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(Photo by Bill Allen/NJ SportAction)

MILLER TIME: Princeton High junior forward Peter Miller, right, battles for position in a recent game. Last week, Miller scored the first goal as PHS upset previously undefeated Notre Dame 2-0 to stay alive in its hunt for a berth in the stat playoffs. The Little Tigers clinched a spot in the tourney with a 0-0 tie with Ewing last Thursday. PHS, though, failed to advance in the Mercer County Tournament as it fell 4-0 to Steinert last Monday in an opening round MCT matchup.

Miller's Perseverance Pays Dividends; Helps PHS Boys' Soccer Make States

By Bill Alden

It hasn't been an easy fall for Peter Miller, a junior forward on the Princeton High boys' soccer team.

Recovering from collarbone surgery, Miller spent the first six or seven weeks of the season sidelined so he could focus on rehabbing and conditioning.

By the time he returned to the lineup, PHS was mired in a slump that saw it drop five straight games, scoring just one goal in that stretch.

With the Little Tigers at 4-5-1 coming into their game last week against 10-0 Notre Dame, the squad was one loss away from being sidelined from the state tournament.

But Miller, displaying the perseverance that helped get him back into the action, banged in a crucial second goal to break up a 0-0 tie. Sparked by Miller's heroics, the Little Tigers added another score on a goal by Kyle DeBlois to stun the Irish 2-0.

PHS tied Ewing 0-0 in double overtime last Thursday to earn a bid to the state tourney as they moved to 5-5-2, just barely hitting the required .500 record at the cutoff date.

Miller and teammates hit the field against Notre Dame with a special sense of urgency. "We had our backs to the wall, for sure," said Miller, who fought through leg cramps late in the second half.

"This was a must win game to make the states. It was our biggest game of the year and the biggest game of the seniors' careers. We came out so hard. We dominated most of the first half. In the second half, we pulled ahead and Notre Dame started coming back."

Miller showed his focus in banging in what has to be the pivotal goal of PHS season so far. "It was a volley," recalled a beaming Miller. "The ball came out to me. I had a wide open shot. I took a volley and hit the far top corner."

With PHS offense sputtering, Miller is hoping that his goal will be a turning point. "We've had so many chances, we just had trouble putting it away," said Miller. "We have a fast offense but we had trouble scoring. We finally got a big one."

PHS Wayne Sutcliffe didn't mince words as he assessed the importance of Miller's moment of brilliance.

"Peter's goal, quite frankly, was the biggest goal of our season so far," maintained Sutcliffe. 'We needed that goal more than we needed one at any point of the season. It was just great to see."

For Sutcliffe, it was especially great to see Miller make the clutch play after what he's gone through this fall. "Peter is a hard worker," said Sutcliffe. "Peter is also a great ice hockey player and he's all about hard work. He's the kind of kid that has the fortitude to get through his injury. He's very fit and he's very, very committed. He's a competitive kid and that showed today."

PHS collectively showed a fiery competitive spirit as its players flew all over the field turf pitch from the opening moments of the contest, often kicking up bits of rubber as they slid for loose balls.

"It was great to see our kids have so much commitment and perseverance and bring so much energy," said Sutcliffe. "Every guy on our team was supportive, guys who were in the game and guys who were on the bench. Everyone did a great job."

The finishing touch that PHS showed against the Irish was the product of some fine-tuning in its training.

"We had done some preparation in practice over the last few days that we could see in the game today," explained Sutcliffe, whose club dropped a 4-0 decision to Steinert last Monday in the opening round of the Mercer County Tournament.

"We worked on moving the ball with more urgency and intelligence. You could see that, especially in the first 20 minutes. We were getting the ball through to our guys up front and they did a good job with it. We had more chances."

Now PHS is hoping to put itself in the position to have a chance to do well in the state tourney.

"I'm looking forward to the next couple of days," added Sutcliffe. "We're going to challenge the guys and see how they challenge themselves."

Miller, for his part, is relishing the challenges ahead. "Once we got that one, things started to get going," said Miller. "It's hard but this is such a huge thing for our confidence. That's the biggest part, helping our confidence going into the states."


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