NAUGATUCK — If it was a preview of this year’s Naugatuck Valley League championship game, then we’re in for one heck of a rematch in about five weeks.
The Naugatuck and Watertown boys battled to a 2-2 tie in a fast, exciting and physical-as-it-gets game Tuesday night in the borough. The ‘Hounds now stand at 5-0-1 on the season.
The Indians sent the game to overtime with just 1:13 left in regulation when Ty Champagne controlled a loose ball atop the box, worked his way inside and fired a shot that clanged off the inside of the right post, pinged over to the left post and barely spun into the net before Naugy goalkeeper Enzo Pereira could swipe it away.
Both teams had chances in overtime. Adam Branco, who scored both of Naugatuck’s goals in the first half, shot high on a direct kick awarded at the top of the box when Watertown goalkeeper Dave Hughes ran outside the box with the ball in his mitts just a minute into extra time.
The Greyhounds and Indians traded shots over the next 19 minutes but none were on goal.
Play in overtime became slightly less physical than it was in regulation, partly because each team had at least one player who needed to be helped off the field. The officials issued no cards in the game, which was a surprise to Naugatuck assistant coach Brian Mariano.
“There should have been a couple of cards but both teams are emotional,” said Mariano, who acted as head coach as Art Nunes was away on business. “They look forward to this game all season long. You try to play firm and sometimes it gets a little physical.”
Naugatuck captain Jason Goja said it was important for the ‘Hounds to stay relaxed and not retaliate too much.
“These guys love to play with emotion but our coaches tell us that skill will always beat emotion,” Goja said. “We had to calm down because we still had the game in our hands.”
Goja earned an assist on Naugatuck’s second goal in the 28th minute when he booted a free kick toward Branco in the box. Branco leaped above several defenders and headed it between the pipes for a 2-1 lead.
“That’s something we did at St. Paul [on Sept. 14],” Goja said. “We were tied 1-1 and it’s an easy setup for me. I’m 40 yards out and I can get it into him for an easy chance.”
“We enjoyed ourselves out there,” Branco said. “It got a little tighter as the game went on. My job is to score goals and that’s what I did in the first half. I didn’t execute in the second half.”
Branco scored the first goal of the night less than three minutes into the game. He was the beneficiary of a great touch from Fernando Branco, who found his cousin streaking into the box for an easy finish into the left side of the net.
“I’ve seen them grow a lot,” Goja said of the Brancos. “It’s good to see them score goals and have all the opportunities that they have.”
Watertown answered about two minutes later on a similarly smooth hookup between John Good and Luigi Calabrese, who punched the ball over Naugy keeper Matt Bode in the center of the box before tapping it in for a 1-1 tie.
Both teams had several near-misses throughout regulation. The Indians had two shots clang off the crossbar midway through the first half while the ‘Hounds struggled to get their shots on net, several times shooting wide or high from inside the box.
“It comes down to us being disciplined,” Mariano said. “If we put everyone in the right position, the goals will come. We have to get refocused. Sometimes young teams don’t trust their runs and they have to be there for when the ball does come.”
The tie came as a disappointment to Adam Branco, but he acknowledged there’s a lot of time left until the games take on more significance. The Greyhounds visit Holy Cross on Friday before returning home Monday night against Wilby.
“We don’t play to not lose. We play to win,” Branco said. “We are never satisfied. We have a few kinks we have to work on. This is nothing special. ESPN is not here. It’s just a game and we have more than two-thirds of the season left.”