BERNARDSVILLE, NJ -- The Bernards boys soccer team avenged a 2018 state tournament loss to Caldwell by defeating the Chiefs, 2-0, in the semifinal round of the Section 2, Group 2 tournament Tuesday afternoon.
Bernards (17-2) will play Harrison on the road Friday afternoon for the sectional championship.
Caldwell (15-7), which achieved a level of somewhat unforeseen respect with its strong play within Essex County this season, was trying to knock the Mountaineers out of the state tournament for the second year in a row. Last year, the Chiefs upset Bernards, 2-0, in the quarterfinals before being eliminated in a PK shootout in the semifinals by Hackettstown.
But Bernards had the upper hand this time. It looked like the first half was going to end deadlocked at 0-0, but with 36 seconds left, senior forward Nelson Ferreira scored to give the Mountaineers a 1-0 lead. Junior Gilberto Ferreira, Nelson's brother, began the sequence with a crossing pass from left to right to Nelson, who was situated on the right side of the box. Nelson accepted the feed and struck a leaning, off-balance shot into the right corner of the net from about 12 yards away.
Caldwell was still within striking distance until Gilberto Ferreira extended Bernards' lead to 2-0 with 3:03 left in the game. Gilberto knocked home a low shot into the right corner of the net after Caldwell's goalie had come out from in front of the net to play the ball. Gilberto beat his opponent to the ball and took advantage of the opportunity offered by the temporarily vacated goal to give Bernards a 2-0 lead.
Caldwell forward Carson Filion had entered the game with 20 goals and seven assists this season, which made him a marked man. While Bernards keeper Elliot Dietrich excelled in the net with 15 saves, the Mountaineer back line also limited Filion's efforts to move freely in the offensive zone, with junior stopper Miguel Ortiz marking Filion closely.
With 26 minutes left in the game, a shot by Caldwell's Jaden Pezzolla from the right corner was saved by Dietrich. The Chiefs' Jimmy Rizzo had a huge opportunity to tie the match with 12 minutes left, but his shot from inside the box was also stopped with a strong effort by Dietrich.
When Caldwell upset Bernards last season, that was only its seventh victory of the season. The Chiefs finished 7-11-2 in 2018. With a 50 percent turnover in personnel this season, Caldwell's season--which featured eight more victories than last year--was highlighted by a victory over state-ranked Millburn and Livingston and an overtime loss to highly regarded Montclair in the semifinal round of the Essex County Tournament.
"The Millburn game was instrumental in making our guys believe that they could compete," Caldwell head coach Alan Branigan said. "We won some key games, and Carson had a magnificent season. Today, he was followed everywhere he went. He had a very difficult time getting to a spot."
Like Caldwell, Bernards is a Group 2 team that has beaten some highly regarded opponents and some bigger programs this season. The quality of their team was evident to Branigan.
"This day, we played a team that was a quality side," Branigan said. "And we made some decisions that were not always quite right at the right time.
"But this team grew and began to understand what it takes to get through a tournament."