Cloudy
50°
Cloudy
Hi 50° | Lo 31°

Stowe Defeats Thetford for Boys Soccer Title

  • Andrew Cawley collects himself before receiving recognition with his <br/>Thetford Academy teammates as runners-up in the Vermont Division III <br/>final against Stowe in Williamstown, Vt., yesterday. Stowe won, 4-2.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Andrew Cawley collects himself before receiving recognition with his
    Thetford Academy teammates as runners-up in the Vermont Division III
    final against Stowe in Williamstown, Vt., yesterday. Stowe won, 4-2.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford’s Neil Howard grapples with Stowe’s Cam Taylor for possession <br/>yesterday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Thetford’s Neil Howard grapples with Stowe’s Cam Taylor for possession
    yesterday.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Thetford's Iain Weider celebrates after scoring against Stowe in the state championship game yesterday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Thetford's Iain Weider celebrates after scoring against Stowe in the state championship game yesterday.
    (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Andrew Cawley collects himself before receiving recognition with his <br/>Thetford Academy teammates as runners-up in the Vermont Division III <br/>final against Stowe in Williamstown, Vt., yesterday. Stowe won, 4-2.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Thetford’s Neil Howard grapples with Stowe’s Cam Taylor for possession <br/>yesterday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Thetford's Iain Weider celebrates after scoring against Stowe in the state championship game yesterday.<br/>(Valley News - James M. Patterson)

— Instead of focusing on possession-oriented play, scrappy Stowe aims to execute no more than a pair of touches before scoring.

It took nearly 68 minutes for that approach to pay off against Thetford Academy in yesterday’s Vermont Division III boys soccer state championship game, but it came to fruition in a flourish for the Raiders in a 4-2 win at Williamstown High.

Stowe junior Robert Buonnano netted his first career hat trick with three goals in the final 12 minutes, 25 seconds of regulation — twice on headers and once on a quick strike following a steal — lifting the seventh-ranked Raiders (10-6-2) to their fourth title in six years.

Seniors Ian Weider and Aidan Cleaves scored for No. 5 Thetford, which allowed more than two goals for just the third time all year and finished 11-7.

Stuck in a 1-1 deadlock for more than 32 minutes, Buonnano scored on a header to the right corner in the 68th minute, on a one-touch to the left in the 74th and on another header in the 80th as the Raiders rallied against a Thetford team holding an 18-11 advantage in shots and enjoying the majority of sustained play throughout the chilly afternoon.

“You don’t have to have the ball for more than three seconds to score,” said eighth-year Stowe coach Jaime Birmingham, whose young team also upset No. 3 Rivendell on the road in the semis. “In the second half, we posted two players (in the offensive end) and told them to shoot the ball quick, to make the defense get back in a hurry. We knew that was how we were going to score. We’ve been trying to establish that identity all season.” Behind a quick and intelligent corps of 10 seniors, the Panthers went ahead 1-0 in the 16th minute and dictated tempo for most of the day.

Thetford coach Simon Mayo likes to have his team come out the gate firing, and it didn’t take long for the Panthers to make their presence felt in front of a huge crowd perched along a hill next to the field.

Set-up specialist Dominic Chatot sent in a crossing pass for Matt Perry in the second minute, the latter’s offering sailing over the net. Stowe first-half goalie James Brochhausen (two saves) played up in the box to gobble up a number of Thetford through balls, but he couldn’t interfere with a Nolan Howard pass that found a streaking Weider on the left side.

The senior’s speed helped him tap the ball around the keeper and plant it in the right corner for a 1-0 Thetford advantage.

Weider was whistled for a foul after being tangled in the corner with Stowe’s Vince Van Patten, a call that left Mayo incredulous. The ensuing throw-in from junior defender Luke O’Toole was deflected in the middle by Calvin Dixon, ending up at the feet of Pascal Schmitt with just enough time for the senior to beat Panthers’ keeper Brandon Gray (four saves) at the left post to make it 1-1 with 10:45 left in the first half.

“I thought that goal was a little bit fortunate (for Stowe), not only (because of the call) but because it came on a deflection,” Mayo said.

“There were a lot of momentum shifts in the game, and that one sort of put in their favor.” The Panthers got it back quickly in the second half.

After some positive visualization exercises to conclude halftime — “Close your eyes and think of all the positive things you did in the first half,” Mayo instructed — Thetford attacked with some fluidity and won the majority of the 50/50 balls in the second stanza.

A lobbing pass from Chatot found Weider and he nearly beat second-half Stowe goalie Shayde Ward (six saves) at the left post. The goalie deflected the ball down onto the goal line, but Weider wasn’t quite in position to pounce on the rebound.

Chatot again looked for Weider on the right side, but Ward was one step quicker to the ball to keep it out of harm’s way.

“Nobody serves balls in better than (Chatot),” said Weider, who scored many of his team-high 20 goals this year on feeds from Chatot. “I’ve just got to do a better job finishing.” Thetford kept attacking in transition, Kit Norton finding Perry with a through ball Perry sent off the goalie for one of just three corner kicks on the day for Thetford. The restart was cleared away quickly by the Raiders.

The game got a bit sloppy and somewhat chippy in the next 20 minutes, both teams fatigued in the cold conditions. A lot of bodies ended up on the ground, with Stowe’s Van Patten receiving a yellow card for an elbow with 17 minutes to play. Weider was kicked hard in the shin with less than 13 minutes left, limping in pain in the Raiders’ end as Thetford lost possession.

(Stowe had also reverted to overly physical play at times late in its eventual 2-1, double-overtime win against the Raptors on Halloween.) “We don’t mind playing that way; we’re a scrappy team, too,” said Chatot. “That’s not what beat us, it was just that we had too many breakdowns.” The tenor of contest was still in Thetford’s favor when Stowe shocked the Panthers with a score on just their second shot of the half. A frantic pass in traffic from sophomore Blake Duffy had enough hang time for Buonnano to plunk it to the right corner to make it 2-1 with 12:25 left.

Down a goal late, Mayo moved Chatot from midfield to forward and moved a defender up to midfield. Perhaps more vulnerable with the hole in the back, Buonnano won a one-on-one battle and turned to poke it to the left side off a sprawling Gray to make it 3-1 with 6:24 remaining.

Not to go quietly, Panther defender Andrew Cawley sent a crossing pass to Cleaves and the senior clunked it off the cross bar and in with 3:35 to play to pull Thetford within 3-2.

The Panthers continued to pressure until Buonnano’s clincher with 45 seconds left, a header off a middling feed from freshman Chris Mullen.

“We played well in the second half,” Mayo said. “I thought we did well with our backs to the goal as well as offensively. We were a little unfortunate at times and had trouble finishing. That’s football.”

∎ Free Kicks: Many on the left sideline — including one of the officials — thought an arching Perry strike tied the game 3-3 with 2:32 remaining.

The clock was stopped and the referee came to the sidelines to report who scored before the official on the opposite end of the field confirmed the bid had gone over the crossbar and settled into the twine behind the goal. ... Howard’s assist was the sophomore’s first since he had two against Green Mountain Valley on Sept. 27. ... Weider (38 goals, 14 assists) and Chatot (20 goals, 22 assists) combined for 104 points as a four-year varsity tandem on the same line. ... Thetford slipped to 3-5 in state championship games in their first final appearance in six years. Its wins came in 1973, ’93 and ’96. ... Both teams had three corner kicks.

Jared Pendak can be reached at jpendak@vnews.com or 603-727-3306.