UNION - Holmdel coach John Nacarlo has had to conjure up a postgame speech of encouragement following an NJSIAA Group II final loss, but even he could only say so much to comfort his players after the way they lost Sunday's Group II final against Garfield at Kean University.

Just 2:03 on the clock away from its second ever group championship and first since winning Group III in 2010, Holmdel conceded the tying and winning goals within a span of 27 seconds as Garfield stunned the Hornets, 2-1, to claim their first ever group championship.

"This game is cruel sometimes," Nacarlo said. "We had them right where we wanted them, getting that one goal, and just couldn't hold it."

Prior to the unravelling of the final two-plus minutes, it appeared Holmdel was on its way to a dramatic shutout victory over a Garfield team with a pair of dangerous scorers. As the game moved to the 73rd minute, Holmdel junior Leo Nobrega ran down a pass from sophomore Justin McStay, touched it once toward the goal and with Garfield goalkeeper Holman Pinzon drawn off his line, Nobrega slid the go-ahead go to the far left corner of the net.

Holmdel's troubles began when Garfield was awarded a free kick from 25 yards out on the right side of the field. Senior Dave Herrera struck the ball toward the far left post and senior Wojciech Piwowarczyk headed the all in to tie the game with 2:03 remaining.

With Holmdel reeling from watching its state title slip away, the Boilermakers again earned a free kick, this time from 45 yards away. Herrera served a ball to the left post and Piwowarczyk flashed in front of Holmdel goalkeeper Tyler Marchiano and nicked the ball enough to get it past him for the go-ahead goal with 1:36 left.

"They were stronger to the ball on those two plays and they wanted it more. That's what it came down to," Nacarlo said. "I don't know if my goalkeeper could have come out and got it. They crashed everybody in the box and the wind kind of held it up in a weird spot. Credit to them, they just wanted that ball more."

The Hornets appeared to dodge disaster in the 70th, when a potential goal by Garfield sophomore John Gonzales was waved off because of a foul on Gonzales while jockeying for position. Nobrega capitalized three minutes later to give Holmdel a momentary lead.

Neither team created many quality chances in the first 65 minutes, but Holmdel did get a chance in the first half when senior Hunter Chapman got in past the defense before Pinzon stopped his one-on-one shot.

For the first 77 minutes and change, Holmdel shut down Herrera and leading scorer Jorge Salas, who finished the season with 32 goals. Holmdel both kept the Boilermakers off the board while also taking a 5-4 edge in shots into the final three minutes.

"We had Nick Chrystal as a mini sweeper in between those two and we had Torre, our sweeper there too," Nacarlo said. "If those two guys split, Torre would have to step and Chrystal would have to slide in. That was our game plan and we executed it perfectly. They just got two fortunate free kicks and it went their way."

Sunday's loss is the third straight for Holmdel in the Group II final. After winning the Group III title in 2010, the Hornets lost to Bernards in the 2011 final and Newton in 2012. Although the Hornets will have to replace Marchiano - a three-year starter in goal and the program's all-time leader in shutouts (32) - they are also set to return sophomore and leading scorer Justin McStay, freshman center midfielder Joe Arena and freshman defender Torre Alvitable, as well as Nobrega for his senior season.

The returning core of young talent will look to build on this run, which began with Holmdel entering the tournament 8-6-5 and coming off a 6-0 loss to Toms River North in the opening round of the Shore Conference Tournament.

"We were 2-5-5 and after losing 6-0 to Toms River North in the Shore Conference Tournament, we had a choice to quit, bag it up and just not care," Nacarlo said. "The kids stepped up and got ready to put on a great run.

"We're a young team and we're not done. We'll be back here. Im proud of these boys for the way they stepped up at the end of the year."