NORWALK — Of all the Frank Capra-esque storylines swirling around Norwalk High School, the great scorer finishing the championship-deciding goal surged to the forefront in tonight’s FCIAC boys soccer championship.
Trumbull’s Jason Weinstein, who has put the ball in the back of the net in bunches and at crucial times, was confronted with the possibility of never winning a conference title outright.
“Five minutes away I was thinking what am I going to do if we are co-champion again?” Weinstein said. “I’ll be very unhappy.”
Satisfaction instead came on completing Andrew Restrepo’s ball into the box in the 94th minute to give the Eagles a 1-0 win over Danbury and their second title in three years.
This one didn’t have to be shared.
“I crashed the box and as soon as I hit it I knew it was going in and it felt like life stopped,” said Weinstein, who this year became the school’s all-time scoring leader. “I ran over to the crowd, saw all my friends. It was the best moment of my life. It’s my third time and the third time’s the charm. First started off with co-champs, second with a loss and all that was left to do was win.”
Weinstein’s goal was the only one scored by Trumbull in its three playoff games after two scoreless ties were decided by penalty kicks.
The second-seeded Eagles (13-2-4), who shared the title with Greenwich two seasons ago and lost to the Cardinals last year, were playing for themselves but especially for their coach, Sebe Gangemi, who since the spring has been battling leukemia. Gangemi hasn’t been able to attend practices since earlier in the season and, like Monday in the semifinals, has come to games straight from the hospital after undergoing chemotherapy.
“Oh, man. Going through what I’m going through this year. This is beautiful,” Gangemi said afterward.
Added Weinstein, “It means a lot. It just shows how we fight. We put him on our back. We did it for him.”
Gangemi is a beloved figure in FCIAC soccer. Just as Danbury coach Antony Howard’s players summoned their best when changing styles in the second half, Gangemi brought out the best in the classy Howard afterward.
“It’s kind of bittersweet. If I have to lose to anybody this year, losing to Sebe, it’s kind of the ending that fit the bill,” Howard said. “He obviously has had a lot on his plate this year and I think he’s an example to everybody there’s more to life than soccer. He’s going through a lot right now but at the same time it shows you the impact of high school athletics, and the passion and enjoyment that it gives the players and the coaches. Obviously I am devastated for mine. It was a good game. It could have gone either way I think. I’m happy for Sebe and his boys. I can live with that.”
The match was sensational. Co-champions is an extremely unsatisfying conclusion, but this also fit the bill of neither team deserving to go home unrewarded. At the same time, it begged an extraordinary ending.
“The first half we had them, the second half they had us and the overtime I thought we had them the whole time.” Gangemi said. “It was a great game between two great teams and that’s why we’re No. 1 and No. 2. Standings don’t lie.”
Trumbull dominated play before the half, but was unable to solve Hatters goalkeeper Matt Silva.
The top-seeded Hatters (12-2-5), led by Tyler Warren, have relied on a gritty defense all season. In the final for the first time in two decades, and with the bitterness of being disqualified from playing in the state final two years ago still raw, Howard and his players admirably switched tactics.
“We had a chat the other day and we said we’re very defensive-minded,” Howard said. “Do we accept co-champions? And we said no. It’s our first final in 20 years, we got robbed of one two years ago and we wanted to go out and try and be sole champions. First half we weren’t good enough, the second half I though we were great. Making stuff happen more than we had all year. We threw everything at them but it wasn’t enough.”
It wasn’t enough because of Eagles goalkeeper Chris Prizio. After stopping three straight penalty kicks in a semifinal win over Staples, Prizio was acrobatic in turning away shots. The best save came in the 47th minute, when he denied a bullet by the Hatters’ Tiago DosReis, whose last-second semifinal goal propelled them to the championship match.
Prizio deservedly was named the most valuable player.
In the second half we were flat-out outplayed,” Weinstein said. “Chris Prizio is the reason we went to overtime and we got the job done in overtime.”
After neatly making the difference in deciding a remarkably played final, Weinstein proved equally adept at succinctly wrapping up 100 minutes in 27 words.
“Luckily I put the ball in the back of the net, our keeper stepped up big with a lot of saves and we got the job done,” Weinstein said.