The Montclair State University Red Hawks men’s soccer team walked into MSU Soccer Park Friday night as the number one seed in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament to take on the number two seed Ramapo College Roadrunners. After two hours of game action, the Red Hawks routed the Roadrunners by a final score of 5-0 and are the 2018 NJAC men’s soccer champions.
This is Montclair State’s seventh NJAC title and 13th conference title overall. It is their second NJAC title in the last three years and their third under head coach Todd Tumelty in his eight-year tenure with the team.
“It’s great and it’s something that we talk about all the time,” Tumelty said, in regards to winning the NJAC. “Obviously win the regular season, and winning the conference championship is a big bonus to drive us into the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament.”
The game began with both teams pretty even, as the ball often remained in midfield. Neither team got a large amount of time in the opponent’s zone, and time spent in each others’ zones were pretty much split down the middle.
However, Montclair State had a slight shot advantage (2-1) 14 minutes into the game. Jake Seaman began the game by getting a prime scoring opportunity right in front of the net, but the shot went wide.
Eventually, the Red Hawks began to generate some serious buzz. It all started when Jose Huerta got off a shot that Ramapo goalkeeper Joshua Schaffer made a beautiful save on, robbing Huerta of what would have been the first goal of the game.
About eight minutes later, Schaffer robbed Huerta again, as the former made a leaping save to steer a header shot from the latter over the net. Over this stretch, the Red Hawks fired six unanswered shots, three of which were on goal. With all the offense the Red Hawks were generating, the momentum was obviously in their favor.
Finally, all the momentum the soccer Red Hawks were doing finally paid off, as junior midfielder Colin Mulligan scored his team’s first goal of the game at 29:47. Mulligan received a pass from Kevin Semik and fired a shot from outside the 18-yard box. The shot got through Ramapo’s defense and to the right of the net past Schaffer for his third goal of the season. The Red Hawks ended up taking a 1-0 lead into halftime.
“I saw the ball from Kevin and I had a good angle from him to receive the ball,” Mulligan said when asked to describe the play. “I took a touch to my right foot and I saw that I had a little bit of space and I took a shot. It took a little deflection and went in. I’m happy that it went in and it gave us a 1-0 lead.”
Throughout the entirety of the game, the Red Hawks were faced with the difficult task of stopping Ramapo junior forward Joseph Fala, the leading scorer in not just the NJAC but Division III as a whole. In fact, he is the second leading scorer in the entire NCAA.
However, Montclair State ended up doing just that. All throughout the game, they covered Fala almost perfectly, making sure he did not receive any passes that could lead to scoring opportunities. The best chances he got all game ended up being a couple of free kicks, and the Red Hawks ended up stopping all of them.
“Not only do we have good reserves in the back, but we also have really good guys coming off the bench in the back,” Tumelty said. “I give credit to those three guys who start, but they had a lot of help as well.”
When the Red Hawks managed to stop Fala, they essentially managed to stop the entire Ramapo offense. Fala scored 25 goals this season, half of Ramapo’s 50 goals. By covering Fala the way they did, Ramapo had nowhere else to go. Ramapo did a poor job crashing the net throughout the game, leaving multiple scoring opportunities on the field.
The Red Hawks offense ended up exploding in the second half, scoring four total goals to ultimately put the game away. Huerta got things started 54 seconds into the half when he received a pass from Damian Kolodziej and dribbled around a charging Schaffer for the easy empty net goal, his 13th of the season.
Kolodziej kept it going when he received a rebound off a shot from Chaz Burnett and tapped it in for his second of the season. Rafael Terci put the icing on the cake when he fired a perfect shot off a beautiful right-to-left pass from Michael Knapp for his 11th goal of the season. Last but not least, Burnett put the cherry on top when he scored his 13th of the season off a penalty kick after a yellow card on Schaffer.
While the NJAC championship is nice, Tumelty and the Red Hawks are not all satisfied.
“It’s definitely important to make sure that we get refocused, because the NCAA tournament is one of our goals,” Tumelty said. “We can’t just let this be the final thing for us. We want to get far into the NCAA tournament, and that’s our hope.”
As NJAC champions, the Red Hawks receive the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Men’s Soccer Championship. Montclair State enters the tournament ranked seventh in the nation out of the 62 teams in the tournament.
Montclair State will host the first and second rounds of the tournament at MSU Soccer Park. The Red Hawks will face Colby College on Saturday, Nov. 10, at 5 p.m. in the first round of the tournament. If the Red Hawks win, they will go on to face the winner of Haverford College and New York University in the second round on Sunday, Nov. 11, at 6 p.m. The winner will go on to the Sectional Tournament on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17.