It was a banner weekend for South Brunswick High School, as it captured the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) title in boys and girls soccer and the football team clinched the GMC Red Division crown.
South Brunswick’s girls’ soccer team scored just five goals in its four tournament games, but the Lady Vikings made them stand up to win the GMC Tournament.
Coach Beth Barrio’s girls, seeded fourth, squeezed past East Brunswick, 1-0, Oct. 31 at Priscoe Stadium in Woodbridge to win their first GMC title since 2001. After a scoreless first half, the Lady Vikings, who outshot the Bears, 8-5, slowly began to get the better of the play.
South Brunswick finally struck with about four minutes remaining in regulation when Francesca Dimitrakis saw striker Julianna Franco heading for open space. The Lady Vikings’ midfielder got the ball to Franco, who went in alone and beat the goalkeeper for her team-leading ninth goal of the season. Sydney Schneider turned aside all five shots she faced to keep a clean sheet.
The win had additional sweetness for the Lady Vikings, as East Brunswick had knocked Barrio’s team out of last year’s tournament with a 1-0 win in the semifinals.
“The girls worked very hard to get here,” said Barrio, whose team won all its tournament games by one goal. “We had some tough losses during the season, but the team kept improving. They really learned the importance of staying focused for an entire game and it paid off.”
South Brunswick (11-7 overall) earned its berth in the GMC finals with an exciting shootout win over top-seeded Monroe Township High School in the semifinals. The Falcons got on the board first with a goal 15 minutes into the second half, but Dimitrakis scored the equalizer with her fifth of the year. The score remained 1-1 through two overtimes, but the Lady Vikings prevailed, 6-5, in the penalty kick shootout.
Barrio’s team also came from behind in its quarterfinals victory over fifth-seeded Old Bridge High School Oct. 27. The Knights led, 1-0, at the half; however, Moriya Frankel’s fourth goal knotted things in the second half and Franco went on to score the overtime game-winner. Schneider was superb as well, making 14 saves.
Frankel scored the only goal in her team’s 1-0 opening-round win over Edison High School Oct. 23.
The Lady Vikings, who earned the eighth seed, were set to meet ninth-seeded Freehold High School (7-7-1) Nov. 2 in the opening round of the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group IV tournament.
South Brunswick clinched the GMC Red Division football championship with a 14-10 victory over Piscataway Township High School in a defensive battle Oct. 30.
Most of the scoring came in spurts. The visiting Chiefs got on the board first when Elijah Barnwell, who gained more than 200 yards on the night, ran 24 yards midway through the second quarter. South Brunswick took the ensuing kickoff and quickly went 75 yards to tie the score. Junior quarterback Josh Liao’s 3-yard keeper concluded the drive.
Piscataway regained the lead early in the third quarter with a time-consuming drive that covered 70 yards and ended with a 22- yard Michael Stalenyj field goal after the Vikings stopped the Chiefs at the 4-yard line.
South Brunswick took the lead with just over five minutes remaining on a 50-yard halfback option pass from Wendell Allen to Justin Shorter. Piscataway looked to bounce back, but Shorter intercepted a pass with three minutes to go to end the Chiefs’ drive.
Piscataway got the ball back at its own 29-yard line with just over a minute remaining after its defense forced the Vikings to punt. Phil Campbell’s interception sealed the win for South Brunswick. Campbell also led his team in rushing, gaining 140 yards on 11 carries.
Since a 41-21, opening-night loss at home against Middletown High School South, the Vikings have won seven straight games, allowing just 58 points during that stretch. Many of those points came after the outcome of the particular game was no longer in doubt.
Coach Joe Goerge noted that his team played most of the game against Piscataway without two-way lineman Richie Hoff and cornerback/punter Jaier Garrett, who were both injured during the game.
“Our defense made a number of big plays, including two big fourth-down stops,” Goerge said. “We were shuttling a few sophomores in and out, and they did the job for us. They bent, but didn’t break. We had contributions from just about everyone. It was a quintessential team effort.”
With the win, South Brunswick clinched the top seed for the Central Jersey Group V playoffs. The power point rankings have not been finalized, but it appears the Vikings will host eighth-place Freehold Township High School in an opening-round game Nov. 13.
In boys’ soccer, top-seeded South Brunswick earned a share of the GMC title with a 1-1 tie against South Plainfield High School Oct. 31 in a hard-fought, physical match. The teams played two overtime periods and were still deadlocked. Championship games do not go to a penalty kick shootout. As a result the Vikings and Tigers are co-champs.
“Both teams had chances to win,” South Brunswick coach Chris Hayston said. “South Plainfield played us very well. They had a good game plan, and they were able to execute defensively and create some chances on the counter.”
The coach said both teams were disappointed that there was no winner. In any event, if it were up to him, Hayston said he would rather have played to a conclusion that go to penalty kicks.
“It’s weird for a championship game to end in a tie,” he said. “It was a game that could have gone either way. So no one was happy, but on the other hand no one is devastated either. In a lot of ways, it’s better than a tie.
The two teams battled through a scoreless first half, and sixth-seeded South Plainfield opened the scoring 10 minutes into the second half and appeared keep the Vikings at bay. However, Patrick Grudnick converted a penalty kick for his 18th goal of the season after South Plainfield was called for a hand ball in the box.
Vikings goalie Arvind Swaminathan made a huge sliding save with about seven minutes remaining to prevent a South Plainfield game-winner. Swaminathan was injured on the play and was replaced by Jake Foeldes, who made a huge save in overtime to keep the score even.
Hayston is hoping his team can turn its disappointment in the GMC result into a positive as it heads into the Central Jersey Group IV tournament. The defending champion Vikings are seeded second and were set to host Sayreville War Memorial High School in an opening-round game Nov. 3.
“We’ve responded well to adversity all season long,” the coach said. “We started out 2-2, and we came back to win the [GMC] Red Division. Along the way, we had a lot of must-win games, and we were able to win them. Our guys want to come back strong.”
In the run-up to the GMC championship game, South Brunswick defeated East Brunswick, 1-0, in the semifinals. Russell Baskin’s late goal off an assist from Nasser Aamer made the difference.
In the quarterfinals, the Vkings downed Old Bridge, 8-2, as Kevin Nunez led the way with a pair of goals. Grudnick, Keiler Knapp, Kyle DeGroff, Jermaine Small, Koonj Patel and Kunal Thakral also scored in the victory.