MIDDLETOWN, NJ - In soccer vernacular, it's known as a bogey team - a nemesis side that carries with it a certain hoodoo, popping up to deliver a vexing, kryptonite-like roadblock to success that is about as welcome as a cold, wet blanket.
It may be too soon to call Middletown North the Summit High School Boys Varsity Soccer team's bogey team but, after dealing the Hilltoppers their second NJSIAA tournament knockout defeat in as many years, the Lions are certainly developing a bogey team-caliber Curriculum Vitae. Just over a year ago, on November 6, 2015, Middletown North eliminated Summit 3-1 in the 2015 NJSIAA quarterfinals.
On a night that began chilly and ended downright as cold as the afore-mentioned blanket, there wasn't much between the Lions and The Maroon & White. However, like most soccer matches between different, but evenly-paired teams -- after all, the squads entered the match seeded sixth and seventh -- it came down to a single moment, specifically a chance that was successfully taken.
Liam McGregor's goal in the 43rd minute -- when he collected a pass from Zach Bent, drove into the right side of the penalty area and rolled a low shot past Summit goalkeeper James Ford -- was the match's only tally and, although the Hilltoppers knocked on the door several times, they couldn't unlock Middletown North's defense and fell 1-nil, in the NJSIAA North 2, Group 3 semifinals.
Summit's prolific striker, senior Jafeth Reyes, had Summit's two best chances of the match, with 18 minutes left in each half.
In the opening 40 minutes, Andres Chacon broke free in the middle of the park and played Reyes in on the right side of the penalty area where he managed to get a right-footed shot off, but a Lions defender got a boot on the attempt and deflected it out for a corner.
In the final half, the Hilltoppers were down a goal and pressing all over the pitch to try and get the equalizer. Reyes -- despite being heavily marked by one or more defenders -- managed to rip into the right side of the 18-yard box and, although his pace carried him to an extreme angle, he hammered the ball on target, but the rocket was right at Scott Weigel in the Middletown North goal, who was able to get two gloves on the shot and parry it away.
If there was a deciding factor in the match, it was the Lions physicality and athleticism, not so much on face value, but rather how they applied it. Summit was not able to dictate the tone of the match and -- given the similar overall strengths of the teams -- the first goal was always going to be massive.
On this night, it also proved to be decisive.
Summit, under second-year Head Coach Ashley Sularz, ended its season with a 15-7-1 record.