The Montclair State University men’s soccer team recently took the field at MSU Soccer Park to defend their New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) championship title from 2018.
The team played in yet another NJAC championship match on Saturday, Nov. 9, against Rowan University. The second-seeded Montclair State Red Hawks would only have the fourth-seeded Rowan University Profs standing in the way of their second consecutive NJAC championship.
The game would be a rematch of the 2016 NJAC Championship where Montclair State defeated Rowan by a final score of 3-0.
Both teams had their fair share of scoring opportunities in the first half alone. Montclair State senior forward Jose Huerta had a clean shot in the front of the net less than five minutes into the first half, but fired the shot just wide.
However, Rowan would dominate the beginning of the contest, outshooting Montclair State 6-2 in the first 20 minutes. Rowan freshman forwards Ki Costa and Chad Yates both had good looks, but fired shots wide. In the next 15 minutes, the Red Hawks fired five unanswered shots.
With 5:01 left to go, sophomore midfielder Michael Knap had a shot to the right that looked like it had a chance of going in, but the shot was saved by Rowan sophomore goalkeeper James Weinberg.
In the last five minutes of the half, Rowan had five unanswered shots. However, neither team was able to score a goal, sending the game into halftime scoreless.
Cautions and ejections played a huge part in this battle for the crown. In the entirety of the game, 10 total cards were handed out, five for Rowan and five for Montclair State. At the 39:47 mark, Rowan senior defender Kevin Primich was issued his second yellow card, giving him a red card and was therefore ejected, forcing Rowan to play down a man for the rest of the game.
“We know that this is how they play,” Red Hawks head coach Todd Tumelty said. “They’re physical and they’ve had a lot of cards on the year, but we have to keep our composure. If you can keep your composure then you’re in good shape.”
Montclair State took advantage of Rowan being shorthanded immediately in the second half, as they outshot Rowan 5-0 in just under the first 15 minutes. However, they could not solve Weinberg, who was excellent in goal for the Profs, making seven total saves as well as some impressive stops to deny what looked like prime scoring opportunities for Montclair State.
“All season long we’ve found ways to score goals,” Tumelty said. “We’ve had some difficulty scoring early but we just stayed the course. Work hard and the goals will come and then eventually you’ll get it.”
With 25 minutes left in the match, Rowan went on one last surge to get the first goal of the game. In fact, they appeared to score the go-ahead goal in minute 67, but the play was called offsides and the goal was waved off. They nearly scored again on a shot that barely hit the crossbar with 10 minutes left in the game.
With 2:20 left, Yates had a shot blocked and the Red Hawks took the ball back into the Profs zone. Senior midfielder Colin Mulligan had the ball and fired a shot that was blocked. The rebound went to the team’s leading scorer, freshman forward Oscar Sanchez.
Sanchez took the ball and fired at the net. Weinberg got a piece of it, but not enough as the ball rolled into the net and the Red Hawks scored. Sanchez was credited with the goal and Mulligan was credited with the assist as Montclair State took a 1-0 lead with two minutes remaining in the game.
“A play before that, I tried to take a push [into] the box, [which is] a ball that I usually always one-tap score,” Sanchez said, who scored his second goal in the NJAC tournament so far. “So it was in my head a little bit. I’m like okay, I’ve gotta score now, [or] I let my team down, I gotta score that.”
Sanchez also elaborated on his goal.
“So the ball came in here and I’m just like, ‘Just please don’t miss. Please don’t miss,'” Sanchez said. “I swung, goalie touched it, but it went in. That’s all that matters.”
Rowan would take the ball into the Montclair State zone in one last attempt to get the game tied. However, the Red Hawks were able to clear the zone and let the clock run down to zero as they stormed the field after the game.
The Red Hawks have now won back-to-back NJAC titles as well as three in the last four years. It is Montclair State’s 13th conference title overall and the eighth of the tournament era.
“Couldn’t have asked for a better NJAC ending,” Mulligan said, who has now won three NJAC championships in his four years with the men’s soccer team. “Exactly the way we wanted it to end, with my last game on this field [MSU Soccer Park], and that being against Rowan and winning and going to [NCAA tournament]. I couldn’t have asked for a better ending for this [tournament].”
With their NJAC title, the Montclair State Red Hawks earned the conference’s automatic bid to the 2019 NCAA Divison III Men’s Soccer Championship Tournament. It is their 19th appearance overall in the tournament.
Montclair State will face Hobart College in the first round on Nov. 16 at 3:30 p.m. The winner of that game will play the winner of the prior 1 p.m. matchup between Franklin & Marshall and Penn State Harrisburg on Nov. 17 at 3 p.m.