The one outlier found in Essex’s record is a 5-1 defeat to South Burlington in late September.
The Rebels’ only blemish? A 2-1 home loss to the Hornets in the teams’ first meeting.
Round 3 arrives this afternoon.
After both teams overcame 1-0 deficits in their semifinal victories, top-seeded South Burlington (15-1) and No. 3 Essex (14-2-1) meet for the rubber match — and for a prize much greater: The Division I high school boys soccer crown.
Following the D-I girls game at 10 a.m., the boys take the pitch for a 1 p.m. scheduled kickoff at Burlington High School’s Buck Hard Field.
“The kids all know each other and we expect a battle on Saturday,” South Burlington coach David Martin said. “We now have another good senior-leaden team in Essex. They have depth, they have strength all over the field.”
“We have total respect for South Burlington,” Essex coach Scott Mosher said. “They deserved the No. 1 spot and they are the favorite without a question.”
High school championship coverage:
— D-I girls preview: Seahorses in way of CVU soccer dynasty
— D-II boys preview: Rice, Stowe, Twin Valley aim for soccer titles
— D-II-II-IV girls preview: Finalists blazed varied paths to soccer title games
The Rebels have reeled off 11 straight games since the aforementioned loss to the Hornets and have outscored opponents 57-8 during a splendid campaign highlighted by a dominant midfield and quick-strike attack.
“They are dangerous and they are confident,” Mosher said. “That’s a deadly combination sometimes.”
Mosher’s group witnessed South Burlington’s peak form in the second matchup. The Rebels fired in a trio of goals in the game’s final 13 minutes, an onslaught that left a depleted Hornets side — half their back line was sidelined with injury — taking the loss in stride.
“That game wasn’t indicative of our season, if you look at the rest of our body of work,” Mosher said.
Essex, on a nine-game winning streak since losing to SBHS, has relied on chemistry and depth to return to the final for the first time since winning it all in 2010 (against South Burlington, too).
Nate Miles leads Essex in goals (nine) to go along with three assists while Sean Finnegan, who struck for the game winner in the semifinals, has totaled eight tallies and four assists for an Essex team with 14 players with at least one goal.
Hamza Halilovic (four goals, six assists) and Noah Ferris (six goals, two assists) also contribute offensively for the Hornets, who have outscored opponents 47-15.
The Rebels have similar balance, with Aiman Ginawi leading the group (13 goals, 12 assists). Ismail Temirov, the team’s top scorer in each of the past two years, has 10 goals and six assists and semifinal hero Dinesh Khadka has supplied nine goals and six assists. Abukar Hassan (five goals, eight assists) can deliver in a flash and the long runs of freshman Patrick O’Hara (eight goals) could sneak up on Essex’s experienced defense.
“We just have to pressure them and we have to make it uncomfortable for them so they don’t get into a rhythm,” Mosher said.
The wildcard for Essex rests with Miles, one of the team’s top players who has moved around the field to support the defense and pushing forward to join the attack.
With a pair of Metro programs meeting in the final for the fifth straight year, Martin said the familiarity could turn the game into a chess match.
“I’ve seen Essex six or eight times this season, probably more than any other team. We know their tendencies,” Martin said. “But, that being said, Scott Mosher also knows our tendencies and who our players are too.”