PATERSON, NJ - Family members, friends, and fans gathered at Pennington Park to honor eight seniors of John F. Kennedy’s varsity soccer squad, on Tuesday evening. Prior to the opening kick, one by one, Jesus Alvarez, Richard Castro, Emmanuel Hincapie, Jesus Martinez, Jesse Mendieta, Justin Pajuelo, Anthony Diaz, and Juan Estaban Cornejo, were escorted by parents or relatives to receive their senior awards.
The pageantry proved to set the table for what would prove to be a most spectacular contest.
Visiting Passaic was able to notch a pair of goals in the first half to craft a 2-0 lead but the Knights offered a furious comeback after intermission only to fall short by the narrowest of margins. 4-3. Late in the game, with victory or loss in the balance, a most unusual set of circumstances unfolded.
Down by one score with time running out, Knights’ freshman Criss Oscoto frantically dribbled down the left sideline toward Passaic’s goal only to be challenged by Indians’ goalkeeper, Pablo Carino, who had vacated the net area. The two violently collided and both fell to the turf, each one writhing in pain. Play halted as the capacity crowd stood to their feet, expecting a referee’s whistle to sound.
However, in what seemed to be suspended animation, players and coaches from both sides waited, waited, and waited some more for a call, any call, to be made. Still stunned. but finally realizing that no foul would be signaled, like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed at the end of 15 rounds, Oscoto and Carino ignored the pain and slowly rose off the canvas to kick the ball and signal to everyone present that the show must go on.
The scenario was characteristic of the competitive nature of the entire, climatic struggle.
Early on, despite a pass interception by Castro, Passaic junior midfielder Alejandro Cuacuil found fellow junior Andre Ruiz in front of the net who managed to evade a wild scramble of JFK defenders and connect for the first score of the night.
Kennedy’s Christopher Chavarria and the Indians’ Bryan Perez collided and the Knights were awarded a free, 20-yard kick but the shot flew just high, right. Soon thereafter, Passaic was awarded their own free boot as the effort found the net but the apparent score by freshman forward Daniel Cuacuil (younger brother of Alejandro) was nullified due to a penalty.
After JFK’s Pajuelo and sophomore teammate Jesus Martinez foiled an opponent’s fast break attempt and Hincapie booted the ball out of bounds, teammate Danny Gutirrez found Hincapie in front of the net but his attempt missed the mark.
Hincapie, Pajeulo, and Marinez played keep away at midfield but were unable to advance. Diaz was able to brilliantly break up a Passaic scoring threat in front of the Indians’ goal but sophomore back Edward Flores responded for the Indians with a dribble-drive to the net for a near score. A long downfield boot by Passaic sophomore back Edward Flores was followed by a nifty sidekick by Ruiz but the ball flew out of bounds. After a skirmish between Cornejo and Cuacuil (Daniel) resulted in a tangle of bodies, Passaic was granted a penalty kick but the shot by junior forward Jimmy Gonzalez sailed wide right.
Following a pair of long boots past midfield by JFK goalie, Brando Parra, Castro and Passaic sophomore Jesse Garcia engaged in a fierce duel down the sideline but the goal attempt by Kennedy’s midfielder flew wide left. After Parra rifled a long, sidearm pass to defray a Passaic rally, Garcia again answered by dribbling down the right sideline and turning the corner but slid out of bounds before a shot could be attempted.
After the two squads traded inbound passes on the far side, Martinez and the elder Cuacuil jockeyed for position at midfield while waiting for a high, pop-fly kick to descend. The Knights were able to gain possession and surge upfield only to see a promising shot on goal stymied by a sensational, diving save by Indians’ goaltender Timothy Orlando and a subsequent, similar attempt by Castro also fall inches short. After a promising three-on-two fast break by Passaic was nullified by an offside whistle, senior midfielder Victor Carpio delivered an electrifying slide/block for the Indians.
Taking no break, Daniel Cuacuil and Mendieta clashed at midfield, the visitors were awarded a free kick on their far sideline but the subsequent shot went out of bounds. Another potentially potent Indians’ shot on goal, this one from 15 yards away and directly in front of the net, barely missed by skimming the goal post’s top crossbar. The Indians then caught the Kennedy defense napping as a successful pass connection resulted in a shot on goal which barely eluded a diving Parra for a score. Mendieta and Passaic senior Kevin Miranda then rumbled near midfield but the first half horn sounded with the Indians enjoying a 2-0 lead. However, any fans that left during intermission thinking the game was over, were sadly mistaken.
To begin the final period, after a misplaced Passaic kick sailed into the stands, the Knights offense turned full throttle as only a spectacular Passaic header was able to stop an inbounds, JFK, deep in the corner, bullet from finding an accomplice in front of the net. However, on the next series, a line drive kick from the sidelines was headed into the net by JFK for a score which narrowed Passaic’s lead to 3-1.
Another Knights' offensive rally was quelled by Cuacuil (the younger) but an interception at midfield by Paterson’s sophomore forward Luis Portillo led to a downfield duel with Perez who stymied any shot attempt. Castro then engaged in a dramatic one-on-one battle with Orlando to the left of the net but his shot richoteched away.
Kennedy continued to flood Passaic’s defensive end but a shot, right, sailed out of bounds as only stellar ball control by Perez at midfield kept the Knights at bay. The Indians’ sophomore forward Jimmy Gonzalez was awarded a penalty kick but the 20-yard effort flew well high over the crossbar. Passaic senior back Roberto Garcia followed up a long kick with a shot on goal but was denied by Cornejo. After the ball was awarded to Kennedy following a tussle between Gutirrez and Ruiz, Perez headed a long, high kick at midfield but the Knights were tagged with a tripping foul which eventually led to Passaic’s final goal of the evening, a low shot which found the left of the twine.
The Knights followed with a furious convoy, led by sophomore back Johann Sanchez and Martinez, which resulted in the ball stopping directly in front of the goal but quickly being booted into the net. The score set the stage for dynamic action from JFK’s Portillo, the leading scorer in North Jersey.
Awarded a penalty kick from ten yards in front of the Passaic goal, Portillo went one-on-one with the Indians’ goalie. As fans from both sides collectively held their breaths, the JFK forward’s bullet to the left of the net found its mark. The play elevated suspense, leaving the Indians clinging to a precarious 4-3 lead.
On the next exchange between the two squads, Passaic’s Ruiz was injured and lay motionless on the field for several minutes. However, the courageous junior was able to limp off to the sidelines to warm applause by fans from both sides. Carpio and Martinez traded long boots as the former followed with a free kick which was stopped by Parra. A sensational downfield duel between Escoto and Carpio saw the Kennedy shot sail into the outstretched arms of Orlando but Parra returned the favor with another outstanding save of his own. The Knights’ Mario Arias and Daniel Cuacuil grappled directly in front of the press box as the home squad desperately attempted to score. A final JFK shot, as time expired, barely missed to the right of the goal, resulting in the final tally.
Kennedy travels to play Summit on October 29 and returns home to face off against Lakeland on Saturday, October 31, at 10 a.m.
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