WOODBRIDGE, NJ—On a chilly Halloween night, the top-seeded South Brunswick Vikings boys' soccer team collided with the red hot sixth-seeded South Plainfield Tigers, in a gruesome battle for the Greater Middlesex Conference County Championship.
The atmosphere was electric, as parents, students, and fans packed Nicholas A. Priscoe Stadium in Woodbridge, NJ, cheering and screaming at every play made in the match.
The South Brunswick Vikings (16-3-1) ranked #20 in the state, had steam-rolled their way through the tournament with a 6-1 win over J.P. Stevens, followed by an 8-2 win over Old Bridge.
Their most recent win came against the fourth-seeded East Brunswick Bears, one of only three teams to have beaten them all season long.
Midfielder Nasser Aameer provided the assist for teammate, Russel Baskin, to send home the lone goal of the match with eight minutes remaining, defeating the Bears 1-0.
The South Plainfield Tigers (14-6-2), came into the game on a dangerous tear as a dark horse in the tournament. In the first round, they had to take on the eleventh-seeded Sayreville Bombers.
Tied at 3-3 at the end of regulation and overtime, the game was decided in penalty kicks. Captain Jacob Villacres scored the winning penalty kick after goalkeeper, Chris Kuberiet, made two huge saves for his team.
Next, they took down the Monroe Falcons, a team who was previously ranked in the top 20 earlier in the season. Once again, Villacres shined through for his team, assisting Deshai Smith with 15 minutes remaining to put the Tigers past Monroe 1-0.
After defeating North Brunswick 3-0, New Brunswick was waiting for the Tigers in the semi-finals.
The New Brunswick Zebras was undefeated at 18-0, had scored over 100 goals, and were equipped with Kevin Sanchez and Jason Zarate as the most treacherous strikers in all of New Jersey.
The Zebras had thrashed the Tigers 8-0 in their first meeting, then beat them 6-3 to earn the white division championship.
However, this time the Tigers learned their lesson and played to their advantage by utilizing the air -attack, scoring three of their four goals off of headers, and upsetting the Zebras 4-3.
Both the Tigers and the Vikings had the first two rounds off with byes because of their seeding, finally meeting each other in the final as the two best teams among the 31 in the tournament.
The first half was beautiful. Neither team could string together multiple passes to complete a play down the pitch, as the ball was constantly being poked out of a players possession, kicked out of bounds, or stolen on an interception.
Coach Hayston of the Vikings set his team in a 3-4-2-1 formation, utilizing the strong play from midfielders Kieler Knapp, Patrick Grudnik, Kevin Nuñez, Kyle Degroff, and Sergio Caballero.
Caballero was perhaps the most difficult player to steal the ball from, using his finesse and ball handling skill to deliver crisp passes.
This formation setup passes for forwards Nasser Aamer and Jermaine Small to work together and find Knapp running up the sideline. However, many attempts were disrupted by leftback, Ian McCoid.
Leftback Paul Grudnik, centerback Jarret Kean, and rightback Christopher Bobev made it nearly impossible for South Plainfield to breakthrough and allow passes up to Polizzano and Smith.
Leftback Ian McCoid, centerbacks Jacob Alba and Jared Marks, and rightback Jason Cieszkiewicz played more fierce and intense than they had throughout the entire season, not allowing a single goal to slip by them in 100 minutes of soccer against a team that scored an average of 3.6 goals per game.
They anchored Coach Perfilio's 4-4-2 formation, with Jacob Villacres, Richard Marchovecchio, Jake Hoffman, John Correja, and Kurush Yusifiy to work hard both on offense and defense.
The game was all about defense. Neither side was allowing anything to get near their goalkeepers, and if a ball slipped through, it was easily scooped up. Every shot was contested, as strikers could not find a clean look on goal.
The toughest players on the pitch were Christopher Bobev of the Vikings and Jacob Alba of the Tigers, acting as the backbones of their teams with a tenacious mentality and never backing down from any challenge.
The Vikings made good use of the air-attack, forcing Nick Plate to make smart game decisions to anticipate where the ball was going to go.
Ronaldo Solano and Russel Baskin provided sparks off the bench, using their fresh legs to put the Tigers on their heels with their attack.
In the 54th minute of play, Richard Marcovecchio drew first blood for the South Plainfield Tigers on a gorgeous rainbow shot.
On the right sideline, Villacres launched the ball on a throw-in from 35-yards away to within 10-yards from the goal.
Before South Brunswick could get a good foot to it and clear it away, Kurush Yusifiy stole it away like a thief in the night and laid it off to Marcovecchio at the top left of the box.
Cutting past defender Bobev, Marcovecchio created space, and quickly delivered an accurate ball, floating in an arc over the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper and into the back right of the net. Goooollllaaaazzzzoooo!
"I just saw the opportunity. I saw the space and I just hit it as hard as I can, and it went in the top corner," Marcovecchio told New Brunswick Today.
"It was definitely a momentum boost. I thought they were dominating possession and then that kind of switched it up, we all celebrated, and everyone was pumped up to win."
"I thought we played great on defense. That team is very good in the air, and we shut them down."
Ten minutes later, Keiler Knapp sent in a corner-kick which bounced fast off the ground and onto the arm off Jake Hoffman. The Tigers were called for a hand-ball inside the box, awarding the Vikings a penalty-kick.
With a golden opportunity at hand, every Viking player looked to find Patrick Grudnik to provide the equalizer.
Stepping up to the challenge, Grudnik fired a hard shot into the bottom left corner of the goal and tied the game at 1-1 with 19 minutes remaining.
With four minutes left, John Boyce was able to send a through-ball over to Deshai Smith. Using his speed, Smith broke free from the defense, silencing the South Brunswick fans as their hearts dropped into their stomachs.
With a hard shot, Arvind Swarminathen blocked the it, but had to stay on his feet to chase down the rebound before Smith could get his foot to it.
As Smith tried to let another shot rip, Swarminathen dove out after the ball, making another huge save for his team.
Putting his body on the line for his team, Swarminathen was injured and could not return, leaving backup goalkeeper, Jake Foeldes, to finish the job.
After regulation, the teams played in two 10-minute overtime periods with the golden goal rule in effect.
However, both teams locked down on defense like they had all game long, which resulted in a draw and both teams being declared county champs.
After 100 solid minutes of soccer, both the Vikings and the Tigers looked like they still wanted to continue playing. Each team played their hearts out and gave it everything they had.
Both teams held their heads high and were proud of how their performed.
Coach Perfilio said, "For South Plainfield to win a county title is magnificent. I think the last time we were even in a county championship was about 50 years ago, and to now be crowned as a county champion, whether as a co-champion or not, it's beautiful, I'll take it any day of the week."
South Brunswick Vikings
Goals: Patrick Grudnik (PK) 63rd minute
South Plainfield Tigers
Goals: Richard Marcovecchio 54th minute
Assists: Kurush Yusifiy 54th minute