After a slow start to its sectional boys soccer championship game against Lansing on Saturday afternoon, Elmira Notre Dame’s high-powered offense kicked into gear and along the way the Crusaders eclipsed a 16-year-old state record for goals in a season.
Senior Rocco Coulibaly scored two first-half goals as the unbeaten Crusaders rolled to an 8-1 victory over the Bobcats to capture the Section 4 Class C championship at the Wright Soccer Fields in Oneonta.
“Any title game, you think about all of the possibilities,” Notre Dame senior co-captain Alec Cutler said. “We were a little nervous in the first half, but then we just got into a groove and played the way we knew how to.”
Cutler finished with a goal and three assists. His three assists brought him to within one of the all-time state record of 39 in a season.
Lansing (16-2-1) controlled the ball as much as Notre Dame through the first 12 minutes of the game, but once Notre Dame’s Connor Bayne spotted an open Aidan Sharma in the goalie box, the junior’s goal at the 28:07 mark sparked the Crusaders. With the momentum shifting, Notre Dame scored three more goals, each about five minutes apart, including two by Coulibaly, to open up a 4-0 lead.
“I think they had a little jitters to start, but as the game rolled along they took control,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Adams said.
After Ryan Lanning moved through a crowd of Lansing players in the goalie box to make it 2-0, it was Coulibaly’s header from the near post with 17:30 remaining to give the Crusaders some breathing room.
“It was a nice header and a nice cross from Cutler,” Coulibaly said. “That goal took some pressure off us.”
Coulibaly scored again less than four minutes later on a deep shot after a feed from Cutler. Coulibaly, originally from West African nation Mali, also had an assist.
“I thought we came out really strong and put a little pressure on them in the early going,” Lansing head coach Adam Heck said. “I don’t know if we stopped playing, but we just kind of got in a lull and when you get against a great team like that and you get a lull, they are going to take advantage of it and they did.”
Lansing’s Ben Kutler cut the deficit to 4-1 with 10 minutes left in the half as his corner kick floated through the outstretched hands of Notre Dame keeper Will Brennan.
“It gave us a little bit of life, but all in all they were playing with that sense of purpose,” Heck said. “Just putting the ball in the net and it showed.”
Michael Woglom added a fifth goal on a deep shot off of a deflection with 3:32 left before halftime to give Notre Dame a 5-1 lead.
“It’s tough when you are a team that goes in to the half down 5-1 and come out and mount any pressure against us,” Adams said. “They tried, but all in all I thought we just kept the ball and did everything they are trained to do and did it especially well today.”
Notre Dame scored an own goal to make it 6-1 less than 10 minutes into the second half. Connor Bayne’s score, off a Cutler assist with 17:43 remaining, broke the the state record for goals scored in a season. According to records on the New York State Public High School Athletic Association website, Oneonta had the record of 164, set in 1999.
“It was nice to see the two captains combined for the goal, Alec assisting and Bayne on the finish,” Adams said. “They knew what was on the line.”
Cutler rounded out the scoring for the Crusaders, who had a 25-7 edge in shots.
The Crusaders (18-0) advance to a state quarterfinal Nov. 7 against the winner of Tuesday’s Section 3 final between Thousand Islands and Watertown IHC. The time and site of the quarterfinal will be announced.
“They show a lot of character and composure,” Adams said. “They overcame a tough end of last year and to come back this year and play even better is a testimony to the kids. Sometimes they are more resilient than adults. They obviously proved it this season.”
Last season ended prematurely when the Crusaders were forced to pull out of the state tournament after their 2-0 win over Lansing in the sectional final. The Bobcats went on to states because it was learned one of Notre Dame’s players did not meet the eligibility requirements for transfer students.
“I think this is a great opportunity, one that we missed out on last year that we shouldn’t have, and I thought we played a heck of a game today,” Cutler said. “We are hoping to take it all.”
Notre Dame, ranked third in the latest state Class C poll, has outscored the opposition by a staggering 166-4 this season.
“I don’t see any team beating them,” Heck said.
On Twitter: @SGRLevanduski