WOODBRIDGE, NJ - The sixth seeded South Plainfield High School Tigers took on the top seeded Vikings of South Brunswick, on a neutral Woodridge High school field in this year’s Greater Middlesex Conference finals.
South Plainfield was looking to get their first GMC crown, and did go home with a title, but it’s not exactly the one they were gunning for.
After 100 minutes of back and forth action, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, causing both teams to leave the field as co-champions of the GMC.
“It was a letdown, because I think this team goes into every game expecting to win.” said South Brunswick coach, Chris Hayston. “No doubt about it, we expected to win. It’s not completely negative, but it’s not completely positive. I think most people would say they’re just confused. How are you supposed to feel? You shouldn't be devastated, but you shouldn’t be thrilled.”
Despite the result, both squads clearly came out with something to prove.
The play was so aggressive that the first few minutes saw players on both sides getting into a little bit of a shoving match after a hard foul by a Tiger defender.
The chippiness continued throughout the first half, where both squads had some near-scoring opportunities.
It was the underdogs who ended up striking first. With 26 minutes remaining in the game, South Plainfield’s Richard Marcovecchio got a hold of the ball near the outside of the Vikings box, and took a daring left footed turnaround shot that found the back of the net.
“We’ve been telling him to shoot the ball when he has the opportunity.” said Anthony Perfilio, the head coach of the Tigers. “We’re stressing so much “Shoot with your weak foot” because you just never know how you’re going to hit it and obviously he hit it beautifully.”
The Vikings picked up the offensive pressure after the goal.
Jermaine Small almost evened up the game a few minutes later, but a diving save by Tiger keeper Nick Plate kept the scoreline.
Towards the 20 minute mark, the Vikings got an opportunity they needed in the form of a South Plainfield handball in their own box. That gave the Vikings a penalty kick that was buried away by Patrick Grudnick.
With 20 minutes left in regulation both teams picked up the pace.
Deshai Smith almost sent home a header with eight minutes left, but was stopped by Viking GK Arvind Swaminathan.
In the process of stopping a follow up shot, Swaminathan suffered a shoulder injury that took him out to out of the game.
Jake Foeldes took over in net, and a save by him, and a few by Plate on the other end, sent the game to overtime.
No teams conceded a goal in overtime, and by GMC rules, the game ended in a draw rather than go to penalty kicks.
“Co-champions is sometimes hard.” said Perfilio. “These boys were hoping to win, but it could have went the other way. We could be sitting here crying after a loss. I’ll take a co-championship any day of the week. It’s the first one we’ve ever had so I’m very proud of the boys. We played a serious team and we held them. It’s unfortunate they got the handball penalty kick, but hey it happens.”
Despite his team being let down by the result, Hayston said he prefers that the championship games go to draw rather than penalties.
In fact, Hayston was one of the people who voted to prevent penalties before the season.
“The reason I voted that way, is because I honestly think PKs is an awful way to end a game.” said Hayston. “I honestly would vote for continued play, for them to keep playing till there’s a winner. The second that’s presented, and it never will, I will vote for that. To lose it in PKs is a tough way to lose a game.”
Both teams are now looking ahead to state tournament play, which starts on Tuesday. South Plainfield has Barringer, while the Vikings will be taking on Sayreville.
The Vikings hope their starting goalkeeper is healthy for the state game, but they say they will be prepared either way.
“I think what we need to do is learn from what happened tonight.” said Hayston. “Our focus will be putting this behind us and looking at what we need to do to beat Sayreville.”
The Tigers hope to match their magic Group 3 title run from last year.
“Last year we made a beautiful run, and we always say we want to play for those rings.” said Perfilio. “We rest tomorrow we get back to work on Monday. Tuesday’s a whole new tournament. We always say: take your records and everything you’ve done in the past and throw it out the door. It’s all about winning and surviving now.”