Even 100 minutes of soccer wasn’t enough for the Hunterdon Central and Clearview boys soccer teams in the NJSIAA Group IV semifinals on Tuesday night.
With a pair of teams that had combined to give up one goal in eight postseason games, it was only fitting for a shootout to determine a winner.
Hunterdon Central got off to a rough start in penalty kicks, missing its first shot, and Clearview cobbected on its first four shots before the Red Devils missed on their final shot as, after a scoreless tie, Clearview advanced 4-3 in penalty kicks to its first-ever state final against West Orange.
“It was going to take something out of the ordinary to beat us,” said Hunterdon Central coach Anson Smith, whose team had 17 shutouts prior to Tuesday. “This is the best defensive team we’ve ever had and I didn’t think Clearview was going to beat us in regulation, so it was going to have to be penalty kicks. Unfortunately, that’s never a way to end the game, but we have to have a winner and Clearview finished theirs and we didn’t finish ours, so that’s the end.”
Steven Collins took the first Hunterdon Central (18-2-3) penalty kick, which was fired to the left and saved by Clearview keeper Ricky Nelson.
Quinn Grossman converted the first Clearview (14-5-3) penalty kick to the lower right corner to give his team the 1-0 lead.
“The pressure’s on that first kicker and Steven’s been big for us all season. He’s hit a couple penalty kicks in games we’ve needed to win, he’s one of our leading scorers, so it’s just one of those unfortunate things but he’s had a hell of a season,” Smith said.
Nicholas Provezano, Max Gomez, and Austin Ciccario all then proceeded to make their kicks for the Red Devils, but Clearview matched all three times as they held a 4-3 edge heading into the final round.
With the pressure on to keep Hunterdon Central alive, Nicholas DellaFave’s shot sailed over the crossbar to the left as Clearview stormed the field in celebration.
Clearview was knocking on the door late in the second half with a number of good locks, but they failed to convert on any opportunities.
Hunterdon Central appeared poised early in the first overtime, but an apparent handball by Clearview in the Hunterdon Central attacking box was not called, taking away a potential Red Devil penalty kick .
Under four minutes into the second overtime, Collins’ header barely sailed over the crossbar for the Red Devils, whose fans stood up, anticipating an end to the game.
“It was definitely back and forth,” Smith said. “Clearview has a great attack; we really haven’t seen a striker like (Gavin Bright) all year with that kind of speed. And their (two) midfielders were amazing. They were very quick, good with their feet, and good on the ball.
“Having said that, our defense is our defense and we shut teams down and we’ve done that all season, so it was going to take something like penalty kicks to beat us.”