OAKLAND – The first half went to Dayton, with the Bulldogs producing three quality shots that had to be turned away by Pompton Lakes senior goalkeeper Jason Dubrovich.
Unfortunately for the North 2 champs they couldn’t put one in.
The second half not only went to a swarming, more confident Pompton Lakes unit, but the North 1 champion did find a way to get the ball past Dayton senior keeper William Hodic.
Not once, but twice.
Pompton Lakes scored the game’s only goals in the final 11 minutes, with senior defenseman Nate Tucker scoring his second goal of the season with 10:54 remaining and then junior Yianni Ekonomides followed up with an important insurance goal with just 2:06 left on the clock.
It added up to a 2-0 win for Pompton Lakes over Dayton in Tuesday night’s boys’ soccer Group 1 semifinal at Indian Hills.
Pompton Lakes improved to 17-4-2, with the Cardinals to next face South Jersey champion Glassboro in Sunday’s Group 1 state championship game scheduled for a 5:30 p.m. start at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium in Union.
Glassboro defeated Central Jersey champion Highland Park 2-0 in Tuesday’s Group 1 semifinal at Paul VI.
Glassboro improved to 20-2-2, while Highland Park finished 16-3-3.
Dayton fell in the Group 1 semifinals for the second straight year after repeating as North 2, Group 1 state champions. The Bulldogs, who last year lost to Verona 1-0 at Indian Hills in the Group 1 semifinals, closed a fine 2017 campaign at 18-4-1.
As the second half was winding down, Pompton Lakes continued to have the better chances following halftime and clearly possessed the ball past the 50 quite a bit more than Dayton did.
Then Tucker took possession of the ball just before midfield and ran with it. Like an unstoppable train he kept on going before firing a hard-hit shot inside the box that Hodic did well to save.
Tucker stayed in position to fire the rebound in to give Pompton Lakes what would be the lead for good.
“I don’t even know what really happened,” said a jubilant Tucker after the game. “I couldn’t stop. I had so much adrenalin. I was just hoping that it went in.”
Tucker and his teammates saw that the Cardinals were not picked to win the match.
“We expected a crazy game,” Tucker said. “No one believed in us except for ourselves. Us seniors, we need to still be playing.”
Pompton Lakes did an excellent job of clearing the ball away while maintaining its one-goal lead.
Then on a counterattack, Ekonomides dribbled the ball past three Dayton defenders and then fired a point-blank shot past Hodic, who had no shot at saving it.
Two minutes later the Cardinals were celebrating a hard-fought victory that is sending them to their fourth state final. Pompton Lakes won Group 1 in 2005 and before that Group 2 in 1996.
Dayton sought its third group final. The Bulldogs lost the 1959 Group 3 final to Verona and then tied Palmyra 0-0 in the 2009 Group 1 final at Hillsborough. Dayton and Palmyra shared that Group 1 state championship.
Pompton Lakes has shut out all five state tournament opponents thus far, winning those five games by a combined score of 18-0.
Pompton Lakes and Glassboro both won their sections as the top seed.
In the first half, Dayton senior forwards Anthony Nagy and Diogo Barros fired shots before and after another one blasted by a Bulldog player. Dubrovich saved them all.
Pompton Lakes really didn’t have a shot on goal in the first half, but did have a close chance with 3:45 remaining.
“In the first half we had a few opportunities, but their goalie made a couple of good saves,” Dayton head coach Felix Fabiano said.
Pompton Lakes fired a shot in the box that went off Dayton’s Bryce Forys two minutes into the second half. Senior forward Carlo Gonzalez received a great long ball nearly seven minutes later and was able to control it and blast a shot that Hodic saved.
Forys, a senior, came out of the game with a bloody nose at the 29:48 mark, but was able to return six minutes later.
Making a left foot save on the goal line of a hard-hit shot as he stood to the left of Hodic was Dayton freshman defenseman Aiden Forys at the 24:40 mark.
With 18:35 to go in regulation, Mike Koppel spun a tough shot headed for the net that Hodic jumped up and tipped over the crossbar for a Pompton Lakes corner kick. The corner was headed over the crossbar by a Pompton Lakes player.
Then Tucker worked his magic, preventing a possible 0-0 deadlock going into overtime. His goal and the other by Ekonomides were both unassisted.
Dayton did not have a dangerous chance in the second half, with whatever shots the Bulldogs were able to get off going wide of the net.
“They just played better than us in the second half, that was it,” Fabiano said. “I thought the game was even from the standpoint of us playing better in the first half.
“Sometimes it’s not the way you play, but the way the other team forces you to play.”
Although Dayton fell just short for a second straight season of playing for another group state championship, the Bulldogs have much to be proud of for producing another banner campaign.
“We had a great season,” Fabiano said. “This was a different team from a year ago. We only had four players on the field tonight that were with us last year.
“Basically this was a new team.”
Dayton’s captains for the game included Bryce Forys (No. 5), senior Sean Martin (No. 8), Nagy (No. 9) and Barros (No. 20).