All the fourth-seeded Monroe boys soccer team needed was one opportunity, one look at the goal, and they knew they’d have a chance to score an upset victory.
And 43 seconds into the second overtime period Thursday night, the Falcons got that opportunity and Luigi Buffolino seized it, ripping the game’s only goal into the back of the net, giving Monroe a 1-0 win over top-seeded North Brunswick in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament semifinals.
The Falcons will play third-seeded South Brunswick in the finals on Saturday afternoon.
Fellow forward Sean Doyle got the assist on Buffolino’s tally, which came after the two teams battled to a stalemate for the game’s first 90 minutes. As the ball rolled past the end line, Buffolino ripped his jersey off, running around to meet his exuberant teammates, while the Raiders fell to their knees in disbelief.
“Sean Doyle played me the ball and I saw an opportunity and I just wanted to win the game, and I put it in the back of the net,” Buffolino said. “Sean and I didn’t play that well tonight, but scoring the winning goal is a great memory.”
The Falcons controlled the ball for the majority of the second half, after making some adjustments at halftime, and got the better of the scoring chances after intermission. For the game, Monroe was outshot 18-10, but the amount of quality chances that North Brunswick had were few and far between.
“The whole first half was not good for us, but in the second half we started figuring it all out and we had a couple opportunities,” Monroe head coach Steve MacKenzie said. “Luigi didn’t have his best game, but this is what he’s been doing all season and we felt that if we kept pushing forward, we’d get an opportunity to score.”
Monroe thought it had the game’s first goal in the opening minutes of the second half, but the officials, who whistled offsides on the play, waived it off. From there, it was all Falcons, as they earned the game’s next two quality chances, though both were stifled by North Brunswick goalie Steven Szakas, who made four saves in the contest.
MacKenzie stressed that he was very happy for his players, who have been under immense pressure all season long.
“It’s awesome, for these guys, all season long it’s been tough,” MacKenzie said. “They’ve had to handle high expectations and we learned how to do it throughout the year. It’s rewarding for the players and I want them to taste what it’s like to go for a county championship.”
Monroe will match up with South Brunswick for the GMCT title Saturday in Woodbridge. The teams split their two meeting this season and Buffolino thinks he has the strategy to get his team their first county championship since 2008.
“We’ve got to go all-out, 80-plus minutes, and score some goals in the first half and put them away early,” he said.