WEST HAVEN >> Staples coach Dan Woog has been around long enough to realize soccer is a game of runs. Woog was just waiting for his team to get on that run late in a Class LL second round contest at West Haven Wednesday evening.
Trailing 3-1 and having been outplayed for 30 minutes, the Wreckers finally got that run Woog was hoping for. Scoring three times in the final 15 minutes, 8 seconds of the game, No. 19 Staples rallied to shock No. 3 West Haven, 4-3, at Ken Strong Stadium.
With the victory, the Wreckers will travel to play FCIAC rival and No. 11 Darien Friday at 2 p.m. in the quarterfinals. Darien advanced by upsetting No. 6 Shelton in penalty kicks.
“With fifteen minutes to go, a lot of teams would have given up,” Woog said after his team improved to 11-5-2. “I know a lot about Staples soccer, but I do not know if any team has ever come back from two goals down with fifteen minutes to go. I have no words to describe this.”
West Haven seemingly added an insurance goal with 16:45 remaining in the game when Abdoul Aremu beat Staples goalkeeper Noah Schwaeber off the rebound in front to give the Westies a 3-1 lead.
The game then turned in an instant. Just 1:37 later, Gabe Pensak picked up a loose ball in front of the West Haven goal and beat West Haven goalkeeper Dan Prendergast to cut the deficit to 3-2.
“It was a big momentum swing,” West Haven coach Pete Hamasian said after his team finishes the season at 13-4- 1. “We relaxed for just a moment and the momentum was theirs. We could not get it back. That with the injuries was too much to overcome.”
Prendergast denied a header by Josh Berman in front two minutes later, before the pressure by Staples finally cracked the Westies. Pensak’s throw-in squirted threw and was headed in by Nate Argosh to even the game at three.
“We had a good scouting report on them,” Woog said. “We kept telling the kids if you believe in what works, don’t deviate. Trust it. Trust the system It came down to trust.”
West Haven looked as if it would have the best opportunity in the final five minutes to pull out the victory as Jonathan Ortiz took a direct kick from 25 yards out which was punched away by Schwaeber.
Nearly two minutes later, Blaise Haba lined up trying to sneak a shot over the Staples wall from 25 yards out, but the wall prevailed.
Staples then relied on Pensak once again for the winner. His throw-in bounced around in front before Berman knocked the loose ball past Prendergast with 1:26 remaining to send the Wreckers to the quarterfinals.
“Gabe’s (Pensak) throws are amazing,” Berman said. “He can place it anywhere. Gabe threw it in, Nate Argosh flicked it on and the ball was knocked around and hit off the goalie. I happened to be there. It was a total team goal. We kept our focus on winning the game.”
Hamasian knew the set pieces were going to play a factor in the game, but hoped they would not come at such a pivotal point in the game.
“That has been our issue all year,” Hamasian said. “We have trouble winning the balls in the air. We could not put a head on the ball. This game does not do our season any justice. We had a great year. They were great players to coach. I feel bad for the kids. I feel like I let them down.”
The game was one of runs and Staples owned the first 15 minutes, taking a 1-0 lead when Jerrett Rende sent a cross to Patrick Beusse in front and Beusse blasted a shot to the left corner with 26:10 left in the first half.
The Westies then dominated for 30 minutes and took a 3-1 lead. Ulises Hernandez evened the game when he scored off a second rebound in front with 15:35 left in the opening half.
The Westies wasted no time taking a 2-1 lead in the second half as Kevin Ruiz made several dazzling moves before passing to Salah Oumorou who beat Schwaeber just 28 seconds into the second half for a 2-1 lead.
Schwaeber and Prendergast each made six saves for their respective teams in the contest.