November 15, 2023

PHS Boys’ Soccer Produces Dramatic 2nd Half Rally, Edging Kearny 3-2 in NJSIAA Group 4 State Final

RALLY TIME: Princeton High boys’ soccer player Pasquale Carusone, right, controls the ball as PHS battled Kearny High in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 4 championship game last Saturday at Franklin High. Senior Carusone scored a second half goal as the Tigers rallied to a 3-2 win over the Kardinals to win their first state title since 2012. It was the fourth state crown for the program. PHS finished the fall with a 22-2 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Six years ago, the Princeton High boys’ soccer team fell to Kearny High 3-1 in the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Group 4 championship game.

Last Saturday when the two powerhouses clashed in a rematch at this year’s Group 4 final at Franklin High, PHS didn’t waste any time, showing that things could be different in round two.

Tiger freshman star Harvey Smith scored a goal 14 seconds into the game on an assist from senior standout Pasquale Carusone.

“It is a set play and we ran it a couple of times this year. We scored 17 seconds into Hopewell on the exact same play (in a 2-0 win on September 19),” said Walsh. “It is one of those things where you put the ball into the mixer. It is so early in the game — the other team is a little panicky and sometimes it works.”

But displaying its pedigree, Kearny responded with two unanswered goals at the 12th and 14th minute of the contest.

“I was really impressed by Kearney; you are in a state final and you give up a goal 14 seconds in and they didn’t blink,” said Walsh. “We knew it was going to be a back-and-forth game — they got into the run of things a little bit there.”

Over the final 40 minutes of the game, PHS was the more impressive side, getting a goal from Carusone early in the half and a game-winner from junior Archie Smith with three minutes remaining in regulation as PHS prevailed 3-2. It was the first state crown for Tigers and the fourth state title overall for the program. PHS ended the fall with a 22-2 record.

In addition to the timely goals, a defensive tweak helped PHS overcome the Kardinals.

“There was a big gap between our back four. Kearny did a good job of leaving a guy high off of the shoulder of one our center backs which a lot of teams haven’t done this year,” said Walsh. “Our backs were staying a little deeper, we were just emphasizing to Nick Matese to step a little bit and squeeze that gap. It helped a lot.”

The goal from Carusone was a big help for the Tigers. “It was Harvey [Smith] who put a ball into the box, he flipped it over the top of the defender and Pasquale got in and the hit a volley with his left foot to score,” said Walsh.

The winning score resulted from a scrappy effort by Archie Smith as he battled a Kearney defender for the ball and squirted the ball into the back of the net.

“You could see the buildup coming. Archie wasn’t really in behind, he was fighting that guy off,” recalled Walsh. “He and that guy were just battling for 15 yards, the goal was a desire goal. That kid was not going to be stopped, it was just so amazing.”

The Tiger defense held the fort from there, setting off a raucous postgame celebration as the PHS players mobbed each other and then ran over to the stands to enjoy the moment with their supporters on hand.

“The moment itself was indescribable,” said Walsh. “I was so happy for the boys — these seniors have been through a lot.”

The squad’s senior group — which included Saif Mobin-Uddin, Jamie Reynolds, Matthew Kim, Felipe Matar Grandi, Enea Meloni, Brandon Urias, and Patrick Kenah in addition to Carusone and Matese — experienced a lot of ups and downs in their journey to a title.

“Their first year we didn’t even have a freshman team because it was the COVID year,” said Walsh. “As freshmen, they had virtual school and had no soccer. Then last year as juniors Nick and Felipe both had season-ending injuries. Nick had the knee injury and Felipe had the ankle injury.”

One of those seniors, midfielder and co-captain Matar Grandi, sensed things coming together as the fall unfolded.

“A lot of us have been playing together for a long time,” said Matar Grandi after the Tigers defeated Washington Township 4-0 in the Group 4 semis last Wednesday to punch their ticket to the state final. “Adding Pasquale and Harvey helped us a lot. They are phenomenal players. We just had some missing pieces that we didn’t have last year, and we all grew older. We have all connected very well — we are having the best season possible.”

Carusone, who joined the program this fall after focusing on club soccer the last three years, made an instant connection with his teammates.

“This is like living the perfect season,” said Carusone as he looked ahead to the state final. “I feel like I fit well in this role for the team, I fit as a goal scorer.”

In reflecting on the team’s success this fall, Carusone attributed it, in part, to a selfless attitude on the part of the team’s veterans.

“It is definitely our leadership, everyone besides the captains is willing to take a step and lead,” said Carusone, who led the team with 28 goals. “Matt Kim is not a captain, but he definitely takes a step to leadership. Jamie Reynolds is the same way. You don’t have to be a captain to be a leader. It is not everyone for themselves, it is everyone playing for the team like a family.”

In Walsh’s view, being on the same page from the start led to the historic finish.

“In the offseason we got together and these guys were not going to stopped,” said Walsh.

“All they wanted to do was win. The entire team had this great desire to win. I think that is what made the team.”