The ball rocketed off Will Burdick’s right foot and smashed violently against the top left corner of the crossbar.
And Burdick barely had enough time to blink, let alone think, before the ball zipped magnetically back to his foot with a chance to put Shenendehowa ahead late in Saturday’s Suburban Council boys’ soccer tournament championship game against Christian Brothers Academy.
This time, it was an easy tap-in into a wide-open net for the senior forward.
“I had an open goal,” Burdick said. “I knew all I had to do was put that in, turn and run to all the people that have been supporting me all season.”
Four minutes and 50 seconds later, the Plainsmen were Suburban Council champions, Burdick’s goal providing the difference in a 3-2 win that finished off an unbeaten season.
CBA scored early goals in both halves, but Shenendehowa responded in short order on both occasions before Burdick’s goal proved decisive.
“We worked for this all day, every day, for the entire year,” said Shenendehowa forward Conor Brown, whose goal tied the game with 31:20 left in the second half. “It’s just a great feeling to be able to come out with the win.”
The roller coaster game capped off a wild and strange final day of the Suburban Council soccer season.
The day was supposed to start with a morning championship game between the Shenendehowa and Shaker girls’ teams, but that game was called off just before kickoff due to a positive COVID-19 case within the Shaker program, and those two teams ended up sharing the title.
About four hours later, a Shenendehowa boys’ team that had the start of its season delayed when at least 20 players were placed into quarantine after a COVID-19 exposure during a club practice was celebrating a triumphant end to the season as captains Brandon Barrett and Owen Brignati hoisted the championship plaque.
For the Plainsmen (13-0-2), it was a thrilling end to a season where they didn’t get a chance to defend their 2019 Section II Class AA title, but still proved themselves as the Suburban’s top squad.
“With all that’s going on this year, we’re extremely grateful to get out here and get our whole season in,” senior forward Darien Espinal said. “Undefeated puts an exclamation point on it.”
“I wish we could go and play on more,” Shenendehowa coach Jonathan Bain said, “but we’ll take what we can get.”
CBA (12-3) — which was without its head coach, Steve Freeman, who was absent for the final three games of the season due to a coronavirus-related quarantine and had assistant Phil Farinacci coach in his stead — got off to a fast start and took the lead on a Paul Abbatiello goal just 2:40 into the contest. But just a shade more than 10 minutes later, Shenendehowa equalized when a nifty flick by Mark Makhatadze set up Espinal for a goal.
Shenendehowa controlled the rest of the half, but couldn’t break through for the go-ahead goal. Then, the Plainsmen once again found themselves trailing when, 16 seconds into the second half, a quick counterattack resulted in Jordan Proulx putting the Brothers back on top.
Yet again, Shenendehowa refused to panic.
“We’re just trying to keep our heads,” Brown said. “We still have loads of time left, we know how good we are and how well we can fight back — and that’s what we did.”
“That’s how they are mentally,” Bain said. “Yesterday, in our last practice, I thanked them for the season because they’re such an enjoyable team to coach. They’re always in it for one another.”
A wild sequence tied the game with 31:20 to play. Espinal’s initial header off a cross hit the crossbar, CBA goalkeeper Adrian Torres was able to deflect the ball but only as far as Brown, who nudged the ball just over the goal line with a header of his own.
Shenendehowa continued to press forward and finally broke through in the final five minutes.
Makhatadze’s picture-perfect cross found the foot of a charging Burdick — who had just re-entered the game after Brown received a yellow card two minutes earlier — and though the first shot slammed into the crossbar, the rebound provided a wide-open opportunity to immediately atone.
“My eyes went right to the ball,” Burdick said, “and I was like, ‘I’ve got to put this away. This is on me.’”
Espinal saw the whole thing happen as if it was in slow motion.
“It, like, pauses,” he said. “But, I was right there and Will was right there. Will got it, and he deserved that goal.”
Halftime score: Tied 1-1. CBA scoring: Proulx 1-0, Abbatiello 1-0, Baker 0-1. Shenendehowa scoring: Espinal 1-0, Brown 1-0, Burdick 1-0, Makhatadze 0-2. Goalies: CBA, Torres, 3 saves; Shenendehowa, Flint, 3 saves.