NEWTOWN — The Norwalk boys soccer team considered itself more like a band of brothers this fall, with a unique connection as they shared both the pursuit of success and the time spent together in that quest.
So the tears and wailing cries that continued long after tonight’s season-ending 1-0 double-overtime loss to top-seeded Naugatuck in the Class LL semifinals might have been understandable only to the players in green uniforms who were still spread out on the Newtown High School field long after the game had ended.
“It’s going to be just as hard not practicing tomorrow as losing this game tonight,” Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said.
It was a disappointing ending for the Bears (13-7-2), the 20th seeds, who regrouped after an FCIAC semifinal loss to Greenwich and parlayed one of the most dramatic goals in state tournament history to earn the chance to play for a trip to the final.
Adding to the heartbreak was the determining factor, a penalty kick in the 81st minute after it appeared two evenly matched sides were going to eventually need that format to break a scoreless tie at the end of overtime.
Vinicius Knupp converted the attempt to the right side. The play came after the Greyhounds’ Chris Akinduro was taken down inside the box.
“We come in with the expectation that we will win every game so it hurts,” said Norwalk captain Cole Judkins, who splits time in goal with Gianluca Trofa. “Especially that we lost on a PK. There’s nothing you can do about it now.”
Judkins played the first half and could only watch as Trofa had no chance on the shot.
“Losing in overtime is always tough,” Laughton said. “There’s no easy way about it. I’m just disappointed we didn’t finish any of our chances. I thought we had some good looks on goal. That’s the game. Sometimes you’re on the other end of that.”
The Bears were on both sides over the course of three days. On Friday they defeated Ridgefield in the quarterfinals, 2-1, when Michael Hidalgo scored as time expired at the end of the second overtime.
Norwalk almost equalized tonight in the 89th minute. Following a corner kick, Sebastian Echeverri had a shot stopped by Naugatuck goalkeeper Aren Seeger. The rebound came out to Echeverri, whose second attempt was stopped by Alex Teixera, who was positioned on the line. He kicked the ball off the crossbar and Seeger was able to possess it before Norwalk could attempt another shot.
That was the Bears’ best chance in a quick paced contest, with both sides on the attack from the outset.
“I thought it was definitely an open game,” Laughton said. “Sometimes when you get to this level everyone’s a little conservative and is basically playing not to give up a goal and looking to counterattack. I thought both teams kind of really came out and tried to play.”
There were several good chances in the first half. Judkins twice robbed the Greyhounds’ Matt Carroll from almost the identical spot on the right side. Hidalgo and Echeverri put balls just off mark trying to finish well-built attacks.
Opportunities were fewer in the second half.
Naugatuck (19-1-2) will face Glastonbury in the final.
“I’m proud of them,” Laughton said. “They played hard the whole game. They’ve overcome adversity the whole season and they’ve had a great season. I hope after this wears off and they look back and reflect on it they realize they put together a really good season.”
Laughton and his players spoke afterward about the camaraderie that characterized the season and contributed to the overall success.
“It’s a tight-knit group, they really enjoy playing together,” Laughton said. “They’ve endured. The last two years have been tough. I think that’s given them motivation to make this different and get Norwalk High back on the map and how we’ve been in recent years.”
Added Judkins, “This season was different coming in than the last couple of seasons. We were a lot closer than we were the last two seasons and I think that really showed on the field. We are all family and we’ve loved every second of it, every practice, every game.”