NEW FAIRFIELD — If it should’ve been the CIAC Class S boys lacrosse final that wound up stuck in the first round, it lived up to the hype Wednesday night on turf that became Marty Morgan Field by the end of the night.
And like any good, dramatic state final, there was a comeback and some last-second heroics.
Eric Burbank scored off Ryan Daly’s pass in transition with 14.6 seconds left, and two-time defending Class S champion St. Joseph defeated top-seeded, undefeated New Fairfield 8-7.
“As soon we got in the playoffs and saw New Fairfield on our side of the bracket, we knew this was our state championship,” Cadets co-captain Preston Kral said.
“Credit them, they had a phenomenal season in the SWC. … I feel the FCIAC just conditioned us for (an undefeated) team, a good team.”
St. Joseph (9-8), the 17th seed, will visit eighth-seeded Shoreline Conference champion Haddam-Killingworth (14-5) in Saturday’s quarterfinals.
The Rebels (17-1), ranked No. 6 in the GameTimeCT Top 10 Boys Lacrosse Poll, had won the past two Class M titles before the pandemic wiped out everyone’s 2020 season. New Fairfield’s enrollment dropped the team into Class S this season, pitting champion against champion on Wednesday, top seed vs. 17th seed.
New Fairfield’s 37-game winning streak, and 57-game streak against state competition that dated to the Class M semifinals in 2017, ended.
“Turnovers kill ya. Turnovers don’t help, and we turned it over. Can’t make excuses for it,” New Fairfield coach Marty Morgan said.
“Hats off to them. They played their butts off. It was going to be a dogfight right to the end. … We had possession a lot. We had probably, time-wise, I don’t know, almost twice as much as them? And we just couldn’t get to the goal, just couldn’t get good shots off.”
The Rebels out shot St. Joseph about two-to-one indeed. But it was a day, Kral said, about defense for St. Joseph. They assigned a short-stick midfielder, often Kral, to closely defend New Fairfield standout Nate Alviti.
Cadets coach Brendan Talbot said they put the defense together before late-season games against Staples and Wilton, two top-five teams.
“We knew we don’t have the numbers to get up and down, so, hey, look, we’ll run our man-down defense, and we’ll shut one guy off,” Talbot said, “and this way I don’t have to teach anything new.”
St. Joseph lost 16-14 to Staples, then tried it again against Wilton and lost 11-7.
“Maybe we’re onto something,” Talbot said with a grin. “Two players like (Matt) Constantinides and Alviti, you’ve got to try to take one away and hopefully the other one doesn’t kill you.”
Standout defender Jack Fearnley, he added, is “playing without an MCL,” but Fearnley still came up with some big defensive plays.
St. Joseph scored the first goal but didn’t lead again until the end. New Fairfield led by as many as three and had a 7-5 edge after three quarters; St. Joseph cut the lead in half early in the fourth.
Burbank forced a turnover with under two minutes to play that led to two New Fairfield fouls, and Johnny Karafa scored with 1:35 left on the two-man-up situation.
Constantinides won the faceoff. The Rebels held the ball again, nearly lost it, then did. Kral sent it ahead to Andrew Eisenman, who cleared it up the right side and handed off to Daly, whose cross-field bounce pass set up Burbank on the left side.
“I didn’t think I had my best game, a couple of turnovers I didn’t think I should’ve had,” Burbank said.
“I got the ball one more time. I just wanted to put it away.”
New Fairfield named the field for Morgan, their longtime, Hall-of-Fame coach, in a postgame ceremony.
— Sean Patrick Bowley (@SPBowley) June 3, 2021
Talbot and Morgan coach their daughters’ youth team together; Talbot’s daughter was going to present Morgan a plaque at the ceremony.
“I’m honored. I don’t know. I hope I don’t die in the next week, honestly, because I’m not dead, why are you naming the field after me?” Morgan said. “I’m not retired, I didn’t donate a million dollars — I’m like minus-a-million dollars. I’m like, you’re kinda jinxing me on the setup here.
“I’m honored and flattered, but I don’t do it for that. I never have. I just love New Fairfield, love the kids.”
But he’ll be back at it Thursday down on one of the other fields, right? No, he replied. “Friday.”