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Manalapan senior Brian Dolan said he saw nothing on the deciding play of the Braves’ Shore Conference Class A North game against Colts Neck with the division title on the line, despite the fact that the play in question ended with Dolan sliding a well-placed shot into the back of the net.

“I saw nothing, because I had my eyes closed,” Dolan said. “Everything was black and when I opened my eyes, the ball was going in. It was pretty awesome.”

Manalapan's Mitch Volis heads the ball over Colts Neck's Taylor Demick during the Braves' 3-2 win on Friday. (Photo by Matt Manley)

For the past four years, Manalapan’s boys soccer program has seen its share of darkness after a borderline-dominant run during the beginning of the millennium. When Dolan opened his eyes and watched his game-winning goal sink Colts Neck 3-2 on Friday, he officially shook to life a slumbering giant of a program that woke up to find itself back on top of the Shore Conference’s most competitive division.

“This is a first for pretty much all of us,” Dolan said. “It’s our first time winning a division. First time we’re going to the state tournament. The first time going to the Shore Conference Tournament. This is the first time it’s all come together.”

With Friday’s win over Colts Neck – which beat Manalapan 3-0 on Sept. 30 and led 2-0 at halftime on Friday – Manalapan clinches at least share of the Class A North title, the first piece of a division title for the Braves since 2005, according to 22-year head coach John Natoli. Manalapan won the Shore Conference Tournament in 2006 and the NJSIAA Group IV co-title in 2007, but finished behind Howell in A North both years.

Fittingly enough, Manalapan will play Howell on Monday with a chance to clinch the outright division title with a win or a tie. The Rebels beat Manalapan, 2-0, on Tuesday.

“There are some guys on this team that got experience last year as really young players, and I knew going through last year was going to be beneficial for those players,” Natoli said. “Last year had some growing pains, but you could see coming in this year we were going to have a chance to compete in the division. We got off to a good start winning games and eventually you start to think about a division title.”

Before earning a chance to win the outright division title, Manalapan had to solve Colts Neck Friday to clinch a share of the division title. Over the first 120 minutes of play between the two teams this season, Colts Neck outscored Manalapan 5-0. Despite outshooting Colts Neck 10-3 in the first half, the Braves found themselves in a two-goal hole.

“Coach Natoli gave us a good speech at half, and he made some good changes,” Dolan said. “We moved some guys to different positions that allowed them to impact the game a little more. I’ve been playing in the back and I haven’t played much midfield this year, but I got a chance to push up and make something happen.”

[onescreen item="5151113"]The comeback began on a corner kick in the 53rd minute. After Colts Neck goalkeeper Mathijs Smit punched the service away from the goal, Manalapan senior Matt Dizenhaus headed the ball back toward the frame. Smith could not hold on to the ball out of the air and Braves freshman Rocky Garretson poked a shot into the open net to give Manalapan its first goal of the game.

Ten minutes after Garretson’s goal, the Braves pulled even on a long throw-in by Dolan that took a bounce to the front of the goal, where junior Jordan Vance struck a one-timed shot into the goal to tie the score at 2.

“We’ve had 13 different players score goals, so everybody that comes into the game for us has a chance to contribute,” Dolan said.

Neither Vance nor Garretson started the game for Manalapan and both were just returning from short absences related to concussion symptoms. Four Braves players in the last three weeks have been afflicted with the same concussion-like symptoms, with junior Adam Weisberger and senior Mason Chin sitting out Friday while recovering.

After initiating the game-tying goal with his long throw-in, Dolan finished the game-winner. Junior Ryan Hammer played the ball over the defense from the midfield and Colts Neck defender Kevin DePope got his head on it. DePope deflected the ball in the direction of his team’s goal and Dolan ran onto it for a sliding shot that tucked into the lower far right corner of the goal in the 67th minute.

Prior to Manalapan’s comeback, Colts Neck continued to own the Braves with two first-half goals. Mick Lee scored off a defensive miscue by Manalapan in the 20th minute and Taylor Demick finished off a long free kick by Brian Knauf after settling the ball and turning for a low shot that found the goal.

Manalapan has come from behind only twice this season and both times were one-goal deficits against teams with a losing record – Middletown North and Marlboro.

“I thought we played well in the first half, but we just got some bad breaks,” Natoli said. “Games are going to go like that sometimes and what I’m most proud of is the character we showed in coming back. Coming back against a team with a losing record is one thing, but doing it against a really quality team like Colts Neck is another. It’s definitely good to see us be able to come back, especially with the postseason right around the corner.”

Box Score

Manalapan 3, Colts Neck 2


1

2

F

Colts Neck (7-3-3, 7-3-3)

2

0

2

Manalapan (11-2-1, 10-2-1)

0

3

3

Goals (Assists): (CN) Chin (Tonelli) 20, Demick (Knauf) 26’; (M) Garretson 53’, Vance (Dolan) 63’, Dolan (Hammer) 67’
Shots: Manalapan, 14-7
Saves: (CN) Smit 6; (M) Siegel 3

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