STRATFORD — In some ways, Saturday was a frustrating afternoon for the Bunnell boys soccer team.
The Bulldogs had one goal waved off because it came seconds after the first half expired and another negated due to an offside call eight minutes into the second half.
Quinton Budnick finally broke through for a goal that counted with 22:41 remaining and that was enough to carry Bunnell to a 1-0 victory over town rival Stratford at Mastroni Field.
The Bulldogs improved to 7-4-1 with their fourth win in five games heading into the final week of the regular season.
Bunnell coach Joe Baccielo thought his players may have been distracted by some activities earlier in the day, including band practice for a state competition.
“I don’t think our focus was quite there today which was disappointing because we tried to talk about it to make sure we were ready for this,” Baccielo said. “I don’t think it was our best day in terms of the way we played but we’ll take the win, of course.”
Heading into Saturday, the Bulldogs knew they had already clinched a spot in the South-West Conference playoffs. Bunnell (6-4-3, 20 points in the SWC) began the day tied for sixth with Bethel, one point ahead of Brookfield and four points better than Newtown and New Fairfield, who are tied for eighth.
With only one league game remaining, Newton and New Fairfield cannot catch Bunnell, so the Bulldogs are assured of a spot in the top eight.
Saturday’s contest had no bearing on the league standings as it was the second meeting between Bunnell and Stratford. The Bulldogs defeated the Red Devils 2-1 last Saturday in the game that counted in the standings.
In the rematch Saturday, which was postponed from Oct. 16, Bunnell was whistled for nine offsides, although Baccielo didn’t necessarily agree with all of the calls.
The Bulldogs also were repeatedly thwarted by Stratford goalkeeper Justin Forizs, who was spectacular in goal with 10 saves—and that was after playing in the junior varsity game earlier in the day.
“He’s only a sophomore and even last year, some of the coaches in the SWC recognized his understanding of the game, his aggressiveness, and his technical skill,” Stratford coach Ryan Jockers said. “We expect Justin in the coming years to be among the best goalies in the league, if not the state.”
Budnick dominated in the second half with seven shots as his teammates made sure to get the ball to him as much as possible.
Overall, the Bulldogs finished with 16 shots.
On his goal, Budnick fought through two defenders following a deft first touch, got the ball to his feet and snapped a quick shot on goal from close range.
Forizs almost made the save as he got his hands on the ball, but it got behind him and trickled across the goal line. Adam Sowinski was credited with the assist.
”Quinton Budnick is certainly one of our better players in the attacking aspect,” Baccielo said. “We wanted to make sure that as the game went on he was able to make his mark on the game. I’m sure he feels like he should have had a couple more, but fortunately enough he got the winner for us.”
For the second time in a week, Stratford (1-14-0) played its rival tough, only to suffer a one-goal defeat.
The Red Devils created some chances throughout the game, forcing Bunnell goalkeeper Owen Jaekle to make six saves.
“Bunnell had more real chances but I was really pleased with how the team played defensively,” Jockers said. “Just fair play to Bunnell. They’ve really improved and as a result they’re going off to the SWC playoffs.
“To play them 2-1 and 1-nill with the season they’ve had and the season we’ve had, I’m happy with the team and how they played,” the coach added.
Bunnell, which was 1-15-0 last season, concludes SWC play at Brookfield (7-7-1) on Monday, then closes out the regular season at home on Wednesday against Harding.
A win over the Bobcats could secure the Bulldogs a home game in the quarterfinals of the SWC playoffs and Baccielo believes victories over Brookfield and Harding could get Bunnell a home game in the first round of the state tournament at 9-4-3.
Stratford concludes its season on Tuesday at Pomperaug.