FAIRFIELD — When the final horn sounded, nearly all of the Fairfield Prep soccer players fell to their knees, several pulling their jerseys over their faces in disbelief. A cold drizzle that had been falling for most of the game only made the feeling worse.

Rocketing out the gates, the Jesuits needed just 11 minutes to open a two-goal lead and hold all the momentum in its first-round Class LL matchup against Pomperaug on Monday afternoon at Rafferty Stadium.

But the Panthers are a resilient bunch and thanks to a fluke goal with five minutes left in the first half that tied the game, it was Pomperaug that made the plays it needed to make in the second half to come away with a 4-3 victory, ending the Jesuits’ season.

“We just kept working hard. I told them at the beginning of the game that Prep was a very good team and it was going to take 110 percent to beat them,” Pomperaug coach Joe Mancini said. “And that’s what we got. The boys worked hard and when you work that hard, you deserve this.”

Pomperaug, the No. 24 seed, improves to 9-7-2 and advances into the second round to face No. 8 Hall on Wednesday. Prep finishes at 12-4-4.

“It’s a tough thing to swallow,” Prep coach Ryan Lyddy said. “The nice thing is, the seniors, they did a great job this year. They had a great record, there were no issues on the team, we got better every day, but this just wasn’t our night.”

In the opening 11 minutes it sure seemed as if it would be the Jesuits’ night. Matthew Chiota scored just 38 seconds into the match and 10 minutes later, Alex Whammond scored to make it 2-0.

But Pomperaug didn’t quit. Jack O’Brien raced down the left side, beat a pair of Prep defenders and put a sharp angle shot past Jesuit keeper Everett Lyone in the 19th minute to cut the margin to 2-1. Then, with 5:23 left before halftime, Lyons misplayed a ball that Harrison McQuillan controlled and put in the back of the net to make it 2-2 at halftime and give the Panthers a huge lift.

“That was big. I think that was the turning point,” Mancini said. “I think it helped the guys believe that we could win the game.”

“That was huge,” Lyddy added.” It was just a mistake, a bad thing to happen to Everett, but it wasn’t our night. After that happened, the momentum definitely changed. They were kind of pressing us a little bit, we were on our heels.”

Still, Prep came out on the offensive and had several solid scoring chances early in the second half, with Whammond having no fewer than three solid opportunities and Kevin Oricoli banging one off the post.

“We started to try some desperate Hail Mary’s and we started using the wings a little bit, to open some stuff up,” Lyddy said. “We had some great shots, a lot of chances. Their keeper played very well.”

With 18 minutes left, Whammond’s second goal of the game gave Prep a 3-2 lead — for just over two minutes before Pomperaug’s Cole Phaneuf scored to tie matters at 3-3. Then just over a minute later, Phaneuf sent a cross into the box that Zachary McGettigan headed home to put the Panthers in front to stay.

“This could have been the last night for the seniors and we didn’t want that, so we pushed back,” Phaneuf said. “We fought as a team and we came out with the win.”

PLAYER OF THE GAME

Pomperaug’s Cole Phaneuf. He scored the tying goal in the second half and assisted on the game-winner with 13:40 left to play as the No. 24 seeded Panthers stunned the No. 9 seeded Jesuits.

QUOTABLE

“We just did what we had to do to squeak by. We used our strengths, we have some speed up top and we used that … a lot.” — Pomperaug coach Joe Mancini

celsberry@ctpost.com

POMPERAUG 4, FAIRFIELD PREP 3

POMPERAUG 2 2—4

FAIRFIELD PREP 2 1—3

Records: Pomperaug 9-7-2; Fairfield Prep 12-4-4. Goals: FP—Alex Whammond 2, Matthew Chiota; P—Jack O’Brien, Harrison McQuillian, Cole Phaneuf, Zach McGettigan. Assists:P—Michael Kowalasky, Pheneuf. Shots: Shots: FP—12, P—7. Saves: FP— Everett Lyons (3); P—Elijah Hoedl (9)