JERSEY CITY—The greatest rivalry this decade in New Jersey Athletic Conference men’s soccer had an unexpected additional chapter written as New Jersey City University pulled off perhaps the biggest upset in NCAA Division III this season.
Senior midfielder AWAL AHMED (Elizabeth, NJ/Linden) scored on a header just 3:59 into the first overtime period off a lengthy free kick from freshman midfielder JEFFERSON HURTADO (Totowa, NJ/Passaic Valley) as the Gothic Knights concluded their 2009 season with a stunning upset of nationally #3 ranked and previously unbeaten Montclair State University, in the final NJAC regular season game of the year played Friday at the Robert L. McNulty Memorial Soccer Field.
On Senior Day 2009, the win over the Red Hawks—ranked #3 nationally by D3Soccer.com with three first-place votes and #4 by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America—represents the highest ranked team NJCU has ever defeated in the 51-year history of the program. It occurred nearly eight years to the day that NJCU, just starting to emerge as a nationally-competitive program, upset then #4 Kean University by a similar 2-1 score in double overtime in the NJAC Semifinals on October 31, 2001.
In a rivalry which has seen some remarkably dramatic endings, the win by NJCU (7-9-2, 1-7-1 NJAC) in the final game of the season snaps Montclair State’s 19-game NJAC regular season unbeaten streak—23 games including the NJAC Tournament—while also ending the Red Hawk’s 37-game regular-season unbeaten streak covering all contests.
Ironically, the last team to defeat MSU (15-1-2, 7-1-1 NJAC) during the regular season was the Gothic Knights when NJCU knocked off their rival, 3-0, in Jersey City on October 13, 2007.
The two goals by NJCU marked the first time since November 17, 2007 that Montclair has allowed two goals in any game, regular or postseason, snapping a 40-game streak of surrendering one goal or less. The last team to score two goals against MSU was also the Gothic Knights—in the NCAA Division III Sweet 16 won by the Red Hawks in overtime, 3-2.
NJCU had taken a 1-0 lead at 40:41 of the first half when sophomore forward ALEX CERON (Belleville, NJ/Belleville) scored on an unassisted play. Montclair tied the game when senior midfielders and brothers Michael and Joseph Cullen (Clementon, NJ/Highland) combined for the equalizer with 11:56 remaining in regulation.
The last four meetings between the schools have all been decided by one goal, with MSU winning the previous three prior to the upset. MSU had defeated the Knights 1-0 in the 2007 NJAC championship game and again in the 2007 NCAA Sweet 16. During last year’s regular season meeting in Montclair, MSU, also ranked #3 nationally at the time, held on for a similar 2-1 result. The Hawks lead the all-time series, which dates to 1959, 42-11-3.
Furthermore, today’s 2-1 men’s result occurred less than 24 hours after the MSU women’s team rallied to defeat the Knights—also by a 2-1 margin, to claim the final NJAC Tournament berth in that field.
Since meeting in the 2006 and 2007 NJAC championship games, and 2007 NCAA Tournament, MSU had continued its NJAC dominance, winning three consecutive NJAC crowns. This year, the Red Hawks had clinched their third NJAC regular season title in four years—only interrupted by NJCU’s 2007 regular season crown. Meanwhile, after losing 10 of its 11 starters from last year’s senior-laden team, NJCU had missed qualifying for either the conference or postseason play for the first time since 1999.
In a competitive, back-and-fourth first half, NJCU slightly outplayed the Red Hawks, as each team had several solid scoring chances.
NJCU, which had seven of the first 11 shots of the game, and a 7-6 edge at the half, got a chance at 10:21 when rookie striker J.P. ROSERO (Jersey City, NJ/St. Benedict’s Prep) had a great chance stopped by MSU senior keeper Teddy Ritter (Belford, NJ/Middletown South).
At 22:34, MSU freshman midfielder Sean Tyree (Somerset, NJ/South Brunswick) uncorked a shot that was smothered by sophomore keeper MANNY LOJO (Clark, NJ/Union Catholic), diving towards the left post.
Ceron had another good chance just miss at 27:16 before MSU sophomore midfielder Mike Pytlar (Califon, NJ/West Morris) was high on a sidekick from four yards away in the goalmouth. Sophomore striker WALTER AVANS (Roselle Park, NJ/Union Catholic) was just wide of the right post at 34:03, and was high on another header at 37:36.
Finally, Ceron put NJCU ahead with his fifth goal of the year in the 41st minute. He stole a ball from an MSU defender on the right wing, poked a ball that rebounded back to him, before angling a shot from the right side into the left of the target.
On the final day of the season for NJCU, the Knights subbed keepers at the intermission, bringing in junior JUSTIN GRANT (Montclair, NJ/Montclair). He would be challenged as MSU outplayed the Knights offensively in the second half, outshooting NJCU 14-6.
But leading 1-0, Avans ripped a shot 1:58 into the second period before Ritter made a great stop. MSU nearly tied it at 56:30 when freshman midfielder William O’Connor (Wyckoff, NJ/Ramapo) hit the post with a header. Joseph Cullen, who posted a game-high six shots, aired out a lengthy free kick at 62:06 from nearly 35 yards that would have settled in the upper right corner had Grant not made a leaping save, tipping the ball over the crossbar.
Looking for insurance, Avans, who matched Ceron with a team-best four shots, fired a shot towards the far post, before Ritter made yet another great diving stop.
The Hawks appeared as if they would tie it at 77:33 when junior forward Larry Geraghty (Cranford, NJ/St. Benedict’s Prep), had a breakaway in the box, before Grant made a highlight-reel caliber save diving towards the right post.
But MSU would tie it just 31 seconds later. Joseph Cullen provided his fourth assist of the year, centering a pass from the right wing to his brother. Michael Cullen made one dribble to his left before burying a short shot into the left side of the net—his team-best ninth goal of the campaign.
With the game tied, both teams played solid defense. Four-year defenders JEAN MOMBRUN (Orange, NJ/St. Benedict’s Prep) and MICKAEL PEREIRA (Nutley, NJ/Harrison), who along with Ahmed and senior forward JILMAR PEREZ (Princeton, NJ/South Brunswick) were honored in pre-game ceremonies, solidified the backfield, aided by sophomore defenders BRUNO GONCALVES (Kearny, NJ/Kearny) and LIONEL EMABAT (Jersey City, NJ/Dickinson).
NJCU had two opportunities to score in the closing minutes. With 2:03 left there was a loose ball in the MSU goalmouth, but NJCU failed to get a shot off before Ritter covered it. Ahmed had another dangerous chance with 31.1 seconds remaining.
But there would only be two shots in overtime, and both by the Gothic Knights. After an MSU foul in front of its own bench on the far sideline, Hurtado, who had just entered the game in the 79th minute as a substitution for the first time, unleashed an amazing cross that cleared more than half the field and wound up in the box. Ahmed timed the play perfectly, lobbing a header from 15 yards out over Ritter, who was unable to backpedal to his line in time to stop the shot.
Ahmed’s sixth and final goal of the year set off a wild celebration as the Gothic Knights secured the 2-1 upset win. It was the first assist of Hurtado’s career.
MSU outshot NJCU 20-15 for the game and had a 7-1 edge in corner kicks. Lojo made two saves without allowing a goal in 45:00 of action for the hosts while Grant, who was the winner, made three saves in 48:59. Ritter, who entered the contest with a 0.46 goals against average, stopped six shots.
While NJCU’s season comes to a close, MSU will receive a bye into the NJAC Semifinals. The Red Hawks will face the winner of #3 seeded Richard Stockton College and #6 William Paterson University on Wednesday, November 3 at 7:30 p.m. in Montclair, NJ.
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