BRATTLEBORO—The Leland & Gray Rebels will play for their first state boys soccer championship in five years, while the Brattleboro Colonels playoff run ended abruptly.
In a pair of Election Day soccer semifinals on Tuesday, the top-seeded Rebels knocked off Stowe, 2-1, in overtime in Division III play in Townshend. They will face BFA-Fairfax for the state title on Saturday.
At Tenney Field, the sixth-seeded Essex Hornets upended the No. 2 Colonels, 5-1, in a Division I game that was much closer than the final score.
The hero for Leland & Gray was Noah Chapin, who snapped the tie nine minutes into sudden death overtime. He gathered in a long kick from midfield at the 18-yard line, and one-timed a shot into the net to knock off the three-time defending Division III champs and send the Rebels into the final.
“Noah had a quiet day up to that point,” said coach Chris Barton of his team’s leading scorer. “They did a good job defending him. But that goal was unbelievable.”
Colin Nystrom put the Rebels on the board first with he scored in the 10th minute. That goal looked like it would stand up, but Nathaniel Horton got the equalizer for Stowe with three minutes left in regulation.
This will be the Rebels’ first trip to the finals since 2005, when they lost to Twin Valley.
For the Colonels, everything seemed stacked in their favor. They were playing at home, where they were undefeated all season. They had their biggest crowd of the season at Tenney Field. They even had the BUHS Pep Band to play. But Essex spoiled the party.
“We had a 1-1 tie with 25 minutes to go, but Essex just had more talent today,” said Brattleboro coach Paul Sather. “They had excellent ball control and made the most of their chances.”
Essex scored first in the eighth minute on a loose ball in front of the Brattleboro net that was knocked in by Nolan Frey. Brattleboro had several good chances in the remainder of the first half, but could not cash in. The best one came late in the half when Travis Elliot-Knaggs put a shot on Essex goalkeeper Dan Palker that he couldn’t control. The ball bounced loose, but the Colonels couldn’t knock it in.
Trailing 1-0 to start the second half, the Colonels finally got the equalizer in the 55th minute when Elliott-Knaggs chipped in the ball from about 10 yards out.
But Essex came back and took the lead to stay when Dan Samardzic scored on a crossing shot from the corner that drifted into the net in the 59th minute.
“That was a really good shot,” said Sather. “I was pleased we battled back for the tie, but this was a more competitive game than the final score showed.”
Essex’s last three goals came in the final 18 minutes of the game. Paul Bianchi made it 3-1 with a tap-in in the crease, then scored off a direct kick a couple of minutes later. Thomas Antensaye then scored an empty netter in the 77th minute to slam the door shut on the Colonels.
While losing their first-ever home soccer semifinal was painful, Sather had praise for his team, particularly the 12 seniors on this year’s squad.
“They brought Brattleboro soccer to new heights,” he said.