BOYS SOCCER: RAAB'S LAST-MINUTE GOAL LIFTS BLUE DEVILS INTO STATE SEMIFINALS
By ROB CENTORANI
Broome County East Sports Report
ONEONTA -- Bet against them at your own peril.
The sum of their parts doesn't seem to add up to much, but the whole is a lottery windfall.
They just find a way to compete and on a pleasant Saturday afternoon at the Wright National Soccer Campus, Chenango Forks' boys found a way to advance.
Junior Nate Raab toe-poked a 10-yarder inside the near post with 48 seconds left to lift the Blue Devils to an unlikely 3-2 victory over a talent-rich squad from Marcellus in a Class B state quarterfinal.
This one was a keeper.
It had lead changes, momentum swings, contrasting styles, plenty of scoring chances, physical play, impressive saves, you name it.
Senior Keegan Watson scored twice for the 15-3 Blue Devils, who will play Section 6's East Aurora in a state semifinal at 6 p.m. Nov. 11 at Goshen High. East Aurora advanced with a 7-1 victory over Section 5's Hornell.
"I'm still trying to figure out how it all happened," emotionally-spent Forks coach Jarod McMullen said.
Let's start with Forks goalie Nolan Sirgany.
With the score tied at 2 and under 10 minutes left in regulation, Sirgany made two potentially season-saving stops on shots off the foot of Connor Ciota.
The plays were nearly identical with Ciota getting a step on Forks' defense as he entered the left side of the box. First, Sirgany stuck out his left hand to deflect a thigh-high shot and then minutes later, he reached back to his left and dived to stop a grounder that was headed to the far post.
"Those were two great saves by Nolan," McMullen said. "For him to have his footing set and get his arm down. It's one thing to do it on turf, it's another thing to do it on grass. I have to hand it to him, those were great saves and they kept us in the game."
As for the winning goal, Jacob Clutz controlled a bouncing ball on the right side of the box and centered a pass to Raab, who was bracketed by a pair of defenders. Somehow, Raab got to it, took a touch forward and then as he was falling down, jabbed at the ball and sent a roller trickling toward the goal. It sneaked inside the left post and Raab stayed put.
"I had to push someone away and I just tried to poke it because I was already falling back and my calves were cramped up," he said. "After it went in, I just laid there. My legs hurt so bad."
Just 15 or so minutes earlier, the Blue Devils seemed cooked.
The Mustangs (12-8), who knocked off three-time defending state champion Skaneateles, 3-2, in the Section 3 final, took a 2-1 lead on a goal by Mathias Ferrera, whose hard liner from inside the box found the back of the net with 15:20 left.
At that point, Marcellus had taken control of things. Forks fans who saw the Blue Devils' Southern Tier Athletic Conference playoff games against Corning and Vestal probably thought they were watching a re-run. The Mustangs would build up from the back and mount attacks.
The ball stayed in Forks' end for a long time in the second half.
In an instant, things changed. Forks drew a foul near midfield. Nazar Kovalchuk took the free kick and drove one into the left side of the box, where a sea of bodies were located. In that mass of humanity, the ball spit out right and toward the goal. Watson was Keegan-on-the-spot and tapped home the gimme from a couple yards out to tie it at 2 with 13:35 remaining.
"It looked like a collision between the center back and the goalkeeper," Watson said. "The ball was just kind popped out of there and I just poked it in."
The first 37 minutes of play produced no goals but were highly entertaining. Marcellus had the better of possession, but Forks would counterattack. The Blue Devils generated better scoring chances in the opening half.
A few minutes into the play -- the scoreboard clock malfunctioned in the opening half so any time references would be guesses -- Braden Watson sent a shot off a corner kick that Marcellus goalie Ryan Stephens dived to knock away at the right post.
About 10 minutes in, a ball got by Sirgany in the box, but Kovalchuk won a foot race against Marcellus' Will Kershaw and cleared it away.
Some time later, Sirgany saved a header in the box by Aaron Weber.
Raab beat Stephens to a long ball on the left side for the box but pushed his 15-yarder wide of the right post.
Midway through the half, Watson lined one just over the crossbar and shortly after that, he sent a cross from the right across the goalmouth to Alex McMullen, whose header went over the crossbar.
Then, with under three minutes left in the half, McMullen chased down a ball on the left side of the box and near the end line. Marcellus' Jeff Landry pressured McMullen and took him down, setting up a penalty kick. Watson hit a low-liner inside the right post to give Forks a 1-0 lead with 2:43 left in the half.
Marcellus quickly tied it in the second half, when Austin Raicht received a crossing pass on the right side of the box and one-timed a laser inside the left post with 38:35 to play.
Forks' Zephan Tompkins had two excellent looks a few minutes later -- the first smashed off the right post and the second missed just wide of the right post.
Thereafter, it was a lot of Marcellus possession and a lot of Forks chasing until Ferrara's go-ahead goal.
"We talk about the emotion of a game, we talk about composure in a game, we talk about trust," coach McMullen said. "You can talk as much as you want about it, but when you're put in that situation like we were, down, 2-1, and it really felt like they were controlling the game, they had the ball in our half and they were doing a nice job controlling possession, I'm proud of this group, proud of how they were able to handle that moment and just find a way, find a way. We did that."
Raab said he talked with Watson after Ferrara's goal.
"I just said to Keegan, 'This could be your last game, your last high school game ever. We have to lock in here,'" he said. "We scored almost immediately."
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