Dream season ends for Blue Devils

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By John Bernhardt
The soccer gods have spoken, and the curse of the Blue Devils’ New York State Tournament qualifier lives on. Nine times Margaretville has earned Section IV, Class D, boys’ soccer championships, and try as they might, the Blue Devils have never been able to move past the state qualifier to the Final Four. Margaretville’s hopes of snapping the dreaded curse went by the wayside Saturday at Liverpool High School when the Blue Devils dropped a hard fought, 1-0, decision to Section III champion. Watertown Immaculate Heart Catholic High School.
For a fleeting moment it looked like this year’s talented and gritty Blue Devils squad might snap the jinx. In fact, Margaretville’s senior defenseman, James Warner’s fierce play around the goal bordered on epic proportions. With his Blue Devils’ team under siege, Warner was everywhere. Four different times, Warner turned back what looked to be sure Watertown scores, twice when the ball was pushed past Margaretville goalie Marvin Morales and rolled toward a wide-open goal.
But, even Warner’s swashbuckling defensive gallantry and the complimentary efforts of Margaretville’s brilliant freshman defender Victor Sarabia would not be enough.

Constant pressure
All game long, Watertown’s offensive onslaughts danced on the perimeter of the goal. Three Cavalier strikes defected off the crossbar, one a blistering missile launched from 40 yards away from the nets. With Watertown pounding at the goal, rearming and pounding again, the Margaretville defense would bend but not break.
Only once would the Cavaliers find a crack in Margaretville’s defensive armor. Watertown found the seam with 14:49 to play in the opening half. Austin Renzi was the culprit, launching a well-placed cross from the left hand corner of the offensive end. A Margaretville defender temporarily lost his mark, and Watertown’s Jake Fusilli took advantage, streaking forward from the right hand side of the field through the open wrinkle and heading a shot against the grain into the left hand side of the goal. The Blue Devils goalie never had a chance.

Close call
It appeared as if Margaretville might have tied the game with 6:42 left in the half. A Cavalier infraction gave the Blue Devils a direct kick down the left hand corner of the offensive end. Roberto Sarabia, who battled valiantly all afternoon, lofted a soft shot towards the front of the goal with Margaretville’s Dylan Shaffer and Watertown keeper Jarrod Smith going high for the ball. The ball was jostled free of the duo with Blue Devils Cooper Reither positioned perfectly towards the outside pole and adequate open space in front of the net. Fate played its hand when Reither’s shot sailed up and over the goal.
More than destiny or serendipity, an innovative Watertown defense was the trump card that prevented the Blue Devil’s advance. Like the “run and jump” basketball defense that the Georgetown Hoyas used generations ago to create chaos and confusion by always, double-teaming the man with the ball, the Cavaliers used a similar scheme, attacking, reforming and attacking again, with two defenders always working to box in the Blue Devil striker with the ball. Watertown sweeper Pat Gefell captained the sinister defensive tactic with his loyal lieutenants Jared Pignore and Jason Reape helping carry out the defensive ploy.

Figuring it out
It took some time before the Margaretville strikers broke the defensive puzzle’s code, realizing that the longer the ball stayed on one Blue Devil striker’s foot, the more effective the Cavalier defensive strategy. By the final 15 minutes of the game, the Blue Devils were one touching the ball around the offensive end faster than the doubling Cavalier defense could keep up, and it looked like the Blue Devils might yet defy the dreaded curse. But, with opportunity knocking on the door, Margaretville simply couldn’t manage that one extra step, or that one angle needed to penetrate Watertown’s fortifications for the tying tally.

Wearing them down
Had the Blue Devils found the key to the nets, good fortune very well may have turned their way. Like the unending drip of a water stream, the deep Margaretville bench had eroded Watertown’s energy supply with the Cavalier’s beginning to show signs of fatigue during the final 15 minutes of the game.
But, for at least this attempt, destiny prevailed. There would be no “Abracadabra” or magic wand to break the state qualifier hex and send the Blue Devils to Middletown for this weekend’s NYS Final Four.
Nothing that happened in Liverpool can diminish the stouthearted final stand of this gritty Blue Devil soccer bunch, the 18 consecutive victories, the Delaware League and Section IV championships, that came before Saturday’s fall. This was a gifted group of soccer players, a unit that played together and stayed together, a soccer team that left a lot of folks proud to root for the blue and white.