HARTFORD — The title drought is over in Cheshire as the No. 1 Rams defeated No. 2 Xavier 3-1 in the Class L boys soccer final at a cold and slick Trinity Health Stadium on Sunday night.
Cheshire (16-3-1) hoisted its second-ever state title trophy — and its first since 1988 — behind first-half goals from William Stearns and Samir Dishnica. Kevi Sulollari headed home the third Cheshire goal in the second half.
“This is very special,” said Cheshire coach Artur Branco, whose Rams fell in the Class LL final on the same field a year ago to Farmington, 3-2. “I’ve been going at this for 29 years. This is my first one and I’m very happy. I’m ecstatic for everyone, including myself.”
The Rams led 2-1 at the half. Cheshire took a 1-0 lead in the 13th minute with a running header by Stearns. The assist was served into the box by Alex Clark.
Sulollari padded Cheshire lead’s with a second-half goal to secure the title.
“Samir has been great all season and he found me in the box and I put it home,” Sulollari said. “Today, we had to come and go hard and dominate the midfield and play our game.”
It was all Rams for much of the first half. In the opening minute, Ellis Sulollari had a corner kick turned away by the Falcons defense. Colin Brown had a shot in the 6th minute that was corralled by Xavier keeper Spencer Misenti.
After Stearns staked Cheshire to a 1-0 lead, Ryan Markarian had a shot off of a corner kick in the 18th and Jack Markarian had a shot off a corner stopped by Misenti as it was all Cheshire in the early going.
Dishnica beat two defenders and then lured the goalie out, made a move and put it in the open net as Cheshire went up 2-0 in the 28th minute.
“I got a touch past a defender and the keeper came out and I got a touch by him and I put it in, and it felt amazing,” said Dishnica, the SCC Player of the Year. “Last year, coming up short, this was our first one since ’88. It feels great to get this one for coach.”
Xavier (18-3-2) responded three minutes later with a goal from its leading scorer, Mario Milardo, in the 31st minute with a great shot in the middle of box from straight on. Diego Canellas provided the assist as the Falcons garnered some much-needed momentum.
Sulollari opened the second half with a clean look fro 20 yards in the 42nd minute. Canellas countered with a header that sailed just over the crossover in the 43rd minute as both teams had good chances in the opening minutes of the second half.
Stearns drew a foul in the 45th minute and the Rams set up a free kick just outside the box on the right corner. Dishnica booted it on net and the ball was headed in by Sulollari as Cheshire went up, 3-1.
“It was incredible,” Dishnica said. “We got a free kick in a really good spot. Set-pieces have been good for us and we capitalized.”
Nolan Kappus made a diving save on a Xavier scoring opportunity in the 63rd minute. Kappus then made a diving save on Aidan Driscoll in the 70th minute.
Though SCC rivals, Cheshire and Xavier did not play each other this season prior to Sunday. Last year, they collided in the Class LL semifinals, with the Rams winning 2-1 on penalty kicks (8-5). The Cheshire boys went on to lose in last year’s final to Farmington.
Cheshire and Xavier meet four times in 2021 and both moved down to Class L this fall.
Dishnica, who was later named the game MVP, said the team was fueled all season by the loss in the finals last season.
“That loss was all we were thinking about,” Dishnica said. “We knew we had to go out there and work harder, and to get here feels amazing.”
Cheshire’s title quest started with a 6-2 win over Avon in the second round The Rams then ousted SCC foes Notre Dame-West Haven (6-0) in the quarters and Guilford (3-2) in the semis.
Xavier edged RHAM in the second round 1-0 (3-1 in PKs) before beating Pomperaug 2-0 in the quarters and Middletown 5-1 in the semifinals.
Prior to Sunday, Xavier’s lone state final appearance and state championship was in 1995 in a 2-1 win over Simsbury in Class LL.
“I’m just very happy for everyone,” Branco said. “This is not just a title for me, but this title goes beyond the coaching staff and belongs to the Town of Cheshire. This is for Cheshire”
Kevi Sulollari said the Rams wanted to get this title for Branco.
“He deserves this; he’s coached for so long,” Sulollari said. “He’s so passionate about this sports. We should have won it last year for him, but failures always need to success. He deserves this. He’s a great guys with great morals and respect for everyone. He’s a great coach.”