Crusaders have hearts broken on penalty kicks in state semifinal loss to Rams

Nico Soden (11), who had the only Holy Cross goal in 100 minutes of play against Old Saybrook in Wednesday night’s Class S state semifinal, has two more years to leave his mark on the program. Tyler Paniagua (7), has three after completing his freshman season. The future is bright for the Crusaders, but they will lose a bunch to graduation. (Copyright, Sports on CT-69)

The fifth-seeded Holy Cross boys soccer team was able to take a first half lead against powerful, top-seeded Old Saybrook, winners of the last four Class S state championships, in Wednesday night’s semifinal match at Milford’s Jonathan Law High School.

It took the Rams less than two minutes into the second half to erase their one-goal halftime deficit. From there, the teams remained deadlocked for nearly 60 minutes of play, 38:09 in regulation and 20 more over a pair of 10-minute overtime periods.

It came down to penalty kicks, and the Crusaders came up short. When Old Saybrook senior captain and keeper London Sweeney stopped the attempt of Holy Cross’ Tyler Paniagua, the Rams won, 2-1 (4-3 in PKs) over the Crusaders. Holy Cross’ season ended at 15-4-1.

It was a tough end for the Crusaders, who came up a game short of the ultimate goal, which was to get back to the state championship game for the first time since 2019, when it lost, ironically, to the Rams in overtime. It was the last game for Holy Cross seniors Aidan Peterson, Landon Coelho, Lucca Magaraci, Elias Wall, Marshall Melita, Marcello Cornacchia, Aidan Hebb, Bryan Elliott and Rami Nonez.

“It sucks that someone has to miss, or someone has to make a save, and that’s what ended up happening,” Crusader coach John Teixeira said afterward.

In 2019, Holy Cross was on the winning side of penalty kicks, claiming a 3-2 victory (4-2 in PKs) over Immaculate-Danbury in the semifinal round at Trumbull High School. It wasn’t meant to be in their 2023 semifinal against the Rams.

Sophomore Nico Soden gave Holy Cross a 1-0 lead with a goal off his right foot. Wall made the low cross from the right side, which bounced past one Crusader before finding the foot of Soden. Old Saybrook had chances to tie, but Peterson and company made sure it didn’t. Holy Cross, too, had chances, and couldn’t convert. A two-goal lead may have instilled some serious panic in the Rams, who don’t face too many deficits to begin with, never mind one of more than one goal.

Old Saybrook’s answer to Holy Cross came 1:51 into the second half. Senior captain Brayden Cody ripped a shot toward the left post that Peterson made a great diving save on. The ball bounced off of Peterson toward the right side of the goal, and that’s where Ram junior Felipe Dutra connected with his right foot and tied the game, 1-1.

There were some chances for both sides, including a golden opportunity for Old Saybrook in the final minute of regulation. Dutra ripped a left-footed shot that Peterson was able to graze with a glove and deflect off the crossbar and over.

After 20 minutes of scoreless overtime, penalty kicks were next. Holy Cross went first, and Hebb buried his attempt. Jack Morin evened it for Old Saybrook, 1-1. Melita was next for the Crusaders and scored, 2-1. Cody answered for the Rams, 2-2. Holy Cross junior Eli Simoes hit on his attempt for a 3-2 advantage. Old Saybrook again answered, 3-3, with a rip to the left by senior Lucas Webb.

Sweeney stopped the attempt by Coelho, and when senior Drew Kulmann scored, the Rams held a 4-3 lead. The Crusader freshman Paniagua had a chance to tie in the fifth and final attempt for his team, but his right-footed shot toward the left post was stopped by Sweeney.

Holy Cross will have plenty to replace due to graduation, but it also brings back some solid players who saw important playing time. They include Soden, Simoes, Paniagua, sophomore Anthony Cammarasana, sophomore Tiago Pereira and junior JackCharles Tata. The younger players were asked by a senior how they felt after the loss. The senior told his younger teammates to remember how they felt, the bad taste they had in their mouths. It’s all motivation for the next season.

GALLERY: Here are my photos from Wednesday night’s semifinal.