WARREN, NJ — The Scotch Plains-Fanwood boys soccer team wasted little time proving the team is much stronger than its No. 10 seed in the state tournament on Tuesday. Ryan Widman scored one minute into the postseason opener against Watchung Hills, and the Raiders fed off of it to win, 2-1, in their first-round game.
Widman, a junior, received a pass from Brogan Quigley then broke free around midfield, beat Watchung Hills’ back line and buried a strike from beyond the six-box the right side.
It was advantage Raiders before the school day had even ended (2 p.m. start time), and remained that way for the following 79 minutes.
“We wanted to set the tone early,” said Widman. “It’s been a dream to play for this team and be in this situation in the state tournament. To be able to put one in that early into my first state tournament game was amazing, because it really helped us get to the win.”
Fueled by the momentum of the score, the Raiders continued to apply pressure on Watchung Hills’ goal, which eventually led to their second score of the afternoon. The result of constant Raider scoring opportunities, the Warriors turned to physical play. In the 51st minute, the Raiders were awarded a penalty kick as the result of contact in the box, and Michael Ferrara converted it by tucking the ball perfectly in the bottom right corner.
At the time, the PK put the Raiders up by a seemingly comfortable score of 2-0.
“I just think we were a much, much better team,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Tom Breznitsky. “In state tournament play, you win and you advance — that’s all you care about.”
Ferrara’s goal proved to be the game-winner because Watchung Hills scored to make things more suspenseful with 10 minutes left to play. Evan Bujnowski took a contested shot from the left flank, and just before goalkeeper Aaron Schack was about to secure it, the ball played a Halloween trick and took a bad hop, bounced over Schack’s hands and rolled all the way to the back of the net.
Chewed up grass and inopportune field conditions didn’t slow down Scotch Plains-Fanwood on offense, however. The Raiders displayed excellent ball movement throughout the match, and nearly scored two more times in a nearly perfectly played first half. Owen Murphy’s strike from 40 yards out sailed just wide and Adam Weiner’s header off a set piece missed the crossbar by inches.
Scotch Plains-Fanwood outshot Watchung Hills, 15-6.
“The last few days in practice, we’ve really been working on short passes and keeping control of the ball, but it was more important on the defensive end,” Widman explained. “The intensity that we had [today], we’ve been working on in practice a lot."
For a 10-minute stretch coming out of halftime, Watchung Hills ramped up its attack. By keeping the ball high in the air, the Warriors created scoring chances and nearly tied the score at one when Lui Davin's header smacked the crossbar and bounced directly in front of the goal line.
“I thought it was a little difficult with their style of play, which was booming balls up in the air,” Breznitsky said. “That is a challenge for the majority of high school players.”
Scotch Plains-Fanwood will deal with an even greater challenge on Friday. In the sectional quarterfinals, the Raiders will visit No. 2 Bridgewater-Raritan, which is undefeated. The Raiders took Bridgewater to double-overtime in September and, as history has proven, are a different team this time of year.
“A seed is just a number,” said Widman. “We can beat any team in this section. We think we’re the best team, and we have confidence and know we have the best players.”