PORTLAND >> Emotions ran high and the play was physical in the Southern Connecticut Conference boys soccer semifinal between Branford and Xavier Tuesday afternoon at TD Bank Oakwood Soccer Park.
And it was the top-seeded Falcons who survived and advanced.
Xavier (14-0-4) scored twice in the second half to down the No. 4 Hornets (12-5-1), 2-0.
Much of the first half was a defensive struggle. Both sides did their best to keep the ball in the center third of the field with only a handful of scoring opportunities. Coming out of halftime, however, Xavier began moving the ball quicker and finally broke through.
Brandon Charton found Brett Mooney at the top of the box and Mooney finished a hard shot just inside the left post to give the Falcons a 1-0 lead.
“That was quick ball movement, something we talked about at halftime as far as, play the ball quicker instead of putting your head down dribbling,” said Xavier coach Brian Fitzgerald.
Mooney’s ankle was stepped on just after he struck the ball. He went down and did not return.
Midway through the second half, Branford’s Hunter Duval made a run down the right sideline. The ball was loose when Duval went on the attack and at the same time, Xavier keeper Dan Miela dove for the ball. The two got tangled and a skirmish broke out. The referees stepped in, sorted out the situation and after the dust cleared, Miela, Branford’s Max Condon and Duval were issued yellow cards.
“It seems like both teams settled down after it,” said Fitzgerald. “I think the refs did a nice job keeping control after that.”
With six minutes to go in the game, Dan Higgins found himself an open look from 10 yards out and snuck one past Hornets keeper Nicholas Cordero to put the game away.
“Xavier’s a good team, there’s no doubt about it,” said Branford coach Paul Hunter.
With that win, the Falcons advance to the SCC championship game for the first time since 2007 and will look to win their first outright title in 12 years.
“Lots of water, lot of stretching, lots of ice,” said Fitzgerald on preparing for the championship game. “Mentally, I think we’re ready, it’s more of a physical thing right now. We’ll bounce back and be ready to go tomorrow night.”
The No. 1 Falcons will play No. 6 Guilford for the SCC championship Wednesday at 6 p.m. in East Haven.