For the first time all postseason, the dramatic ending didn’t go the Eagles’ way.
Zach Bond scored one minute, 55 seconds into overtime to give the Holmdel High School boy's soccer team a 1-0 victory over West Deptford in the NJSIAA Group 2 State semifinals, at Toms River East on Wednesday night.
The victory sent Holmdel to its third-consecutive state final, which will be contested Saturday at the College of New Jersey.
“It was a long journey getting back to the finals and it started in the preseason,” said Bond. “Five months of hard work and it pays off at this moment. Now we have to get ready to play one of the best games of our lives.”
For West Deptford, the loss brings to an end an incredible postseason run that saw the Eagles transition from a No. 9 seed to a South Jersey champion. It looked like destiny was going to once again be on the Eagles’ side when they made it to overtime despite putting just one shot on frame for 80 minutes.
“We had nothing but belief, just like from the start of the playoff run,” West Deptford coach Steve Jakubowski said. “We were hot and we looked to continue that success and we did for the most part. I think we gave them probably their hardest game, which we should at this stage of the season.”
Bond’s goal came on his third attempt to put a shot on target. His first two shots were blocked by defenders, but the ball made its way back to the striker's foot and he rocketed a shot past West Deptford goalie Brendan Gill to spark a celebration for the Hornets.
“Every state tournament run that we have made for the last three years (Bond's) been a big part of it,” Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said. “He’s got a lot of game-winners and he’s a goal scorer. (West Deptford) did a good job shutting him down for a lot of the game and I kept telling him ‘go with pace, go with pace’ and he got lucky to be in a good situation where the ball bounced right back to him and he was able to make a cut and take that shot.”
“We were trying to find it all game,” Bond said. “Luckily we got one over the top; I got a touch on it cut in and took a shot. It deflected and luckily it came back and I was able to put the ball away.”
Gill had no chance to make a save on the ball and the West Deptford defenders were hardly at fault either.
“We did a phenomenal job, every guy,” Jakubowski said. Our 12, 13, 14th guys did great; we just got unlucky. It’s not many times the best player on their team—a pure Division I player—gets three straight shots. That’s all we ask, is for our guys to block shots and get rid of the ball and the ball just never left his foot.”
On a night where temperatures dropped below 30 degrees, the game was contested in the center third of the field for much of the game, with scoring chances few and far between. Holmdel had the only scoring threat of the first half when senior EJ Carannante took a shot from the top of the 18 that was sent away by a diving Gill.
The Hornets got the better of the possession battle in the second half, but the Eagles’ defense did not surrender any quality looks. West Deptford seemed to have a real scoring chance when Evan Fahey intercepted a bad pass with just six-plus minutes left and headed toward the Hornets' net on an apparent breakaway. Holmdel sweeper Dylan Chapman swooped in with a clean slide tackle, though, ending the threat.
“He’s been doing it all year,” Nacarlo said. “That’s why he is there. I thought that was a clear break and then you just see Chappy coming out of the blue. He is phenomenal at it.”
West Deptford senior forward Joey Mingrino credited the Hornets’ defensive game plan as the reason the Eagles were unable to create more scoring opportunities.
“Their defense never really pushed up so every time we got the ball it was like we were going up against 2 4, 1v4 at times,” Mingrino said. “We just didn’t get up the field as fast as we would like.”
West Deptford ends its season with a 13-6-4 record and the memory of a playoff run that lasted all the way to the state semifinals.
“You could say that (South Jersey title) was the best part of the season,” Mingrino said. “It kind of stinks you have to come out here and end on a low, but at least we still won South Group 2. That’s still a pretty good accomplishment.”