NEW CANAAN -- The 13 seniors on the Norwalk High School boys soccer team have been forced to live the past three years with the label of being the most talented squad not to win a postseason title.
It was the equivalent of winning Miss Congeniality at a beauty pageant.
"The past couple of years we've been known as the best team in the regular season," said Andrew Melitsanopoulos, a three-year starter. "We knew we were good enough, but for some reason the pieces didn't fall."
Even three weeks ago, when success did come, the Bears had to share the FCIAC co-championship because the league was forced to postpone the final in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
With a last chance at closure on Friday morning, Norwalk went all out and, in a dominant performance, finally found that elusive sense of fulfillment with a 2-0 win over Fairfield Prep in the CIAC Class LL title game.
It was the top-seeded Bears' first state championship since 1966.
"It feels amazing," Melitsanopoulos said. "We put in so much work over the summer and the offseason, and after all the adversity and hardships we faced, we had to get at least one."
Melitsanopoulos scored on a penalty kick in the 31st minute as Norwalk (21-1-1) was the far superior side in the first half, controlling possession and playing a short passing game to open space.
Santiago Muriel, the best player on the field all game, was often the catalyst orchestrating plays.
"He played phenomenally," Norwalk coach Chris Laughton said. "He's had a great year. He's gotten better with every game and he was the difference maker today."
The Bears tried to serve the occasional long ball to spring their top scorer, Kevin Joslyn. And the Norwalk forwards were effective pressuring the Prep backfield, which did an excellent job to keep the halftime deficit to one goal.
"We wanted to take it to them," Laughton said. "We didn't want to sit back. We wanted to be aggressors from the start, and we did that in the first half. We were fortunate to get a goal and I thought we could have had a few others."
Melitsanopoulos had converted a penalty kick against the Jesuits' outstanding keeper in a preseason game.
"I was so nervous going against him," Melitsanopoulos said. "I was lucky to get it past him today."
Norwalk's clinching goal was beautiful soccer, with Nacho Navarro, back after missing the semifinal win over Stamford due to a hamstring injury, alone in front, converting a touch pass from Joslyn in the 78th minute.
Prior to Navarro's goal, the Bears faced some anxious moments, as No. 3 Prep (20-3-1) picked up its pace in the first 20 minutes of the second half, taking six shots.
Norwalk goalkeeper Svet Kozak stopped a header by Stephen Tortora and, after Austin Sims was taken down just outside the box, David Bruton struck a shot that caromed off of Norwalk's nine-player wall.
"I'm very proud of what they did in the second half," said Prep coach Ryan Lyddy, whose team was making its first state final appearance in the sport. "We took them totally out of their game. We were down here on the attack 90 percent of the time. It's unfortunate we couldn't put one in."
The most exciting sequence came in the 68th minute, when Sims hit the post off a long throw in by Tim Frassetto. Norwalk quickly went on a transition attack, and Navarro got free on a breakaway, but he was stopped by Steiner when he attempted to dribble around him rather than shooting.
"Disappointed is a word that you want to use, but I'm just so happy for the seniors that got us this far," Lyddy said.
In the end, the Bears, reputed as the state's best team this fall, finally was able to take home a championship trophy rather than live with a mythical title.
"These guys have been through a lot," Laughton said. "It was great to see them come out and finish off the season the way that we wanted to."
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FAIRFIELD PREP 0
PREP 0 0--0
NORWALK 1 1--2
Records: Fairfield Prep 20-3-1; Norwalk 21-1-1
Goals: N--Andrew Melitsanopoulos, Nacho Navarro. Assists: N--Kevin Joslyn. Goalies: FP--Will Steiner (4 saves); N--Svet Kozak (6 saves). Shots: FP--10; N--10