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Keenan, Falcon defense beat Wethersfield to win Class L state championship

The Falcons celebrate after winning the Class L championship Saturday over Wethersfield, 3-1 in double overtime.

The Falcons celebrate after winning the Class L championship Saturday over Wethersfield, 3-1 in double overtime.

MIDDLETOWN, Nov. 21 – Avon senior striker Jack Keenan has been making a difference all season long. After he was moved from midfield to forward at the end of September, he scored 11 goals and helped Avon win seven of its final nine regular season games.

He continued making an impact in the Class L tournament. He scored six post-season goals, including two Saturday in the Class L championship game to help the No. 14 Falcons win its first outright state championship since 2000 with a 3-1 victory in double overtime over No. 5 Wethersfield at Middletown High.

Keenan broke a 1-1 tie in overtime with a shot from 30 yards away to the far post past Wethersfield goalie Jimmy Slayton, who really had no chance to stop it. It gave the Falcons (17-6) the lead for good. Avon added a second goal in the second overtime period from Max Gorack to cement the victory.

Avon (17-6) did share a Class L title with Branford a year but this time, they have to share it with no one.

Goalie Danny Magrini made 13 saves to secure the victory – the ninth boys soccer state championship in school history. Keenan also scored on a penalty kick early in the first half for Avon.

Avon's Jack Keenan had six goals in Avon's last three tournament games.

Avon’s Jack Keenan had six goals in Avon’s last three tournament games.

Keenan scored two goals in Avon’s 2-0 win over Guilford in the Class L quarterfinals and two goals and a penalty kick in a 3-2 penalty kick victory over Hand in the semifinals.

“It was a great individual effort by Keenan,” Wethersfield coach Robert Jachym said. “I was a little more upset by the (call) that set it up but you still have to score from 35 yards out against the best goalie in the state.”

The play began with Avon’s Kobe Barnes getting tackled by a Wethersfield defender, setting up a free kick around the 20-yard line.

“We went up to it and Jack St. Onge, the other guy who takes free kicks said, you shoot this,” Keenan said. “I said, I’m not going to make this, the goalie is too good. He said, trust me. I just hit and it went in.” The ball went into the upper right corner of the net to the left of Slayton.

The goal gave the Falcons some breathing room and left it up to their defense – including St. Onge, the center back, Collin Dryfe, Riley Welter and Aaron Greene.

“We finished it off very well,” Keenan said. “Our defense was solid throughout the game and especially in the last (15 minutes) overtime.”

Avon's Brendon Brown and Wethersfield's Danny O'Brien (12) chase down the loose ball in Saturday's championship game.

Avon’s Brendon Brown and Wethersfield’s Danny O’Brien (12) chase down the loose ball in Saturday’s championship game.

Wethersfield, which upset three-time Class LL champion Glastonbury to win the Central Connecticut Conference tournament two weeks ago, finished 19-3-1. The Eagles, seeking their first championship since 2008, had their 13-game winning streak snapped.

“I told my guys if we’re going to lose, let’s lose on a great goal by the other team and that is what it was today,” Jachym said. “It was a great individual effort (by Keenan). I think they won it. We really didn’t lose it. That is what it feels like. It still hurts but it hurts less.”

Wethersfield took a 1-0 lead with 6:06 left in the first half on a penalty kick. Kelmal Velic was taken down by an Avon defender in the penalty area and Wethersfield’s Lukas Szymecki scored to give the Eagles the lead.

Less than a minute later, Avon’s Daniel Shayler was tripped up on a slide tackle at the other end of the field by a Wethersfield defender resulting in a penalty kick for Avon. Keenan was selected to take the penalty kick and he scored with 5:22 remaining to tie the game at 1-1.

It was a physical game. Avon's Jack Keenan and Wethersfield's Wethersfield's Christopher Shimwell (middle) collide over Avon's Max Gorack going for a head ball.

It was a physical game. Avon’s Jack Keenan and Wethersfield’s Wethersfield’s Christopher Shimwell (middle) collide over Avon’s Max Gorack going for a head ball. No one was hurt.

Wethersfield had some dangerous chances in the second half. Once of the better chances came with 21:33 remaining in regulation off a shot from Szymecki off a corner kick. Magrini made the initial save but the ball was bouncing around and it was Dryfe in net who cleared the ball out with his feet to keep the game tied at 1-1. Magrini stopped a hard head ball shot with 14:14 left in regulation.

With about 10 minutes left in the second overtime period, Magrini made a great save on Wethersfield’s Brendan Barry from five yards away. Barry blasted a shot that knocked Magrini to his back but there was no loose rebound for Barry to pounce on.

Slayton made a spectacular save of his own, too. With 20:09 remaining in regulation, Keenan ripped a shot at the net from about 25 yards and Slayton dove to his left and with one hand, deflected the ball away. It’s the same area of the net that Keenan would score on in overtime.

“It was a lot of character,” Zlatin said. “We worked hard to be good shape to play 110 minutes and it was an incredible effort out there. They stuck together.”

At the end, Keenan was limped with a sore ankle. St. Onge was limping with a sore knee that he hurt earlier in the tournament.

“We went through a lot this year,” Zlatin said. “Last year, we had a charmed run and we hardly ever trailed. This year, we trailed a lot. We lost two games in the final seconds. But all of those 22 games prepared us for this game.”

The Falcons began the year wondering where the goals would come from. Their top scorer from a year ago, Riley Strassner, decided to play club soccer to continue the growth in his game. The No. 2 scorer, Matthew Fuge, and All-American defender Stephen Dorney graduated.

“We seemed to be good in the tough moments throughout the season,” Keenan said.

In the semifinals, Hand outplayed the Falcons for long stretches of the game but in the end, Keenan converted on two opportunities to score and the Falcon defense was stout. In a quarterfinal win over Prince Tech/University, the Falcons converted in overtime to advance.

In the final, they were able to limit the Eagle offense to one goal. “Their three attack players were very good on the ball but we faced players like that all year, like Evan Hughes of Farmington,” said John St. Onge. “(Hughes) is so dangerous with the ball so we learned how to deal with it and back each other up.”

It was the first Avon win ever over Wethersfield. The two teams last played in the 2008 Class M semifinals with the Eagles prevailing, 1-0. … In the championship round, teams play two 15-minute overtime periods. Teams play the entire two periods even if team scores. 

The Falcons celebrated with their fans and classmates after the game.

The Falcons celebrated with their fans and classmates after the game.

Avon 3, Wethersfield 1
At Middletown
Avon (17-6)                           1  0  1  1  — 3
Wethersfield (19-3-1)            1  0  0  0  — 1
Goals: Jack Keenan (A) 2, Max Gorack (A); Lukas Szymacki (W); Assist: Brendon Brown (A); Saves: Danny Magrini (A) 13, Jimmy Slayton (W) 8; Corner kicks: Avon, 10-3; Shots: Wethersfield, 20-13

Gerry deSimas, Jr., is the editor and founder of The Collinsville Press. He is an award-winning writer and has been covering sports in Connecticut and New England for more than 30 years.

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