 fouls or infractions, including their third yellow card of the game when Buczek was issued one for stepping onto the playing field to argue a call. Rivendell was whistled for 12 fouls, but wasn’t carded. ... Stowe freshman keeper Mark Infante did not make a save. ... Stowe High and Peoples Academy, in Morrisville, are separated by about 12 miles along Vermont Route 100. Saturday will mark their third meeting in the finals since 2002, the Wolves winning 3-0 in ’02 before Stowe victories in 2007 (3-2) and ’08 (1-0).
Jared Pendak can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3306.