OLD BRIDGE, NJ - In tournament games, every lower seeded team goes onto the field telling themselves that anything can happen in one game. Most of those teams end up not making anything happen. On Thursday afternoon on a neutral Old Bridge High School soccer field, the South Plainfield High School soccer team did make it happen, and they made it happen against one of the most dominant teams in their conference.
The Tigers took on the 18-0 Zebras of New Brunswick in the semifinals of the Greater Middlesex Conference. The 6th seeded South Plainfield had lost to the 2nd seeded Zebras two times in the regular season with New Brunswick scoring 14 goals in the two meetings to the Tigers 3. Despite that, or maybe in spite of that, the Tigers came out confident and aggressive and beat the Zebras in a nail biting, back and forth 4-3 victory that sends the Tigers on to championship match.
I think they were kind of happy to play them again, said Anthony Perfilio, the Tigers coach. I think they wanted them again. I think after they beat Monroe, the confidence just really soared. I think they figured “Wait a minute, we’re actually decent, and we can play with all the big boys.””
From the opening whistle, it was clear that the Tigers were not intimidated by their past encounters with New Brunswick. South Plainfield pressured offensively from the first few minutes, and in the eighth minute, a corner kick lob from junior Tiger Jacob Villacres found it’s way to Deshai Smith who headed it in for the first goal of the evening.
The Zebras struck back in the 20th minute, when Arlin Martinez collected the ball after a New Brunswick free kick, and buried it home. A few minutes later, Zebra Kevin Sanchez found the back of the net off a beautiful bicycle kick, giving the Zebras a one goal lead.
The Tigers wouldn’t give up though. Ten minutes later senior Nick Polizzano got a header goal of his own off a cross by Jacob Villacres.
“That’s just what I do.” said Polizzano after the game. “I play with my head, I don’t really do much else.”
Polizzano was important on both sides of the ball in the match. The team positioned him in the middle of the field for this game, to help congest the field, and disrupt New Brunswick’s usually strong midfield presence.
“He’s very good with his head. He’s big in the air. We utilized Polizzano all the time now. Deshai’s another big target now. People can’t just mark Polizzano, they’ve got to get Deshai as well. Anytime we had corner kicks, we just put the big guys up there. And Polizzano ended up being really good for us.”
A free kick goal by North Brunswick’s Jason Zarate, and a strike from South Plainfield’s Jacob Alba put the game 3-3 going into the half.
The Tigers took control of the game at the beginning of the second half, setting up five corners in just the first 10 minutes. The last of those corners ended up being the most important set piece of the game. A cross by Ian McCoid fell into the Zebra’s box. The ball bounced around until Polizzano found it and tapped it into the net. With the 4-3 lead, the Tigers’ defense and midfield fended off New Brunswick until time expired.
“The first goal was lucky, the second goal was especially lucky.” said Polizzano. “Just a lucky tap in as the defender is trying to clear it. Other than that, our guys were playing great, and we’re on to the finals.”
The senior said his team’s mentality was integral to the win.
“(New Brunswick) beat us pretty good both times.” said Polizzano. “Coming in this time, we were ready. We wanted to win and I think we wanted it a little more than they did.”
The Tigers will be meeting top seeded South Brunswick on Saturday in the final. It will be the first meeting between the teams this season.
“We’ll do a little celebration tonight and get back to work tomorrow.” said Perfilio. “I got to watch South Brunswick and see how they play. They’re a team to contend with, they’re like a little juggernaut out there. Hopefully we can contend.”