Monday November 5, 2012

AUSTIN DANFORTH

Assistant Sports Editor

RANDOLPH -- Deadlocked, 1-1, with Montpelier, the scoreboard showing 15 minutes remained in the season, the Burr and Burton Academy Bulldogs turned to the hard-nosed resolve that carried them to the state championship game with a flawless 17-0 record.

Perfection was the only option.

"We just keep pushing," said BBA junior Liam Kelleher. "I know after they scored they got hyped up, they were coming at us hard. We just kept going at it. Our defense was incredible today and we got our chance up top and we finished."

Seizing control of Saturday's historic Division II boys soccer state championship game in the final quarter-hour, Reid Conde's composed finish with 10 minutes to go vaulted top-seeded BBA to a 2-1 win over the No. 2 Solons.

Back-to-back titles? Check. A perfect 18-0 record? Check.

And in the state's first boys soccer final featuring two 17-0-0 teams, according to the Vermont Principals' Association, the Burr and Burton players lived up to their nickname to secure the program's 10th crown.

"They're bulldogs. We told them before the game it's going to be a real fight and a very physical game," BBA coach Pete Mull said. "They've got a lot of pride."

Buoyed by Jackson Watson's equalizer off the left post three minutes after halftime, the Solons (17-1) were a goal from being the first team to hang two on BBA this year.

But the reigning champions, well-heeled in getting results after 2-1 overtime wins in the quarter- and semifinals, delivered a 22nd consecutive win.


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"We've got some very smart players who are not just good players but good tactically and know how to play the game," Mull said. "That makes a difference in a game like this."

The decisive strike came on a quick counter. Senior midfielder Bobby Weeks, dribbling to the edge of the Montpelier box, threaded a ball to his left for Conde, streaking in from the wing.

Making a split-second look like it was frozen in time, the sophomore, still sprinting onto the ball, sized up his target. Solons goalkeeper Ben Estes (four saves), ranging to his left, was outmatched by the curling, killer finish.

"I took a quick look up to see where the goalie is, I saw he was near post and I knew I had that on the outside, back-door," Conde said.

Burr and Burton nosed in front in the 27th minute with an unlikely savior.

After a Montpelier defender tripped up Brock Pollard on a breakaway, inches from the top of the penalty area, Kelleher, Conde and senior forward Zack Stewart stood over the free kick spot to set the tactics.

"We were lining up and Zack was just telling me to run over it, fake it," Kelleher said. "And then, last second, Reid was like, ‘You've got a little space there, I guarantee you can it in.'

"I rarely take them. Very rarely," he added.

The left-footed Kelleher, struck it true, bending the shot around the Solons' wall and leaving no time for Estes to react.

It was the only BBA shot on target before halftime.

"What a game. It was a dogfight," Mull said. "They were a good team, a physical team, and they brought their A-game. We had to be on our game.

"We had maybe four or five shots [on target] but those two were fantastic," Mull said of the goals.

Senior goalkeeper Mike Nolan made six saves in the winning effort.

Lending an air of uncertainty in the build-up to Saturday's clash: It was only the second time since 1980 that two boys soccer finalists met with no losses or ties between them -- the first was in Division IV in 1998.

The 2012 season is the third perfect campaign in the history of the BBA program and also the third time trophies have come in back-to-back years.

"That hasn't sunk in yet," Mull said. "Maybe in 10 years it will sink in but it's just about today, not about 18-0. It's about today and being with these kids and the families and the Burr and Burton community."