Millburn nearly scores the game-tying goal in the final seconds of the Group 3 final.
Robert Aitken Jr., Staff Writer, @RobertAitkenJr
UNION – A few inches. That’s how close the Ocean Township High School boys soccer team was from losing its state final lead with only a few seconds remaining in the game.
The Spartans grabbed a late one-goal lead in the 72nd minute on a James Schutz goal and had their first state title since 1996 and only the second in school history in their sights.
But a wild sequence in the dwindling seconds almost took that away from them.
Ocean Township senior goalkeeper aggressively chased down Millburn’s Alex Migoya in an attempt to corral the ball. The two collided which left a wide open net as the ball trickled into the 18. Alfie Smith had a perfect opportunity to tie the score at one with about 14 seconds left in the game to force overtime. But his shot glanced just off the right post.
Their hearts might have skipped a beat, or maybe several, but the Spartans held on for a 1-0 victory over the Millers in the Group III final on Saturday at Kean University.
“The minute I stop playing aggressively and I have doubt creep in my mind, that’s when I’ll make a mistake or not get a ball,” Winters said. “Once he got the ball past me, he grabbed my head and threw it into the ground a little bit, so I couldn’t get up. Right when I got up, I saw him hit it off the post. Once the ball was cleared, I knew that was it.”
The state title was a perfect way to cap off the high school careers of Ocean Township’s strong senior class. They made it a point of leaving their mark this season after falling in last year’s Shore Conference Tournament and Central Group III finals.
The Spartans (21-3-1) beat CBA in a thrilling overtime battle in this year’s SCT final, they edged Colts Neck in the Central Group III final this fall, and now they have a state title.
“For everything we’ve been through, we fell short in so many things last year, it broke our hearts,” Ocean Township senior back Zack Sintic said. “To come back as seniors and in our last high school game ever, to get the state championship, it’s unreal. I’m so happy for all these boys, I love them so much.”
Ocean Township took a 1-0 lead late in the game on its own wild sequence. Senior midfielder Luke Yates ripped a shot on goal, but Millburn goalkeeper Zach Barr made a save. The ball rebounded directly to senior Leonardo Montesinos, who was on the right side of the net, but his shot was also saved by Barr.
Montesinos collected the ball in the right corner after Barr’s second save. He sent a perfect cross into the box where Schutz headed it past Barr as the Spartans took a 1-0 lead.
“When I saw the ball go in, I had so much joy,” Schutz said. “I didn’t know what to do.”
Through the first 50 minutes of the game, the Ocean Township offensive attack looked nonexistent. The Spartans did not get a single shot on goal during that time.
But then Ocean Township senior Santieno Harding fired a rocket that sailed a mere inches over the crossbar in the 52nd minute. The near miss seemed to awaken something within the Spartans because from that moment on, they sent shot after shot at Barr.
The radical turnaround peaked with Schutz’s game-winner. Ocean Township was a completely different team in the ladder part of the second half.
“Once Santieno got the rip that went just over the crossbar, I thought he got confident because they kind of shut him down in the first half, but you can’t contain him for a whole 90,” Sintic said. “Ten minutes later, he hit one wide, and we started getting momentum. We felt like we were going to get one.”
The Spartans are no strangers to coming alive late in key games. Harding and Schutz scored back-to-back goals late in regulation to give Ocean Township a momentary 2-1 lead against Holmdel in the SCT semifinals. Montesinos scored a golden goal in the 94th minute of the SCT final against CBA. It was Ocean Township’s only shot on goal that night.
Those kinds of theatrics made Ocean Township’s state title run seem almost inevitable and meant to be. The roster is full of seniors who have been together in the same Ocean soccer programs their whole lives.
It was the play of those seniors in the state final and all season long that makes this year’s Ocean Township team one of the best in school history.
“I think it’s a hall of fame team as far as Spartan history is concerned,” Ocean Township coach John Terlecsky said. “I’ve seen a lot of soccer here, and I think this team is the best in school history.”
Daniel LoGiudice: @danny_logiudice; firstname.lastname@example.org.