UNION – With less than 13 minutes to go underdog Summit trailed the No. 2-ranked team in the state, Elizabeth, by two goals.
Up until that point, including two regular season Union County Conference-Watchung Division losses, the Hilltoppers had managed to score only one goal against the Minutemen, covering some 227 minutes.
Then Summit took advantage of a huge break with just 12:44 remaining. An Elizabeth foul in the penalty box resulted in sophomore standout Ethan Harris burying a penalty kick shot in the right corner of the goal to pull the Hilltoppers to within one.
Wasting no time in attempting to tie the match, it was a long-range shot from 30 yards away by Harris that created the game-tying goal less than a minute later.
Harris, moved up the field from his midfield position by first-year head coach Ben Stuart, gained possession at the Elizabeth 30 and fired a shot on goal with his right foot. Elizabeth goalkeeper Dylan Valencia did well to jump straight up and get a hand on the ball, tipping it up against the crossbar.
Fellow midfielder Nathan Todorov was in the right place at the right time as the rebound off the crossbar came to him inside the left side of the penalty box. Todorov managed a strong, left-footed shot that reached the right corner of the goal.
Just like that, top-seeded Elizabeth went from being ahead 2-0 to the game being tied at 2-2.
Both teams had additional chances to score afterwards. Elizabeth senior midfielder Emiliano Caballero sprinted 60 yards with the ball down the left side of the field before his shot was accurate enough to get past Summit goalie Jake Maslin, but not reach inside the goal, going wide right by inches.
After two, 10-minute, sudden death overtime periods produced some drama with each side having shots that were saved, there were no goals scored.
Thus for the third straight year and for the sixth time in tournament history co-champions were granted.
Second-seeded Summit came back to battle top-seeded Elizabeth, which has still not lost a match this season, to a 2-2 draw in Thursday night’s 54th annual boys’ soccer Union County Tournament championship game held at Kean University’s Alumni Stadium.
Elizabeth (16-0-4) gained a share of the crown for the second time in three years. In the 2017 final the Minutemen tied defending champion Westfield 1-1 to become co-champs for the first time.
Elizabeth was seeking to win the tournament outright for the first time since 2008 when the Minutemen defeated Summit 1-0 in the final played at Johnson High School’s Nolan Field in Clark.
That 2008 season was the previous time Summit was in the final. The Hilltoppers have now won a share of the title three times, including in 1976 and 1980. Summit has never won the championship outright, although the Hilltoppers came pretty close once again Thursday night.
“Just before the penalty kick our tactic was to move Ethan up in the attack and that proved to benefit us,” Stuart said.
Because Summit was not the favorite, was the lower seed and was beaten twice in two tries previously by Elizabeth you could tell the smiles of being crowned co-champions were a bit wider among the Hilltopper players.
“We’re not a team, we’re a whole family,” Todorov said.
When Harris scored Summit’s first goal on his penalty kick, he could tell that the game turned.
“There was definitely a momentum shift,” Harris said. “We then had to go back to work and get the equalizer. Being down 2-0 is hard, but the most dangerous lead in soccer is 2-0. If you can get that one goal you’re right back in it.”
“We work awfully hard in practice,” Todorov said. “When I saw the ball come my way off the crossbar I just wanted to put it in the back of the net. It was just what we needed.”
Summit (11-4-4) also came out strong and was the more dominant team in the beginning of the first half. Valencia made a sensational, right-handed, diving save of a point-blank shot taken by Summit freshman Daniel Farberov.
Seven minutes later Elizabeth reached the scoreboard first to take a 1-0 lead. Sophomore forward Matthew Giraldo dribbled the ball forward and then backwards and then forward again, this time drilling a long, right-footed shot into the right corner of the goal.
With 8:21 to go before intermission Elizabeth defender Jason Salamanca took a corner kick that reached Caballero, who then took a shot that was saved by Maslin. However, the ball came out of Maslin’s arms with Elizabeth junior midfielder Juan Montoya there to kick the ball in goal.
Elizabeth took that 2-0 lead into the second half and appeared on its way to its first outright title since 2008.
“We had opportunities to put them away in the first half,” Elizabeth head coach Jacques Gonzalez said. “You have to be able to do that and in the first half we didn’t.
“Give Summit a lot of credit. They never gave up.”
Summit previously lost to Elizabeth by scores of 2-1 and 4-0. In the UCT the Hilltoppers took out Plainfield 1-0 and then defeated Westfield in penalty kicks to prevent the Blue Devils from reaching a fourth straight championship game.
“In the three rounds we were resilient, never stopped and played until the end,” Stuart said.
Tournament Executive Director Tom Lewis congratulated both teams separately on their accomplishment of coming out of the competition as co-champions. After this has now happened a third straight year Lewis may have to reconsider going back to penalty kicks to decide one champion.
Westfield and Elizabeth produced a 1-1 final two years ago as did Westfield and Union last year.
“Being co-champs means a lot to them,” Stuart said of his players. “Would it be nice to have one winner, yes.”
“We definitely need to go to penalty kicks, absolutely,” Gonzalez said. “Someone deserves to win by themselves. That’s the way they do it in the state tournament now. We should also do it that way here.
54TH ANNUAL BOYS’ SOCCER UCT CHAMPIONSHIP GAME
AT KEAN UNIVERSITY’S ALUMNI STADIUM IN UNION
2-Summit (11-4-4) 0 2 0 0 – 2
1-Elizabeth (16-0-4) 2 0 0 0 – 2
FIRST HALF SCORING:
Elizabeth takes a 1-0 lead.
Goal: Matthew Giraldo. Assist: None. Time left: 23:54.
Elizabeth takes a 2-0 lead.
Goal: Juan Montoya. Assist: None. Time left: 8:21.
SECOND HALF SCORING:
Summit scores to pull to within 2-1.
Goal: Ethan Harris on a penalty kick. Assist: None. Time left: 12:44.
Summit scores to tie the game at 2-2.
Goal: Nathan Todorov. Assist: None. Time left: 12:08.
UCT BOYS’ SOCCER
CHAMPIONSHIP GAME SCORES
1966: Edison Tech 2, Westfield 1t
1967: Union 2, Westfield 1
1968: Edison Tech 1, Pingry 0
1969: Scotch Plains 2, Johnson 1
1970: Pingry 0, Scotch Plains 0 – co-champs
1971: Gov. Livingston 1, Pingry 0
1972: Gov. Livingston 1, Johnson 0
1973: Gov. Livingston 1, Edison Tech 0
1974: Pingry 1, Westfield 0
1975: Pingry 1, Johnson 0
1976: Summit 1, Pingry 1 – co-champs
1977: Pingry 2, Scotch Plains 0
1978: Union 2, Linden 0
1979: Gov. Livingston 3, Westfield 2
1980: Summit 2, Westfield 2 – co-champs
1981: Westfield 3, Summit 1
1982: Westfield 8, Scotch Plains 0
1983: Pingry 2, Westfield 1
1984: Westfield 4, New Providence 1
1985: Westfield 3, Scotch Plains 2
1986: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0
1987: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
1988: Westfield 2, Scotch Plains 1
1989: Scotch Plains 1, Westfield 0 (shootout)
1990: Union 3, Elizabeth 0
1991: Westfield 1, Cranford 0
1992: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
1993: Westfield 2, Scotch Plains 1
1994: Gov. Livingston 2, Westfield 1
1995: Johnson 2, Union 1
1996: Westfield 1, Rahway 0
1997: Scotch Plains 3, Elizabeth 0
1998: Scotch Plains 2, Cranford 0
1999: Union 2, Scotch Plains 0
2000: Scotch Plains 2, Johnson 0
2001: Scotch Plains 1, Johnson 0
2002: Scotch Plains 1, Cranford 0
2003: Linden 1, Scotch Plains 0
2004: Scotch Plains 1, Union 0
2005: Elizabeth 4, Scotch Plains 3
2006: Scotch Plains 4, Union 2
2007: Scotch Plains 4, Elizabeth 0
2008: Elizabeth 1, Summit 0
2009: Cranford 1, Westfield 0
2010: Westfield 2, Scotch Plains 1 (OT)
2011: Scotch Plains 1, Union 0
2012: Scotch Plains 5, Gov. Livingston 2
2013: Scotch Plains 4, Elizabeth 2
2014: Scotch Plains 2, Westfield 1
2015: Scotch Plains 1, Elizabeth 0 (OT)
2016: Westfield 2 Scotch Plains 1
2017: Westfield 1, Elizabeth 1 – co-champs
2018: Westfield 1, Union 1 – co-champs
2019: Elizabeth 2, Summit 2 – co-champs
Scotch Plains 19 (1 shared)
Westfield 13 (3 shared)
Elizabeth 6 (includes Edison Tech 2)
Pingry 6 (2 shared)
Gov. Livingston 5
Union 5 (1 shared)
Summit 3 (3 shared)
Scotch Plains 29
Elizabeth 12 (includes Edison Tech 3)
Gov. Livingston 6