WEST HAVEN, Conn. — Before Wednesday night's Class M tournament semifinal game, the Suffield boys soccer team had allowed just three goals all season and trailed in only one game.
Stonington High's plan was to pressure the Wildcats, grab control of the game quickly and put them in a situation they haven't experienced this season.
The third-seeded Bears did just that, scoring three goals in the first 20 minutes en route to steamrolling the No. 2 Wildcats, 4-0, at Ken Strong Stadium.
Stonington will face No. 12 Ellington in the state title game on Saturday at 2 p.m. at Dillon Stadium in Hartford. Ellington beat No. 8 Ledyard, 3-2 in overtime, in Wednesday's other semifinal.
The Stonington-Ellington game will be a rematch of the 2019 Class M final, which Stonington won 1-0.
The Bears (20-1) grabbed control against Suffield (18-2) just 1:12 into the contest when senior back Cole DeVoe scored from about 50 yards away on a direct kick that sailed in the air to the right corner of the goal. It was his first goal of the season.
"I was just trying to put it in a place where somebody else could score, and it happened to fly by Sammy [Montalto] and ended up in the back of the net," DeVoe said. "Will [Sawin] and I were talking the other day and Will was saying, 'What am I going to do when I celebrate [a goal]?' And I said, 'What am I going to do when I celebrate?' And Will said, 'You're not gonna score.'"
DeVoe said it was important to score early.
"We definitely wanted to come out and score first and deliver a statement," DeVoe said. "I think we made a statement today. The ECC isn't anything to take lightly and neither are the Stonington Bears."
Stonington added its second goal about eight minutes later when Montalto tapped in a corner kick by Sawin. A long throw-in by DeVoe to the near post had forced Suffield to head the ball out of bounds, creating the corner-kick opportunity for Sawin.
"Sam and Wynn [Hammond] always give me a hard time that I don't always hit the ball back post," Sawin said. "No one can guard us back post and we had a tap-in. Our goal was to make sure we got a lead early.
"They don't really know what it's like to be down so we wanted to put them under that pressure as fast as we could, and luckily we put three in in the first 20."
Sawin then delivered one of the best goals of the season with 21:45 left in the first half.
As the teams were setting up for a corner kick, Sawin delivered the ball much sooner than expected, catching Suffield off guard. The ball was headed for the net, but the Suffield goalie did manage to get a hand on it as it sailed across the goal line.
"I saw the goalie off his line a few steps and I thought why not have a shot. His back was turned to me when I hit it," Sawin said.
Sawin had executed a similar quick strike on a direct kick in the playoff win over Tolland.
Stonington coach Paul deCastro said the goal was something special.
"It takes unbelievable awareness to think of that," deCastro said. 'It's not easy to put in a corner kick in the goal. He saw the goalie was sleeping and he's done that in two state tournament games. It's unbelievable — that's next-level thinking. Not a lot of players would have done that."
Stonington finished with 13 shots, eight of them on target in the first half. Suffield had three shots, all of them on goal. Stonington goalie Brandon Tavares pushed the one decent chance the Warriors had over the crossbar.
Stonington pressured Suffield all over the field, giving them little time to generate a sustained attack.
"That was the game plan. We didn't give them a lot of time, and I think it worked really well," deCastro said.
Stonington added a final goal about 14 minutes into the second half when Sawin used his superior foot skills to play a ball to Montalto for a goal about 8 yards from net. Sawin now has 23 goals and 26 assists. Montalto has 34 goals.
The pair left the game about six minutes later.
Now it's time to compete for another title. The Bears will enter the championship game having won 20 straight since dropping their season opener to Ledyard.
"It's what we been working for all season, really all four seasons to have another shot at a title," Sawin said.