The pattern had been simple enough for the Central boys soccer team this season.
The Hilltoppers routinely dominated opponents throughout the run of play, but their failure to convert chances into goals left the team losing games and outside of last week's FCIAC tournament.
Approaching the hour mark of Monday afternoon's Class LL first-round tournament game at No. 7 Fairfield Prep, the pattern was on the verge of repeating itself with No. 26 Central trailing by a goal. Central, however, kept its nerve and rallied behind senior Edir Da Graca to pull off a 2-1 victory at Alumni Field.
"We consider ourselves unlucky," Central coach Jay Silverman said. "We outplay everybody and today we finally got the breaks we needed."
Part of those breaks were the conditions, highlighted by a strong, cold, consistent wind blowing across the field in one direction leaving it more suitable for extreme kite-flying than playoff soccer.
All three of the games goals were scored with the wind at the offense's back, which Central had in the second half.
Fairfield Prep (12-4-3) began with the wind on its side, but it was Central with the game's early chances, with Da Graca tip-toeing through the defense and blasting a shot that Jesuits keeper Will Steiner knocked away at the 20-minute mark. Two minutes later Da Graca was again poised to break the deadlock, but his long, low shot was cleared off the line by Prep defender Michael Gould.
The Jesuits didn't get a shot on target until the 25th minute, but they made it count when Stephen Tortora headed in Tim Frassetto's long free kick near midfield, squeezing it inside the left post past Hilltoppers keeper J.P. Manzo.
"We were hoping to get to the half 0-0," Silverman said. "We knew with the wind we'd have a better shot."
The Hilltoppers (8-6-2) got that shot handed to them on a silver platter, earning a 47th minute penalty kick for a Prep handball inside the penalty area. Da Graca stepped up, but rocketed an attempt well over the crossbar and into the brick building positioned behind the field.
Five minutes later Da Graca made up for his miss from the spot, bull-rushing through the Prep defense and placing a shot into the upper right netting to tie the game at 1-1.
"We knew we had the game. In the second half we talked how we have to play hard," Central defensive midfielder Jenilo Soares said. "We've dominated games and ended up losing."
There would be no loss for Central this time.
With eight minutes left in regulation Da Graca and his brother Antonio found themselves breaking away from the pack and streaking up the field for a 2-on-2 situation with the Prep defense. Edir Da Graca slipped the ball through the Prep defenders, weighting it for his brother to run onto at the left edge of the penalty area, which he then accurately placed in the corner past Steiner.
Prep came close to equalizing two minutes later when David Bruton curled in a free kick from the right side, but the header by Prep inside the box sailed wide of the back post.
"The second half, we didn't show up. We know what we should have done, but we didn't execute," Prep coach Ryan Lyddy said. "In the first half we didn't shoot the ball enough.
"I'm proud of my guys for what we did in the regular season, we just couldn't pull it off today."
Central advances to play the winner of today's No. 10 Xavier/No. 23 Southington game on Thursday.