It was the most important soccer game of his life and the heel of Owen Hoffman’s cleat was falling off.
Hoffman, an Ellington senior who holds the school’s career scoring record, tried to tape the heel back on with athletic tape that his coach threw to him on the field but the tape fell off quickly. He tried to run on his toes so he wouldn’t slip on the artificial turf field at Trinity Health Stadium.
And his team was losing – once again – in the Class M state tournament championship game. Ellington had lost in the finals in 2018, 2019. There was no state tournament in 2020. The Purple Knights lost again in the finals last year.
But his senior teammate Ethan Mallett scored with 2:55 left to tie the score and send the game into overtime and Hoffman was able to borrow one of his teammate’s cleats. He scored on a penalty kick with 1:13 left in the first overtime and top-seeded Ellington won the title, 2-1, over seventh-seeded Weston Saturday afternoon in double overtime.
“This is my third time here,” Hoffman said. “They always say third time’s the charm and that happened today.
“I’m happy we finally got the win. It’s the best feeling in the world I’ve ever had.”
Ellington lost in 2018 to Plainville 1-0 in the Class M final. The Purple Knights lost to Stonington 1-0 in 2019. Last year, Stonington beat Ellington 3-1.
“We finally won,” Ellington coach Pat Gosselin said. “We’ve talked about it. It’s one thing to avoid [talking about losing], to be superstitious about it.
“We knew going into this game that we had a great season, but they wanted this, they stepped up and took care of it and now we can all take a deep breath and stop saying, ‘Here we go again…’”
Weston took a 1-0 lead when Casper Leary scored on a breakaway with 25:47 left in the second half and Ellington struggled to control the ball against Weston. Things weren’t looking good for Ellington.
“We were worried all day,” Gosselin said. “We went to breakfast this morning and we were worried. We were worried all last night. That was a really good team, with really really good players.
“We knew that’s what this was going to be, in a state final. You just got to raise your level and stick with it. We weren’t down and out when we went down. That’s the thing I’m most proud of – we battled back, we fought back, we believed and it happened.”
Meanwhile, Hoffman was struggling with his shoe. He had been running to the ball and stopped and the heel came loose.
“I tried to keep pushing it back on,” he said. “I tried to use tape but that didn’t work, then it fully came off at the end of the second half so in overtime, I changed cleats quick.
“When the whole thing came off, it was very slippery out there, so I tried to stay on my toes and not use my heels.”
That was the cleat he used for the penalty kick, which he poked to the right of goalkeeper Edward Maglione, who guessed left.
“I think it’s one size smaller,” Hoffman said. “It felt a little weird. That was the one I kicked the PK with. Yeah, it’s Rick’s [cleat], shout out to Rick.”
Lori Riley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.