SCOTCH PLAINS/FANWOOD — After suffering an injury in a recent game against Cranford, Scotch Plains-Fanwood senior Dean Kirian’s status of playing in Saturday’s county quarterfinal match against Oratory Prep was, to say the least, questionable. 

“It was questionable about him playing today — I didn’t think he was,” said Scotch Plains-Fanwood head coach Tom Breznitsky. “But he wants it so much. He came up to me and said, ‘I went to the doctor and the doctor thinks I can play’. This was on Friday; he went to the doctor Thursday night.”

Kirian willed himself to get back out on the pitch for Saturday, and boy are the Raiders ever glad he did. The senior came through to score the game-winning goal in the 62nd minute, breaking a 2-2 deadlock and giving the No. 4-seeded Raiders a 3-2 triumph over No. 12 Oratory Prep in the Union County Tournament (UCT) quarters Saturday afternoon at Wexler Field. Classmate Ryan Widman had scored the equalizer seven minutes earlier, as the Raiders overcame a 2-1 halftime deficit against a determined Oratory squad.

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The Raiders advance to play Top-Seeded Elizabeth in the semifinals next weekend, time and location TBD. 

“I can’t say enough about Dean Kirian,” Breznitsky said. “He just goes out and he gives 100 percent 1000 percent of the time. He gives it every second. He really wants it. I’ve been tremendously pleased with him.”

“The guys didn’t want to lose a county game, especially in the first round,“ Breznitsky added. “You can’t ask the kids any more than to give your ever-lasting breath out there on the field and hope that it works out for you. The better team won today.”

Nerves were certainly at a high level before a packed Wexler Field entering the second half, as Oratory looked primed to flirt with the potential of what could only be considered earth-shattering upset. However, Breznitsky made some adjustments — such as moving Chris Colasanti to the central mid and putting Alex Levy, who had scored a goal in the 25th, at rightback. The Raiders instantly started moving the ball better, and that allowed for the rally. 

First, Widman scored on a ball from Owen Murphy to knot it up at two apiece in the 55th. Then, now with all the momentum and Oratory losing its zip, Scotch Plains-Fanwood kept pressing until it jumped ahead for good when Kirian finished a feed from Chris Vinci, who unselfishly played out a ball that he legitimately could have shot.

“I think that those two [adjustments] turned the match around and helped us win,” Breznitsky said. “We’ve worked on our crosses and so forth, and on balls played in the box and being a little more aggressive. I don’t think at times in our earlier matches that we were quite as aggressive as we should have been.”

Oratory put Scotch Plains-Fanwood on notice early in the first half as they used their speed and aggressiveness as Marc Feliu put the ball past goalkeeper Danny Coyle for a 1-0 lead.

Less than a minute later, the Raiders counterpunched with a goal by Levy.

Oratory quickly responded. Feliu again found the back of the net and took a 2-1 lead at 23:57 in the match at sun-drenched Wexler Field, quieting the usually exuberant Raider Nation.

The teams played the rest of the period with no further scoring, but stunning the Raiders at home in the first half increased the confidence of the Oratory players. 

"They are so beatable," one player said. "It's our game. They're panicking," said another. 

Scotch Plains-Fanwood, however, kept an even keel entering the break, knowing that it had the ability to ultimately take control of the match.

“One of the worst things you can do is allow the other team to score first, because now they believe,” Breznitsky said. “We shot ourselves in the foot in the beginning. I don’t think we took them as seriously as we should have. There were a couple goals that resulted because of wacky things that pop up and happen in soccer.”

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