By BOB BIRGE
NORWALK — The Norwalk boys soccer team entered Monday’s contest against St. Joseph with its state tournament hopes on life support, to use head coach Chris Laughton’s words.
But the Bears didn’t make things any easier for themselves as they surrendered a goal by freshman Sawyer Meehan just under 13 minutes into the second half and settled for a 1-1 at chilly Testa Field, where the temperature dipped into the mid-40s by game’s end.
The result was extremely disappointing for Norwalk (3-6-4) because the Cadets (1-10-3) came into the game with only one win.
Laughton spoke of a lack of urgency from his club which maintained a 1-0 halftime lead after a spectacular breakaway goal by George Kutrubis.
“We were in control of the game,” Laughton said. “There’s no sense of urgency to get another goal to finish them off, no sense of urgency on the goal they scored. We didn’t get back in transition. He got an open shot from about 20, 25 (yards) out.”
With 27:14 remaining, Meehan got free on the left side and drilled a shot that carried over Norwalk goaltender Tyler Dalton and curled inside the near crossbar.
With nothing on the line, the Cadets played the role of spoiler.
“We’ve had our ups and downs, had some guys suspended for red cards, but the boys keep playing,” St. Joseph coach Steven Waizenegger said. “They’re definitely not quitting.”
St. Joseph adopted a defensive posture in the first half, generating no shots as play was in the Cadets’ end of the field for virtually the entire 40 minutes.
The Bears pressed forward but were kept mostly to the outside.
With 19 minutes left in the first half, Norwalk had a strong chance as Kutrubis sent a dangerous cross into the middle that was missed by Sebastian Echevarri, who then sent a shot over the middle of the crossbar seconds later.
At the 13:45 mark, the Bears finally broke through as Kutrubis took a feed from Anthony Hernandez and raced down the right side.
He surged past a defender and broke in alone on St. Joseph goaltender Joseph Lucy, who came out to cut down the angle, but Kutrubis slid a shot inside the far post.
The goal energized the Bears for the remainder of the first half but Laughton sensed his team thought the game was over at the intermission.
“We talked about it at halftime,” Laughton said. “You can’t be content with a one-goal lead. It’s not a safe lead by any means. We were looking for somebody to have that killer instinct and put another ball in the back of the net.
“But they got comfortable being up 1-0 and today is a great example of what happens when you get comfortable.”
St. Joseph was the more aggressive team in the second half and generated the better scoring chances.
Thirty seconds before Meehan’s goal, Dalton made his first save with a diving stop on a hard shot by Peter Silano, who took a cross in the middle from Anthony Leonardi.
Then with 23 and a half minutes remaining, Leonardi got free on the right side and had plenty of open net, but he couldn’t lift his shot and Dalton was able to smother the ball.
Lucy stopped four shots while Dalton made three saves in the second half.
Norwalk’s final chance came when Kutrubis’ shot about 35 yards sailed wide of the right post with three seconds remaining.
The Bears’ remaining schedule is daunting as they host Fairfield Warde on Wednesday (7:30 p.m.) and Ridgefield on Saturday before closing the regular season at Wilton next Monday.
They need a win and tie against three opponents who have better records than the Bears to sneak into the state tournament.
“We as a coaching staff have everything bit of faith that we can do it,” Laughton said. “I think we showed glimpses of that tonight but it comes down to whether or they (his players) want to do it.
“We still believe and have faith that we can and I still will until the last game, so it’s in our hands.”