BOYS SOCCER: FORKS' RUN ENDS WITH STATE SEMIFINAL LOSS
By ROB CENTORANI
Broome County East Sports Report
GOSHEN -- Getting off to fast starts has keyed Chenango Forks' success this postseason and this frigid Saturday night was no different.
Forks pressured, created chances and appeared to be the far better team for most of the first half.
Thing is, Forks had nothing to show for it.
And when East Aurora standout Amar Culov struck for a goal with 101 seconds left in the first half, it not only changed the score, it changed the game.
Culov's goal turned the momentum and East Aurora ended the best boys soccer season in recent memory for Chenango Forks with a 2-0 victory in a Class B state semifinal.
"We had nine shots in the first half," said Forks coach Jarod McMullen, whose team concluded the season with a 15-4 record. "That's a lot of opportunities we had there. It's soccer, right? You get these opportunities and to not find that net in the first half and then concede one late there, it just didn't seem like that was the way the first half was going to go for us."
McMullen wasn't the only one who noticed Forks' first-half supremacy.
"The first 20 minutes, I believe the other team was better," said Culov, who scored his 33rd goal of the season. "They had more chances, they were faster on the ball and controlled the midfield."
Forks' first good look came off the right foot of senior Keegan Watson. He penetrated deep on the right side and took a shot that Rhett Krieger deflected. The ball came back to Watson, who sent a tear drop back toward Krieger, who was on his knees. Krieger reached up and caught it above his head.
With 16 1/2 minutes left in the half, Watson came down on the left side on a semi-breakaway, but he held the ball a little too long and the defense recovered to stop him.
About five minutes later, Nate Raab sent a cross to Watson in the middle of the box, but his shot went just over the crossbar.
A short while later, Aiden Argento drove a shot from the right corner of the box that whizzed by the left post.
"Whether it was a save, a crossbar, a deflection, every situation we had we just could not put a ball in the net," McMullen said.
Then, East Aurora (21-0-1) struck. The play started in the midfield. A pair of Forks players went after the ball aggressively and both missed. That gave East Aurora some space and put Forks' defense in scramble mode.
The ball was played out to right side to Bronson Besant, who carried it deep into the right side of the box before sending a low cross that Culov ran onto and one-timed inside the left post.
"That cross from Besant, I was just lucky to get there and that changed the whole game," Culov said. "Our mentality changed. We could move the ball, we could pass the ball, we could score goals. The second half just continued that."
After halftime, there was flurry of activity in front of Forks' goal. One shot banged off the crossbar 15 seconds into half, another header hit the left post and Owen Mack forced Forks goalie Nolan Sirgany to make a tough save on a shot from the top of the box.
But Forks was still hanging around and this squad has faced deficits before, including a rally from a goal down with 15 minutes left in a 3-2 state quarterfinal victory over Marcellus.
With 20 1/2 minutes left, it appeared as if Forks had the equalizer. On a play that looked strikingly similar to Culov's goal, Watson penetrated deep on the right side before sending a cross into the box. Raab ran onto it and made solid contact from 10 yards, but Krieger knocked it away.
"Our goalie made that huge stop," East Aurora coach Kevin Beale said.
Five minutes later, East Aurora put it away on a header from 12 yards by Mack that went over Sirgany and just under the crossbar.
"It was good at times, ugly at times and very rewarding," said Beale, whose team will play Spackenkill -- a 3-0 winner over Mechanicville in the other semifinal -- at 4:30 p.m. Sunday in the final at Middletown High.
Forks ends a season that included a Southern Tier Athletic Conference East Division title, a spot in the STAC title game and its first sectional title since 2015.
"These guys have no reason to hang their heads," McMullen said. "They came and played hard. We played a really good game today. We're proud of these guys. It's unfortunate for my seniors. We've had a heck of a run. We've set the bar now. The bar has been set for teams that will be coming in for years to come. We've come a long way. Now, every team that comes along knows that this is what we want to do."
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