VERONA — The Cincinnatus boys soccer team walked into the NYSPHSAA Section III Class D final as the top seed with an undefeated record of 16-0. The Belleville-Henderson Panthers, however, were also 16-0 and stood in the way of Cincinnatus and a sectional title. The game ended with the Panthers being the first team to knock off the Lions, 4-3, Tuesday at Vernon-Verona-Sherrill High School.
“It is very hard to stay unbeaten all season for any team,” Lions head coach Gordon Brown said. “The pressure just keeps building; you almost wish you could just get a loss in the season. It’s too bad it had to come to a sectional game to do it.”
Cincinnatus would strike first in the eighth minute, as Section III’s leading scorer, Cason Stafford, did what he does best, glided past the Belleville-Henderson defense and tapped one past keeper Jeremy McGrath to give the Lions a 1-0 lead.
Just four minutes later, the Panthers responded, as Kyle Moyer broke free on a through ball and scored to even things up.
In the 21st minute, the Lions went up 2-1 when Scott Schuyler laced a great cross right in front of the net that teammate Jordan Larrabee finished with a header for the lead.
Cincinnatus took the lead into the half, but early on in the second, a ball was in the box that Lions keeper Kooper Vosburg dove to pick up. The dive caused a collision with a Panthers player that resulted in a foul and penalty shot for Hayden Allen, who capitalized on the opportunity and scored to make it 2-2.
“That penalty kick really took our morale away,” Brown said. “I’m not going to say that was a game-winner but it sure changed the tempo of the game. At the time, we were on a roll and it kind of shut us back down.”
Moyer put the pressure on the Lions in the 52nd minute as he found an opening and scored his second goal of
the night to make it 3-2.
A minute later, Cincinnatus was awarded a corner kick that resulted in a header from Schuyler being saved on a diving stop by McGrath to keep the lead.
Stafford and the Lions refused to go down without a fight though, as he scored once again in the 63rd minute. The senior dribbled between the Panthers defense and snuck by to score a goal and tie things up at three.
In the 66th minute, Moyer completed the hat-trick in what turned out to be the game-winning goal. The Panthers found him on a corner kick that he headed in the back of the net to make it 4-3.
The Lions had solid looks in those final moments, including a corner kick and free kick in the 79th minute, but they failed to convert and the Panthers moved on.
“No game is perfect,” Brown said.
Cincinnatus put together an extremely impressive season, as they finished 16-1. Stafford finished with 44 goals and 40 assists, both of which led Section III. Schuyler was right behind him, finishing with 38 goals and 20 assists. The Lions also finished as the top team in Section III with 364 points on 127 goals and 114 assists. They outscored their opponents 127-14 to end the year. Despite losing Tuesday, the season is nothing to hand a head about.
“They did the best they could,” Brown said. “Every year is a different year. I am very happy with what we’ve done this year.”