GROTON - It was a match of epic proportions and for the host Crusaders, what better way to defend its two consecutive Div. 2 state titles with a home-match against the defending Div. 3 state champion, Sutton Sammies. Saturday's match lived up to the hype Groton-Dunstable head coach Sean Wisbey built it up to be. Groton-Dunstable has been promoted to Div. 1 this season with the likes of Tuesday's opponent, Nashoba.
The defense was on display as Groton-Dunstable held a slight 8-5 advantage in shots-on-goal, as both teams fittingly played to a 1-1 standstill Saturday morning. Sutton remains undefeated with the decision at 2-0-1, while Wisbey's side sits at 0-0-1, hungry for its first victory of the young campaign.
"You saw two programs who have a great tradition of winning," the coach said. "They are in game three of the season and this is opening day for us. I felt like they were in more of rhythm in to the season, more than we were a little bit. I kind of expected that coming in."
Sutton struck first in the opening half off a free kick from the right side. Sammies' midfielder Riley Steele curled the ball inwards towards the goal-box and it caught a gust of wind and slowly steered itself over the outstretch mitts of Groton-Dunstable senior goalkeeper Jamie Bailey.
Bailey appeared frustrated on the play, as it appeared that he misjudged the trajectory of the unassisted gem off the boot of Steele at 14:10 of the first half.
"Overall, we gave up a goal I really felt like he really should have had," Wisbey said. "Mistakes are going to happen this early in the season. I am glad that we fought back."
And fought back is exactly what the Crusaders did. Junior forward Matthew Tornaritis dribbled the ball towards the Sutton dugout and pushed it down into the corner.
Tornaritis knifed the ball through to the foot of sophomore back, Gabe Dingle.
Dingle kept the ball low to the pitch and launched a majestic ball inside the far post to beat Sammies' goalkeeper Gordy Smythe with the equalizer, at 23:43 of the first half.
"Gabe got his first goal of his varsity career, which was nice to see," the coach said. "That was a bit of a surprise. To be completely honest, I didn't think I would be playing him up front. "I think we mismatched with them size-wise with our back and our strikers. I brought him in there as more of a presence to play off of."
Tornaritis picked up the assist on the goal, which is something that Wisbey hopes will continue in the team's upcoming matches.
"Him (Dingle) and Matt haven't had a lot of time together, so they don't have that sort of continuity quite yet," the coach said. "I think overall at this point in the season, we don't want to be doing everything right. We have a lot of lessons to learn."
Sutton had a chance to put the match away in stoppage time on another brilliant strike from the right side by Steele, but Bailey leapt and made the diving tie-preserving save. Bailey came up a bit lame on the play, no update on his condition at this time.
"Jamie has a lot of experience and he made some great saves in the end," the coach said. "It's a positive start for us. I am not disappointed. I am looking forward to continuing the growth of this team. We are going to work towards making the tournament and try to play our best soccer at the end of the year."