by Andrew Garda
RIDGEWOOD — The 2019 season came to an abrupt end for the MontclairHigh School boys soccer team on Tuesday, Nov. 5, as the No. 5-seeded Mounties fell to the top-seeded Ridgewood Maroons in penalty kicks during the Semifinal Round of the North Jersey, Section 1, Group 4 NJSIAA Tournament.
Despite falling short against Ridgewood, MHS head coach Toure Weaver — who spent a long time hugging and checking in with his players after the loss — had nothing but praise for his team’s effort this season.
“I’m proud of them,” an emotional Weaver said. “From where we started, the seniors and the juniors, the maturity… It took a while to realize what it takes to win, you know? And the seniors kind of knew what it was and the juniors were in and out of it.”
At some point this season, the light went on for the Mounties, though, and Weaver said everything changed for them.
“We just started clicking and guys started buying in. Really caring about each other and playing for each other and not just get minutes [on the field] or whatever, but to actually benefit the team.”
That selfless attitude and willingness to play as one unit rather than a team of individuals was on display Tuesday evening, as Montclair and Ridgewood battled back and forth through 80 minutes of regulation, two 10 minute overtime periods and penalty kicks.
At first, Montclair seemed to have the upper hand, as Ridgewood appeared slow and disjointed in the face of a quick and opportunistic MHS attack.
That would lead to the Mounties striking first with 33:45 left in the half when senior Mateo Neighbors got around the Maroon back-line and put the ball past keeper Rudy Narayan.
Montclair kept the pressure up, just missing with a header by junior Soren Tollis on a corner kick, while banging a different shot off the crossbar.
With MHS not finishing on those chances, Ridgewood had time to settle down, and started to find ways to disrupt the Mounties offensive movement. They began countering effectively, pushing the ball into the Montclair end, finally getting a shot past Sebastian Herrera off a cross with 14:27 left in the half and tying the game 1-1.
That would be the score for the rest of the game, including overtime. Both teams had ample chances to change the score, but each goalie did an admirable job stopping multiple shots, and both defenses were able to keep the opposition from building a rhythm offensively, or even getting a clean shot.
Several times both the Mounties and Maroons would find a loose ball in front of the other team’s net but time after time, they were unable to put it home.
Momentum in overtime tilted in the Maroons’ favor, but they still couldn’t slip another shot past Herrera. Meanwhile, the Mounties, often led by Neighbors and Xavier Harris, worked hard to counter into Ridgewood territory.
Neither team was able to finish the game though, and soon found themselves in penalty kicks.
In the end, Narayan was able to make one more key stop, and the Maroons won PKs, 5-3.
“It was two heavyweights, you know?” said Weaver. “They’re a very good team, the way they possess the ball and the movement off the ball. There were moments where each team had momentum and we defended like animals. We put everything into it and so did they.”
The Mounties were on the right end of a PK match twice in 2018. It didn’t work out that way this season, though.
“We know the feeling of both”
While the ending was not what Weaver wanted, he was proud of what his team — especially the seniors — had created not just this season, but during their career as Mounties.
“A couple of years ago, I just wanted to make sure we made a culture,” Weaver said. “And it started…with some of those captains, like Ricky Beechler and Rowan [Obrien] and Reece Bordick.”
Weaver said as time went on, the attitude of playing for something larger than yourself continued to catch on.
“This continued the lineage of that, where we talk about how it’s natural to worry about yourself, [but] the next stage of that is worrying about your team, and the next stage after that is what you leave behind. These guys really cared about not just this season, but what they’re teaching these younger guys and the next guys coming up.”