The Jefferson Falcons’ fall success continued Tuesday afternoon, when the boys’ soccer squad earned a comeback win over the 12-seeded Pequannock Panthers in penalty kicks 3-1. At the end of regulation and overtime the Falcons and Panthers were tied at 1-1, forcing the game to be decided in penalty kicks.
Bryan Gaviria found the back of the net late in the second half, sending the game to overtime and giving the Falcons a chance to win the game. The Falcons maintained possession throughout the majority of the game; however, a terrific play from the Pequannock goalie Mike Magiera kept the Falcons scoreless for the first 78 minutes.
From the opening kick, it seemed the Falcons would have control for the entire game. Right off the bat, Jefferson marched down the field and created a goal scoring opportunity, but the Falcons were unable to capitalize, which was the story of the game for J-Town. The defensive push for the Panthers, lead by Jake Goldberg and Alan Ramirez as well as goalie Magiera, kept the Falcons from taking the early advantage. The best Falcons opportunity came with three minutes left, as sophomore stud Gaviria had a chance in front of the net, but was met by a barrage of Panthers and the shot was blocked, sending the game into halftime tied at zero.
The second half would look like nothing had changed. The Falcons remained in control of the ball and the clock. That was until eight minutes into the half when the Panthers got a corner kick. Pequannock used the corner to get on the board 1-0 when Luciano Lunetta finished the great pass with a goal. For the remainder of the second half, the Falcons’ clock on their magical season seemed to be ticking. Whatever Jefferson did, the Panthers had an answer. The Pequannock defense held the Falcons in check, although the Jefferson pursuit would just continue throughout the half. The best of the unscored chances was with five minutes left as a shot off the foot of Kevin Leonard was sent away by Magiera, keeping the Panthers out in front.
“We just had to play our game,” Gaviria said. That they continued to do, and it was with just two minutes and ten seconds left that they finally got rewarded for it.
Gaviria broke free from the big Pequannock defense and headed towards the goal. He kept the ball low and snuck it past Magiera to get the Falcons on the board and even up the score at 1-1 with just over two minutes left in the game. The goal re-established the Falcons’ focus and energy on the field and in the crowd for the remainder of the game.
J-Town continued to apply pressure on the Pequannock back line, but the Panthers stood strong and were able to force overtime on the top seeded Falcons.
With overtime under way, the Falcons continued to pressure Pequannock. Their first chance came four minutes in, when Buddy Jacobus sent a long cross in towards Kevin Leonard, who one timed it over the crossbar and out of play. The next and best chance up to this point for the Falcons came when Jacobus drew the goalie out of net, then dished off an impressive pass to Cole Fitzgerald, who seemed to have an empty net. Fitzgerald pulled the trigger just to be turned down by a diving Jake Goldberg, saving the Panthers season. The ball was held on the Falcons offensive side of the field for the majority of the first overtime, but J-Town was unable to make anything happen, forcing a second overtime.
In the second overtime, it was the same story, the same ending. The Falcons continued to push towards the Pequannock goal, but were just unable to crack Magiera again. The defenses held the story line for regulation and overtime, but the game was forced to be decided by one-on-one matchups in penalty kicks.
After minutes of mediating, both teams sent their shooters up to the line prepared for the most nerve-wracking moments of their lives. In both the Panthers past matchups, they had won in penalty kicks to get them into the semifinal round, so they definitely had a leg up on this Jefferson squad.
The Panthers had the first shot. They sent to the line, Brendan Giessel, who was able to able to score on the impressive goalie Jacob Wacker, when Wacker guessed the wrong direction. This gave Pequannock the early advantage 1-0.
Now was Jefferson’s first shot. They sent their defender with a big leg, Dan Profaca, who was unable to get J-Town on the board with his shot.
Pequannock then had a chance to advance to a 2-0 lead in penalty kicks and have full control. However, the Panthers shooter, Conner Griffith put his shot wide, keeping the score 1-0 Pequannock.
Next for the Falcons was their four-year varsity player James Ryan. Ryan was able to beat the keeper and knot up the Falcons in penalties 1-1.
“It was a big kick. We needed one in the back of the net to get some momentum,” Ryan said.
“The confidence went up a decent amount. Never has a team scored every single goal in a shootout on us, so I knew I’d at least save one, so when James (Ryan) put his in that gave me confidence we were going to close it out,” Wacker said on his confidence after the first Falcons goal. That confidence proved pivotal, as Wacker was able to steer away Sean MacTaggert, the next Panthers shooter, with a diving save.
Hoping to keep the confidence high, J-Town sent their leading scorer Gaviria to the line for the next shot. Gaviria suffered an injury at the end of the second overtime but was still gutting it out for the Falcons.
“My teammates helped me keep going. I knew I had to be in there for them,” he said. His guts were admirable as Gaviria found the back of the net for the second time in the game, advancing the Falcons lead to 2-1 in penalties.
Wacker was then able to send another shot away, maintaining the Falcons’ lead and giving Jefferson a chance to put an end to the game.
The Falcons rolled the dice with John Becker, taking their fourth kick.
“My heart was racing. I was just looking to place it on the side net like I always do in practice,” Becker said. He was able to do so. John Becker hit his spot and found the back of the net, sending the Jefferson Falcons to the state-sectional championship for the first time in program history.
“I love you guys,” was all coach Travis Gage had to say postgame.
The excitement around the Jefferson athletic community is pure right now. With the Jefferson victory, boys’ and girls’ soccer have state-sectional finals games, both at the Nest at the end of the week.
The boys will take on Ramsey, who is coming off a 1-0 upset over Glen Rock, on Friday back at home. The Falcons will show up with hopes of their first ever state-sectional championship.