SCOTCH PLAINS, NJ – The Scotch Plains-Fanwood Raiders had two things on their mind Thursday afternoon: Get revenge on the Elizabeth Minutemen and get head soccer coach Thomas Breznitsky his 700th victory.
They accomplished both, as Rob Devine-Gelling netted the game-winning goal in overtime, giving the Raiders a victory in their first game against the Minutemen since their loss in the state sectional Group 4 semifinals last year. The goal also gave Breznitsky a victory for the 700th time since his first year at the helm in 1975.
Ten minutes into the game, the Raiders put up the first goal of the afternoon on Ryan Peterson’s strike past Elizabeth goalie Youkendly Pacius.
The Minutemen stopped the Raiders’ momentum seven minutes later, when Christopher Mathurin broke away from two Raider defenders to pass the ball off to Billy Mendoza, who put the ball above SP-F goalie Sean Murray to knot up the score at one.
Neither team mustered up a serious scoring threat in the final 23 minutes of the half.
It took under a minute for the intensity to start in the second half.
Sean Murray made a diving save on a point-blank strike from Elizabeth in the game’s 39th minute, and within seconds, Tommy DeVizio was breaking away from defenders with a prime scoring opportunity.
DeVizio missed an open strike, as the ball sailed over the goal.
There was more heartbreak for the Raiders later on in the second half, as John Murphy hit the right post in the 65th minute, and DeVizio hit the same pole in the 11th minute.
“I really thought that there should’ve been a penalty,” Breznitsky said of a couple of questionable no-calls late in the second half.
Both teams failed to score in the final minutes of the second half, sending the game into overtime.
“[Our] kids work very, very hard with fitness,” Breznitsky said of the grueling nature of an overtime soccer match. “I said ‘They [Elizabeth] are going to run out of gas,’ and halfway through the second half, I said ‘Come on boys, the tank’s empty’.”
The game almost ended in the fourth minute of overtime, when DeVizio’s shot attempt was stopped by a diving Pacius, who had to pause for a few seconds after momentarily saving the game for the Minutemen.
Then came Rob Devine-Gelling.
The senior forward had the ball and saw an opening, and took it all the way to the back of the net to give the Raiders the victory.
“I wasn’t really thinking about anything besides just scoring and getting home, because going into overtime is the most annoying thing,” said Devine-Gelling, the man they call “RDG.”
He knew his goal was significant in two enormous ways.
“It felt very good because his 700th win means a lot to him, and it means a lot to us as players, because he’s been a very hard-working coach for many years,” said Devine-Gelling.
He also credited the home team fans for the victory, saying, “Our Raider Nation section was behind us and was a little extra motivation.”
A substantial post-game ceremony for Breznitsky followed the conclusion of the match, and the coach reflected on his milestone.
“700 wins means longevity – that you’ve been here a while. But my legacy [has] so many things to be proud of,” Breznitsky said.
The coach credited all players, past and present, his family and the Board of Education for his success.
Breznitsky and the Raiders look to advance to a 5-0 record on Saturday, when they square off against Union at 3 p.m. at SPFHS.
All photos by Matt Kipp.