FCIAC Boys Soccer Semifinals: Ludlowe dominates Norwalk to advance to FCIAC final
By STEVE GEOGHEGAN
Hour Staff Writer
FAIRFIELD — The Norwalk High boys soccer team might’ve seen the first half as a small victory.
The Bears were getting outplayed by Fairfield Ludlowe but the game was still scoreless through 39-plus minutes until Mike McArdle’s header found the back of the net with 0.7 seconds on the clock and the Falcons carried over the momentum into the second half en route to a dominant 3-0 victory over Norwalk in the FCIAC semifinals on Monday at Ludlowe’s Taft Field.
“You’re hoping to get to half 0-0, change a few things and then readjust but we weren’t able to do it,” said NHS head coach Chris Laughton, who felt it should’ve never have happened in the first place. “We got caught sleeping and they made us pay.”
Top-seeded Ludlowe (15-0-3), which was making its first ever FCIAC semifinal berth, will play No. 3 and defending champion Greenwich for the conference championship at 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Norwalk High.
Meanwhile, No. 4 Norwalk (11-2-5), which suffered its only two losses of the season at the hands of the finalists, will gear up for next week’s Class LL state tournament.
Ludlowe proved to be too much for the Bears on this night after the two teams tied 1-1 during the regular season.
“It was clear to anyone that was here tonight that they were definitely the better team,” Laughton said. “I have to give them a lot of credit, they have a solid team. They’re fast, athletic, technical and they really exposed us and got in behind. I thought we were never really able to get into a rhythm and that’s a credit to them.”
Through the first half, the Falcons were probably wondering what they needed to do to break through because the Norwalk defense, thanks to Loizos Karaiskos, Leo Taiyanides and Jose Canahui were doing their best to thwart the Ludlowe advances. When the Falcons did crack the defense, goalie Tyler Dalton was there to make the save and he had six saves through the first 40 minutes.
With time winding down in the half, Nick Demaso booted the ball from about 35 yards out into the goal area. McArdle was at the far post and he headed the ball into the top right corner to give the Falcons a big boost and burst the Bears’ balloon in the process.
“Nick served in the perfect cross, I ended up being unmarked and got lucky,” McArdle said. “We all came out psyched (after halftime) and wanted it.”
Said Ludlowe head coach Kevin O’Hara of the goal: “To fight to the last minute is exactly what we’re looking to do. It’s a credit to the kids, they kept going. To get that header on goal in the last minute was big for us at the half.”
Ludlowe didn’t let up in the second half and the Falcons kept their foot on the gas pedal, putting constant pressure on the defense.
It got to a point where Norwalk had to start pressing forward and when the Bears did, Ludlowe took advantage.
“With 18 minutes left we moved Canahui (forward) and became more attack minded,” Laughton said. “We tried to get a goal and fought for it but it didn’t happen.”
The Falcons broke through again with 5:58 when Mason Jennings scored off an assist from McArdle, who crossed the ball in from the left sideline. Just 1:18 later, Ludlowe was celebrating its third goal when Niklas Stahle scored off a rebound of a shot by Richie Bellucci that hit off the crossbar with 4:40 on the clock.
Ludlowe took 22 shots, 15 on target, with Dalton making 12 saves while Norwalk notched eight shots, five on target, with Fred Meagher tallying five saves in the shutout. The Falcons had an 11-2 edge over the Bears on corner kicks.
Laughton said Ludlowe and Greenwich were the two best teams in the league playing for the conference crown as for his team, Norwalk will look to make a run in states.
“We’ll rebound,” he said. “This hurts but we’ll learn a lot from it and be ready to go. We’re not going to give up and quit, we’re going to rebound and keep fighting.”