SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — Tears were shed as sadness engulfed Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s bench late Thursday. The Raiders’ season had just ended in upset to Elizabeth in the sectional final. It was the first — and only — time the Raiders lost all season.
With Elizabeth and its fans storming the pitch as the backdrop, Raiders head coach Tom Breznitsky formally spoke to his team and then gave them the option to leave. An option to symbolically bring a spectacular season to a close. For some, an option to leave the Wexler Field pitch in uniform one last time.
For over 20 minutes, not one person moved.
“That was up to them,” Breznitsky said.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood didn’t want to leave. The ending was too sad and sudden for a team that aspired to win a state championship, and came only three wins away from doing so. But, long after everyone else had cleared out, reality set it.
Youkendly Pacius scored what proved to be the game-winner two minutes after Henry Chaves broke a scoreless deadlock as No. 2-seeded Elizabeth stunned No. 1 Scotch Plains-Fanwood, 2-1, to win the North 2, Group 4 sectional title Thursday afternoon at Wexler Field. All of the scoring came within a six-minute span starting in the 51st minute.
As soon as Elizabeth started celebrating, Pacius also made it a point to go over to the Raiders’ bench, hugging and consoling his Scotch Plains brethren in a sign of mutual respect.
“I love this team [Scotch Plains-Fanwood],” Pacius told TAPinto.net. “I always have respect for them — their coaches, their players — but especially their players. They’re like a top-tier team, and they play aggressive… They’re kids, we’re kids, and we’re playing.”
Both teams played to a 1-1 draw in their only meeting this year, and a rematch in the sectional finals was circled on the calendar as soon as the sectional pairings came out. It was a tight game all around, but Elizabeth broke a scoreless deadlock in the 51st minute and never looked back.
“I wanted a rematch so bad,” Pacius said. “We were trying to play them again, but they said there was no time. I was hoping to meet them, and we did. Then we made history happen.”
That history happened in a quick and stunning manner.
Henry Chaves played a through ball into the goal 11 minutes into the second half to give Elizabeth a lead it wouldn’t relent. Just two minutes later, Pacius headed in a corner kick from Chaves after a shot went off the hands of Raiders keeper Danny Coyle to set up the corner, making it 2-0 and stunning the standing-room-only crowd.
As it played out, Pacius’ header was the game-winner. Johnny Koseoglu would convert a PK to make it 2-1 five minutes later, but the Raiders wouldn’t be able to equalize as a result of the Pacius goal.
“The second goal is scored as a result of it went through the middle – and I’m not blaming any of our other midfielders – but Joey had to come off after getting kicked or punched in the face,” Breznitsky said. “It just happened that way. It’s a little bit of fate; what can you say.”
While the largest emotion on Scotch Plains-Fanwood’s side is heartbreak, there is some anger added as well. Again in a do-or-die game, the Raiders were shortchanged by questionable officiating. The first time, it cost them a county tournament. This time, it cost them their season.
Just 15 minutes in, Koseoglu finished a rebounded shot off Elizabeth keeper Stephen Valencia into the net. That appeared to give the Raiders a 1-0 lead, but the celebration was short-lived. Koseoglu was called offsides, negating the goal.
The Raiders can only wonder what could’ve been had that call not been made. If it counted, Koseoglu’s PK would’ve then equalized the score, sending it to overtime, and potentially saving the season.
“There’s no way in God’s name you call that goal offsides,” Breznitsky said. “The sad part of it is, the kids work so hard, and a lot of these guys work for their entire life to be on this pitch and have the success we have. That’s twice now. People may say it’s sour grapes, but… it can kill you.”
“Anytime you step on a field, the possibility exists that you could lose a match,” Breznitsky added. “They’re not a horrible team. It is disappointing that, of the games we did not win, all were predicated by decisions that officials made.”