One play. One perfectly directed kick and a little defensive miscommunication cost the Freehold Township High School boys soccer team dearly in the NJSIAA Group IV state soccer tournament semifinal match played Nov. 16 at Memorial Field in Neptune.
Cherokee High School of Marlton, the South Jersey Group IV state sectional champion, ended Freehold Township’s great post-season run with a 1-0 victory over the Patriots, who were the champions in Central Jersey Group IV.
Cherokee’s goal in the 21st minute resulted from a perfect serve on a direct kick by the Chiefs’ Sam Savoia.
Savoia, who was dangerous all night with his restart kicks, hit a low line drive from 30 yards out that found its way into the far corner of the Freehold Township net as a result of some miscommunication by the Patriots’ defense forming a wall that had defenders out of place, according to coach Todd Briggs.
“They created an opportunity to score,” said Briggs. “Give credit to them. There was some miscommunication in our wall.”
What disturbed Briggs the most was how little offense his team generated for most of the match.
“For 80 minutes we didn’t create a lot of offense,” he said. “Our best plays were off throw-ins and set pieces, not from playing soccer. We did not work the ball and find open spaces.”
Freehold Township’s ineffective play on offense was largely a result of the Chiefs’ ability to win 50-50 balls and to keep the Patriots from getting into an offensive flow.
“They’re very big and physical,” senior forward Ryan Morris said. “They try to beat you to every ball. They are a good team. They were in this game for a reason.”
Senior midfielder Matt Jeffery also credited the Chiefs for bottling up a Freehold Township offense that had been dominant in the Central Jersey Group IV championship game against Old Bridge.
“They are a fast and aggressive team,” Jeffery said. “There’s not a lot of space to work with.”
Despite his team’s lack of scoring, Jeffery said the effort was still present.
“We left it all on the field,” he said.
Cherokee’s aggressive play had the Patriots on their heels throughout the first half.
In the second half, Durim Fishta and the Patriots’ defense began to control the ball more and were able to jump start the transition game. Jeffery began to find room to operate and the energetic Morris got free on several runs up the side of the field.
Still, as Briggs noted, the team’s best scoring chances came off long throw-ins by Steve Hennessy or on corner kicks.
In the final minute, a header by Jeffery off a Hennessy throw-in floated over the crossbar of the Cherokee net.
That was Freehold Township’s final salvo as the Chiefs held on for the 1-0 win and earned a berth in the Group IV state championship match that was played on Nov. 19 at The College of New Jersey against Hunterdon Central High School of Flemington.
Freehold Township keeper Phil Horan made several sparkling saves in the second half to keep the deficit at one goal.
Cherokee improved to 16-5-2 with the victory, while Freehold Township concluded the 2010 campaign at 17-7-2.
Reflecting on a season that brought Freehold Township its first state sectional title in 25 years, Briggs said playing deep into November was a goal for the team from the start of the season.
“It was a roller coaster season,” the coach said. “I anticipated a long run in the post-season. I thought this was a team built for that because of our defense which starts with our goalie (Horan). I’m proud of what they accomplished and the way they stayed together all year.”
For seniors like Jeffery and Morris, there was regret that their careers were over, but pride in what the team accomplished this fall in bringing the school its first Central Jersey title in more than two decades.
“We couldn’t go out any better than we did, by winning the state sectional title at home,” Jeffrey said. “We came so far as a team. We were a very close group.”
This year’s seniors were also part of the 2008 Freehold Township team that won the program’s first Shore Conference Tournament championship.
For juniors like Horan and the other Patriots who will be returning in 2011, advancing to the Group IV semifinals provided them with experience they can carry over to next year.
“We have a lot to look forward to,” he said.