MONTCLAIR, NJ — Season on the line. Ten minutes left. Down by a goal against an undefeated, nationally-ranked opponent in the North Jersey Group 4 state semifinal.
That’s the challenging situation that Scotch Plains-Fanwood found itself in late in the game Wednesday afternoon against Montclair.
It sure looked like the Raiders’ magical season was about to run out as time began to tick away at a freezing Fortunato Field. Then, what happened next will forever live in the Scotch Plains-Fanwood history books.
Just when it seemed as though Montclair was going to advance to the state championship, senior Corinne Lyght scored the equalizer for Scotch Plains-Fanwood with 10:18 left to play. Seven minutes later, sophomore Leah Klurman sent the Raiders to their first ever State final, finishing a set piece from Gabby Aloe with 3:37 remaining in the game to give the Raiders a 2-1 victory over Montclair.
“Score,” Lyght said when asked about the Raiders’ mindset. “We just had to keep going; we couldn’t get frantic even at times when it got a little bit crazy. We just knew that we had to keep composure and get the ball back in the net.”
For decades now, Scotch Plains-Fanwood has consistently been one of the premier girls’ soccer programs in the state. But before this year, the Raiders had never been to a state final. A series of bad luck for years in the State tournament — including a 1-0 loss to Montclair when they were last in the Group semifinal back in 2014 — had always plagued the Raiders, but all of that went away within the span of 10 minutes, 18 seconds Wednesday afternoon.
In that Group 4 State final, the Raiders will play Hunterdon Central -- which knocked off Eastern, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation -- at Kean University on Saturday afternoon at 12:30. Hunterdon Central was one of only two teams to defeat the Raiders this season, but there is no team in the state on a better roll than Scotch Plains-Fanwood right now, and the Raiders will enter that final sky-high with momentum.
“It’s just a crazy feeling,” Klurman said. “I think that this team can make history on Saturday, and I don’t think that anybody has gone this far. Just to get us there and help us do it is an amazing feeling.”
“It’s surreal,” Lyght added. “This was a dream of mine when I was a freshman here. It was a goal of mine to make it to the State finals, and it’s just crazy that it’s actually happened, and that there’s been a lot of great Scotch Plains teams, but we’re the ones to make it there first.”
Without Klurman’s heroics in the 74th minute, however, it’s hard to tell if Scotch Plains-Fanwood would even have been in the position to make history.
With the game tied at one, Scotch Plains-Fanwood drew a set piece down the right flank and sent Gabby Aloe to serve it in. Aloe booted a tremendous ball into the box, and Klurman was there to get a head on it and send the ball to the net, while sending the Raiders to the championship.
“It was a set piece and Gabby had an amazing ball in the box,” Klurman said. “I just had to get a head on it. I knew I had to, so I just ran into it.”
“This is pretty high up there,” Klurman added when ranking this moment among her and her teammates’ top moments playing soccer. “I think that since it’s such a big game, and one of the biggest games that we’ve ever played in high school, it’s just an amazing feeling.”
Klurman’s goal came with Scotch Plains-Fanwood owning all the momentum, still riding high off Lyght’s goal seven minutes earlier.
Down, 1-0, after Claire Manning had scored with 24 minutes left in the game, Scotch Plains-Fanwood never panicked and was able to continue creating chances in the offensive third. The Raiders final broke through in the 70th, when Lyght got played a through ball up the middle of the field. The junior received it, steamed towards the goal, and finished to equalize a game that once looked as though it was going to elude the Raiders.
“The ball got played over and I just had to get past my defender, and just finish it for the team,” Lyght said. “It’s an even game and you now have momentum. We knew that Montclair was going to come out and try to score again, and we couldn’t let that happen.”
Time and time again, the results have proven that Lyght and Klurman are two of the most dynamic players in the state. Klurman has been an absolute force in the state tournament after getting moved up to the midfield from the back line early in the tournament, while Lyght is now a three-year starter and one of the more prolific scorers in program history.
So it’s no wonder that those two are the ones who took over the game when need be Wednesday.
“They’re awesome; I’m really proud of them and the whole team. Leah and Corinne, they’ve come up big for us,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Kevin Ewing. In Union County, there’s not two better players. They are two of the better players in the state, and I think they showed that today.”
Not lost in this is the Raiders’ back line, which tightened up after Montclair’s score and produced arguably the game-saving play with 16 minutes left. Montclair fired off three point-blank shots within a matter of seconds, but multiple Raider defenders and keeper Maya Kessler were able to deflect all and save them for finding twine.
That kept it 1-0 and allowed the Raiders to take the lead minutes later.
“We stayed super composed, and I think our defense did a good job keeping it out of the back,” Klurman said. “They almost had another goal, and we saved it on a really big play. We just knew we had to come back and our defense was really good today.”