November 15, 2017

Steeled by Duels Against High Level Competition, PHS Boys’ Soccer Wins 1st Group 4 Sectional Title

GOLDEN GOAL: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Drew Beamer controls the ball in recent action. Last Friday, senior star Beamer scored the winning goal as third-seeded PHS defeated top-seeded Hunterdon Central 1-0 in the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional final. As a result, PHS, now 16-5-1, will face Washington Township (21-2-1) in the Group 4 state semis on November 14 with the victor advancing to the title game on November 19 at Kean University. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton High boys’ soccer team, the experience gained from five losses over the season proved to be a blessing in disguise as it faced a gauntlet of tough foes on the way to the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional title.

“My team had the opportunity to play some high level competition this year and has been on the wrong end of it at times,” said PHS head coach Wayne Sutcliffe.

“You reflect, you watch the video. We do some tactical adjustments. It is all about the mentality and how to manage a game.”

Applying those lessons, PHS managed to edge 11th-seeded Long Branch 2-1 in the sectional quarters on November 3 before topping second-seeded Monroe 2-1 in the semis last Wednesday and then pulling out a 1-0 overtime thriller at top-seeded and defending Group 4 state champion Hunterdon Central in the final this past Friday.

The victory earned PHS, now 16-5-1, a clash with South champion’s Washington Township (21-2-1) in the Group 4 semis slated for November 14 at Rowan University with the victor advancing to the state championship game on November 19 at Kean University.

After having won a slew of sectional titles at Group 3 before being moved up, the win over Hunterdon Central marked a landmark triumph for the proud program.

“It is massive; it is a new level of success,” said Sutcliffe. “We have a great group of seniors. They have heard a lot about the success that the team has had in the past. They have had a little of that too last year when we shared the MCT championship. This was something that is theirs, that no other team has.”

Getting to that level required PHS to lift its game after being on its heels at points in the first half in the semi at Monroe.

“We started to knock it better in the midfield between Dean Patel, Drew Beamer, and Quentin Pompliano and the wide guys,” said Sutcliffe, reflecting on the team’s second half surge which featured a pair of goals from Nick Petruso.

“We were really finding a way to put some passes together and create some chances; you could feel it as the half went on.”

Senior goalie Patrick Jacobs and the PHS defense felt some intense pressure as the Little Tigers had to hold the fort for the last 14 minutes of the contest after losing a player to a red card. Although the Little Tigers did give up a goal with 1:05 left in regulation they were able to ultimately thwart the Falcons.

“I have never been down a man in my high school career,” said Jacobs. “What we had to do is we had to sit in. We knew they were coming at us. I think we did well. The defense stepped up; everyone worked really hard in the second half for that win. We gave everything we had and they threw everything at us.”

Against Hunterdon Central, PHS found itself in a defensive battle as the teams endured an Arctic blast that hit the area and were deadlocked at 0-0 at the end of regulation.

“They are for real; we knew a lot about them and their success last year in the tournament and having gone to the final and won it,” said Sutcliffe.

Going into the overtime, Sutcliffe sensed that his battle-tested squad was up to the task.

“In the second half we were going onto the wind but we were still finding our form really well,” said Sutcliffe.

“It was just: don’t make any mistakes in the back and don’t concede. Fortunately, we have been in a bunch of OT games this year so we are not new to that.”

It was not a surprise that senior star Drew Beamer tallied the game winner.

“It was fitting,” said Sutcliffe. “Dean Patel did a good job to win a duel in the air and then found Remy Hebert and he slid it in to Drew and he got just enough on it to put it in the low corner.”

Sutcliffe knows that his squad is in for another tense tournament duel as it takes on Washington, who has won two Group 4 titles in the last three years.

“It is: not concede and try to get into our rhythm early,” said Sutcliffe, in reflecting on the PHS game plan coming into the state semi clash.

“On Friday night, we really found our rhythm in the second half just like we did against Monroe. That is beginning to become a pattern but hopefully we can do that in the first half.”