By STEVE GEOGHEGAN Hour Staff Writer
NORWALK — Stathi Panagiotidis came up big yet again for his team.
The senior midfielder and captain for the Brien McMahon boys soccer team scored the game-tying goal against rival Norwalk, the second straight year he found the back of the net in the annual rivalry game, to help the Senators forge a 1-1 tie with the Bears in an FCIAC tilt on Thursday night at Testa Field.
“I guess you can call it clutch but I was just looking to lift up our spirits and pick up everyone’s hearts because we were down 1-nil,” he said. “To tie the game is a huge thing because it turns around the momentum. They had it first then we had it.”
Coming off a controversial loss against Danbury in which a player, starting midfielder Dolny Desrogene, and an assistant coach were sent off with red cards and had to miss the game, the Senators (4-6-1) were looking to get something positive against their cross-town rivals and they succeeded in that regard.
The Bears (2-5-3) dominated possession for most of the contest, however, but their only goal came when George Kutrubis blasted a free kick from close to 30 yards out into the top right corner over the outstretched hands of McMahon keeper Jake Berkowitz in the fifth minute, to the delight of the Norwalk student section.
“It feels like a loss,” said Norwalk head coach Chris Laughton, whose squad saw the Senators come back in last year’s game, too. “We were up 1-0 and I thought we were playing pretty good and had control of the first half. A mental error, give up a goal and momentum changes. That’s where it came back to haunt us so we have to move on from it but it can’t happen again.”
With scoring opportunities few and far between for the Senators, they made the most of their one good chance late in the first half.
Afa Reyes passed the ball ahead to Edwin Villalobos as Norwalk goalie Tyler Dalton rushed out to gather up the ball. After a pile up ensued, Villalobos gained control of the ball on the left flank and crossed it to the middle of the box where Panagiotidis booted it into the bottom right corner of the net with 3:04 remaining in the half.
“It feels great to score against our in-town rivals,” said Panagiotidis, who leads the team with seven goals. “They (Norwalk) played a heck of a game to be honest, I think they played better than us at times, more aggressive. It was a scrap to the end.”
Added McMahon coach Ben Ingalls: “It was a good goal. It’s what we talk about every game: back post, back post, cross. It was a good finish and it was huge because going into the half 1-0 it would’ve been a whole different ballgame.”
The Senators nearly scored in the 49th minute with some aggressive play in the box but Esteben Restrepo, who Laughton said played well, headed the ball over the top.
Norwalk certainly had their chances to find the back of the net in the second half with Kutrubis blasting a free kick over the crossbar in the 56th minute and two other free kicks were saved by Berkowitz in the 60th and 71st minutes.
“We played good defense and our goalie made some good saves,” Ingalls said. “The main thing you have to worry about with Norwalk is their set plays and we gave them way too many today. They have some good shooters on that team who can put it on goal every time.”
Berkowitz finished with four saves while Dalton stopped three shots, all in the second half.
McMahon should have Desrogene back for its next game when it hosts Fairfield Warde on Monday night while Norwalk plays at defending FCIAC champion Fairfield Ludlowe also on Monday. Both teams still are vying for state tournament appearances as the season winds down.