MILLBURN, NJ -- The Bernards boys soccer team spent much of the first half on the attack.
Then the Mountaineers spent a lot of the second half just trying to survive.
But thanks to a stellar second-half effort by goalie Elliot Dietrich, Bernards held onto the lead it established in the opening 40 minutes and defeated Jefferson, 2-1, in the NJSIAA Group 2 semifinal Thursday night at Millburn High School.
Bernards (18-2-1) will play Delran in the Group 2 championship game Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at Kean University.
The Mountaineers took a 1-0 lead with 16:35 left in the first half on a goal by Gilberto Ferreira with an assist from Nico Botti. A minute later, that lead was almost gone, except that Dietrich soared high to make a spectacular save of a shot attempt off a Jefferson corner kick.
Fueled by the momentum gleaned from, first, Ferreira's goal, and then from Dietrich's save, Bernards went back to pressing Jefferson at the other end. With 11:58 left in the first half, Hernan Goodoy-Vera scored from 15 yards away on the left side, burying his shot into the lower right corner of the net to extend Bernards' lead to 2-0. Gilberto Ferreira had the assist.
"I saw Gil go down the flank, and when he dribbled down he slipped it back to me," Goodoy-Vera said of how his goal unfolded. "I decided then to cut in. I usually don't go up because I'm the CDM (central defensive midfielder), but we had the momentum there, so I thought I might as well."
Bernards went to the half with a 2-0 lead, then spent a lot of the second half in its defensive end, as Jefferson not only went on the attack, but also received a number of set-piece opportunities throughout the half.
"We knew our 2-0 lead was gonna be an issue. Jefferson is a good team," Bernards head coach Joe LaSpada said. "We had a chance for one or two other goals, but so did they."
Goodoy-Vera came the closest to scoring another goal for Bernards when his shot from inside the box off a corner kick was saved by Jefferson keeper Jacob Wacker with 25 minutes left.
With 24 minutes left, Dietrich made a save off a Jefferson free kick. With 23:31 left, Jefferson received and converted a penalty kick by John Becker to cut Bernards' lead to 2-1.
Dietrich made a leaping save off a corner kick with 13 minutes left. With 3:19 to go and Jefferson still attacking, Dietrich saved a long, accurate shot on frame with another leap.
"Elliot just keeps getting better and better," LaSpada said. "He is getting even more confident commanding the 6-yard area, and he takes a lot of pressure off our back line."