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As evidenced by the match-up between the Old Saybrook and Valley Regional boys' soccer squads on the chilly evening of Sept. 17, time does not heal all wounds. The Rams have been chasing the Warriors for several years in the Shoreline Conference-most recently last year, when Saybrook lost to Valley three times, including in the Shoreline semifinal. But the Rams aim to emerge as one of the most dominant squads in the league and showcased their talent with a twice-come-from-behind 4-2 victory over their rival, led by senior tri-captain Dan Murphy's three goals.
"We wanted it more because they are such big rivals and we knew they were coming for us because of last year's [Class S] quarterfinal win," said Murphy, whose team beat the Warriors in last fall's state tourney. "The team was nervous, but I could tell we came together and the hard work paid off. More to prove that it wasn't just a fluke, but that we think we're better and we deserve to win. I do feel we have a really good shot this year. Everyone wants to win the state championship from day one and all the seniors are playing like great role models for everyone else in trying to show that."
Co-captain and senior Nate Corrado agreed with his teammate's sentiments while praising his squad's work ethic.
"This win meant so much. They beat us three times last year and we really wanted to show we were the real deal this year," said Corrado. "It's tough not to think about last season, but we tried to set our minds to it and play as hard as we can. [The seniors] went out there, gave the team the edge, and everyone played great."
Valley (1-1) was the first to get on the board after Ben Ferrucci fed Jack Simoneau a ball from the outside and Simoneau knocked it in past Rams' keeper Mike Rose (12 saves) for the 1-0 advantage.
"I worry about [the other team scoring first] because typically when this happens, it allows that team to adjust and control the tempo of the game," said Coach Sam Barnes. "We maintained our composure as a team and Nate Corrado scored our first equalizer goal to show our effective teamwork, which then changed the momentum of the game."
Within six minutes, Corrado tied it up on a Sam Henry feed and, after a long battle of the defenses from both sides, Matt Cole put the Warriors ahead at the 21-minute mark with a free kick. Thirteen minutes later, Murphy evened it up again on a pass from Corrado and it was 2-2 going into halftime.
"Ultimately, I believe we were bigger, stronger, and more physical, but our quality passing and control of the midfield made the difference in this game," said Barnes. "Our approach is simple this year: We look at the season as a marathon and take one game at a time. It appears that we are gaining confidence with every game."
The Rams scored their next two goals in the second half as about 57 minutes in, Murphy struck again and scored on a free kick, followed by another score five minutes later after Saybrook won the ball with quick passes and Murphy took a strong shot from 25 yards out, taking advantage of Valley's short-handedness on defense. Senior tri-captain David Colvin was a standout on defense, particularly in the second half, as he was able to stop all of Valley's scoring opportunities and help hold the Rams' 4-2 lead until the clock ran down.
"Statistically, this was a very evenly matched game with no shortage of energy. Both teams came ready to play," said Barnes. "Dan Murphy is arguably one of the best players to come through our program in Old Saybrook. He stepped up and played extremely well, controlling the midfield, and he was also able to score on offense. He has set the example high for our younger players to strive for. We are playing well as a team right now and still making small adjustments that will utilize all of our players and build trust in each position."
On Sept. 20, the Rams defeated Old Lyme 2-1 behind Peter Stanners and Murphy's goals (Corrado assisted Stanners' score) and Rose's four saves.
"This was a well-played match between both teams," said Barnes. "Old Lyme never quit and gave us pressure until the last whistle. We held on to a 2-1 lead with a shutout in the second half for another win. Peter Stanners continues to work hard and show his speed up front and converted the first goal while Danny Murphy scored on a breakaway to beat Spencer Saunders over his head. Old Lyme came back and scored a beautiful goal from a header after several near misses. We continue to stay undefeated after a strong effort by Old Lyme."
The next day, the Rams improved to 5-0 after beating Woodstock Academy 2-1 behind Corrado and Murphy's goals (Murphy and Colvin assisted, respectively) while Rose notched three saves in net.
"This was a non-league rematch to settle last year's tie game," said Barnes. "After no score at halftime, we were able to convert two goals early in the second half by Nate Corrado and Danny Murphy. Woodstock was able to cut the deficit in half when Luke Hoffouer scored an open shot, however, they were unable to get the equalizer. We showed our strength and depth as we gain confidence in teamwork."