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Section 3 soccer: Taylor’s 2 goals lead WHS past Cortland, 2-1

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With the Watertown boys soccer team’s Class A quarterfinal with Cortland deadlocked in the second half and potentially headed to overtime, Noah Taylor had visions of the Cyclones’ previous postseason game just a week ago.

Seven days after the Cyclones won the Frontier League title game in a shootout over rival Indian River, they faced yet another closely contested nail-biter against Cortland in their Section 3 playoff opener on Thursday night.

This time, Watertown got the job done in regulation as junior Tyrell Thomas scored twice, including the deciding goal with 5 minutes, 20 seconds remaining, and Taylor made several crucial saves down the stretch as the third-seeded Cyclones edged the sixth-seeded Purple Tigers, 2-1, in an emotionally charged encounter at Watertown High School.

“It was almost like a relapse or a dream,” said Taylor, also a junior. “I was saying to myself ‘Are we going to [penalty kicks] again? But we hung in there and Tyrell managed to get the ball in the back of the net. He’s been coming up big for us all season.”

Taylor finished with nine saves for Watertown (15-0-2), which advances to the semifinal round to face either Christian Brothers Academy or Fulton on Tuesday at a neutral site and time to be determined.

“They got their first goal pretty early in the game,” Thomas said of Cortland. “We just had to keep our composure and stay with it after that. We just tried to play our game.”

Taylor made five of his saves in the second half and saved some of his best for last. He denied a bid by Justin Prentice as he dove to grab the ball from the high-scoring junior forward with six minutes remaining in regulation.

“That’s why we have Noah in these games,” Watertown coach Todd Heckman said. “Throughout the season he doesn’t get a lot of action at times, but come playoff time, he’s our man in the goal that we rely on and he keeps us in games.”

With the score 1-1, Thomas scored the game-winner in the 75th minute on a sequence that began with senior Brad McKinney’s throw in.

“It’s a tough loss,” Cortland coach Brian Rozewski said. “But they have a kid (McKinney) who throws the ball halfway across the field and their goal came off of that. What are you going to do? That throw in was just like a corner kick and it was a great play.”

Junior Kenny Schimpf then sent McKinney’s feed over to Thomas, who chipped the ball over goalie Tracey Shelley (seven saves) for the decisive goal.

“It’s something that is a weapon for us — Brad has that long throw in that other teams don’t see a whole lot,” Heckman said. “It’s a dangerous ball to the back of their defense that we were able to finish.”

The Cyclones, ranked 11th in the state in Class A, reached their first sectional semifinal in four seasons.

“I attribute this to senior leadership this year,” Heckman said. “When the going got tough, the seniors took charge and led the team.”

Cortland (10-5-3) struck first as Justin Prentice knocked a drive that slipped under Taylor and into the net for a 1-0 advantage in the 23rd minute. Just earlier, Schimpf had been denied with a scoring bid in close.

“We just kept our heads even though we were down early,” Taylor said. “Our key players held us in the game and our defense obviously held them off pretty well.”

Watertown drew even as Thomas collected in pass from across the goal mouth from Marcus Lavarnway and scored at the right post with 2:52 remaining in the first half.

“Tyrell looks for those openings and just keeps plugging away the whole game,” Heckman said, “and eventually he comes through for us with some big goals.”

The Cyclones last reached the semifinal round in the Section 3 playoffs in 2009, when they were edged by eventual state finalist New Hartford, 1-0.

“We’ve been hoping that we can make a long run in sectionals,” Taylor said. “And now finally we’ll get a chance to prove it.”

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