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East Lyme - As the corner kick cross sailed into the goal area late in Monday's Eastern Connecticut Conference Large Division boys' soccer showdown, Jeremiah Northcutt jockeyed for position in a crowd.
Up until that point, East Lyme had few quality scoring chances and saw rival Norwich Free Academy control play.
Only a stingy defense prevented the Wildcats from scoring.
Northcutt was determined to help put up another ECC title banner up on the East Lyme High School gym wall. He soared above the crowd to head home Vasilios Fokaidis' cross for the game's only goal with about 15 minutes, 30 seconds remaining and clinched the Large Divison crown with a 1-0 victory.
"This is one of the things that I wanted to do at the beginning of the season," Northcutt said of winning the title. "When I walked in this year, it wasn't like last year. This team actually had talent all the way down the bench.
"When we got the goal and ended up winning, it was great because it was what I expected."
The Vikings (9-1-5, 7-0-3) relied on their competitive heart to fight off the Wildcats (9-4-1, 6-3-1), who had a decisive edge in possession and shots (12-5) but lacked a finishing touch.
"Dead ball, corner kick, they head it and that's the game," NFA coach Robert Briones said. "We had our chances but couldn't finish. I think we played a great game overall.
"They're definitely a good team. They played very disciplined in the back and they're very solid. Their keeper did a good job, too. You've got to give them credit."
Before Northcutt's game-winning goal, the Vikings managed only two shots on goal. Senior Greg Swenson headed a shot off the crossbar right before halftime.
Swenson anchored a stonewall defense that cleared away several dangerous balls and won the battle in the air. Goalie Zach Kosakowski made five saves, as the Vikings posted their 10th shutout this season.
East Lyme played its best soccer in the final 20 minutes.
"Throughout the season, this has happened a lot," Swenson said of the second-half surge. "The first half, we've been slacking, but as the game goes on we've been getting better and better and the offense is creating more.
"We've really pulled through as a second half team against tough competition. ... We really grind. And we got a win, which is great."
NFA goalie Seth Strader made two sparkling saves late in the second half to keep his team in the game.
While the Wildcats smartly passed the ball around and had a big territorial edge, they ran into a roadblock in the scoring area and usually fired shots wide.
It was another competitive chapter in the heated rivalry. NFA and East Lyme tied 0-0 in the first meeting on Oct. 1.
"I hope the kids can overcome this and realize we played really well," Briones said.
East Lyme coach Paul Christensen has watched a nice blend of upperclassmen develop into an ECC championship team.
"I knew it was going to take some time," Christensen said. "I've never had five ties in a regular season. It's a testament to these kids who never give up. If you look at the season, a lot of the wins and ties, we've scored (late)."
"... It's really a definition of a team this year, which is why I think we've been successful."