The Berlin and Branford boys soccer teams are very similar in a lot of ways. Both played physical, tough soccer and continually looked for a break or breakdown to score.
It took a great hustle play by Jaryd Hobbs to get Branford on the board.
After a scoreless first half that was pretty even with Berlin having a slight edge in possession, Hobbs chased down a ball that looked like it would run over the endline. Hobbs didn't give up on the ball and was able to poke it back to the center. There, Brian Castellon one-timed the pass into the short right corner past Berlin goalie Brian Bostrom with 28:12 left in the game.
"We pushed the ball down the flank and we thought it was going out of bounds," Branford coach Paul Hunter, who played professionally for the New York Cosmos and in the North American Soccer League for eight years, said. "Jaryd Hobbs hustled his tail off to save it right on the line and Castellon was able to put it back in. We've been there and it is not a pleasant way to lose. I thought Berlin played well, very hard and physically. They were very tough."
Berlin had two serious chances in the first half. Sophomore Alex Bednarek hit the cross bar off a free kick and later in the half a loose ball in the box squirted out before a Redcoats player could get a foot on it.
"The first half was back and forth but I thought in the second half we had the better of the possession," Berlin coach Dave Francalangia said. "There weren't a lot of scoring chances for either team. I honestly think we should still be out there playing in overtime. We weren't able to create the chances we have been able to get in the last four or five games. Their back line is going to give anyone problems."
Branford's defense led by senior Conor Daley along with Wilson Radulski, Justin Waters and Connor Bradshaw dug in after the lone goal and rather than playing with the ball, sent it right back out of the attacking area.
Just before Branford scored, Berlin almost took the lead. Brian Kennure attacked on the left flank and was able to slip by his defender. He crossed the ball into the box but Branford goalie Jeff Grande made a sliding, bobbling save.
Midway through the second half, Bednarek hit a rocket off a re-start. The shot cleared the Branford wall and was just to the right of Grande who rose up and punched the ball out with two hands.
Berlin's desperation almost paid off as the Redcoats earned a corner kick with three minutes left. Berlin got a head on a cross but it was headed out of danger.
"We didn't know much about them but we knew about number 11 (Bednarek)," Hunter said. "We heard he was a good player and didn't want to let him beat us. But, wow, he might be the best player we've seen all year."
Francalangia noted Bednarek played well but said his team is far from a one-man show.
"Alex played really good today but he has good players complimenting him," Francalangia said. "He's only a sophomore and he's a special player but he is helped by all of his teammates and he'd be the first to tell you that. The other guys let them do his thing but he is better for it."
With the win, Branford will now advance to play Avon in the semifinals.
"I don't think these kids are surprised," Hunter added. "We started slow but we got some players from injuries and we got on a roll. You don't go to Guilford on Senior Night and beat them without being a good team. They are excited, for sure."
Francalangia has to say goodbye to nine seniors: Armand Cano, D.J. Caron, Jake Haynes, Connor Hilbie, Kyle Lavoie, Carter Scarozzo, Alex Taddeo, Sam Vreeland and Jon Hauptfeld.
"We have a very young team but this senior group was great all year long," Francalangia said. "I think most people would think we'd be a .500 team or below but these kids, led by the seniors' leadership, proved a lot of people wrong."