COLTS NECK - For 76 minutes of its NJSIAA Central Jersey Group III semifinal Monday, the Wall girls soccer team kept one of the state's most potent attacks off the scoreboard and was four minutes from beating its undefeated nemesis of the past two seasons to reach a second straight sectional final.

As every opponent that has stared down Colts Neck this season, including the Crimson Knights themselves in three previous meetings, it is almost impossible to hold down the Cougars for 80 minutes.

Senior Amanda Visco scored the game-tying goal with 3:11 left in regulation and fellow senior Ali Russo slammed home the game-winner in the 16th minute of overtime to propel Colts Neck - the top seed in the Central Jersey Group III bracket - to a come-from-behind, 2-1, win over No. 5 Wall.

"I didn't want this to be my last game and the rest of the seniors didn't want this to be the last game," Visco said. "It's been such a great season and it would have been disappointing to end with a game like that. I just kind of looked around at everyone and said, 'Let's go. There is no way we are losing this game.'"

Colts Neck senior Ali Russo scored the golden goal Monday against Wall. (Photo by Matt Manley)

With the Crimson Knights holding onto a one-goal lead into the final four minutes, Visco - who pushed up from her starting center back spot - started the pivotal sequence of the game by forcing a mistake by the Wall back line, with a defender knocking the ball from the top of the 18-yard box over the end-line to prevent Visco from getting to the ball.

On the ensuing corner kick, Russo's service cleared the Wall defense and bounced toward the far side of the 18-yard box, where Colts Neck junior Frankie Tagliaferri tracked it down. Tagliaferri beat a defender along the end-line and cross the ball in the air to the front of the goal, where Visco headed it into the left side of the net for the equalizer.

"Frankie is so good at putting the ball right where I need it to be and once I saw her get space, I just prepared myself to go up and get it," Visco said.

"You have a tremendous player up top in Frankie, but you also have Visco in the back and actually, Visco is who we really focus our game plan on when we play them," Wall coach Mike Juska said. "She is so fast and she never loses a ball in the air. On set pieces, we have three people marking her and sometimes that's still not enough."

Colts Neck earned six corner kicks in the game and five of them came in the last 25 minutes of the game as they pushed for the tying goal and eventually the winner.

"I'm always looking for Amanda's head but I also knew they were going to be triple-teaming her," said Russo, who took all of the corner kicks. "I guess she wasn't able to get to the one on her goal, but she drew enough attention that Frankie was able to get to the ball on the back post and get a cross in."

Neither team created a dangerous chance in extra time until the Cougars put together the winning score. Sophomore Kayla Lee chipped a pass over the defense for Tagliaferri on the left side of the 18-yard box. Tagliaferri slid a pass toward the near post for senior Bridgette King, who turned with a cross along the end-line. Russo came bolting down the middle of the box and poked the game-winning goal into the net from point-blank range.

"I saw Frankie running down the wing and I was a little further back than I should have been," Russo said. "I was like, 'Oh, she's going to get in there,' so I just started sprinting up and then Bridgette got around the corner and I just made sure I finished it."

"I told myself I really don't want to go to (penalty kicks) because it's really just not a good way to end a game," King said. "I just thought, 'I need to get this in the goal.' I dribbled, gave it 110 percent and I crossed it and Ali was there to finish it."

Not only did Wall score first against Colts Neck on Monday but the Crimson Knights controlled play and outshot the unbeaten Cougars up until the final 12 minutes. The Crimson Knights grabbed the lead in the 61st minute when senior Katie Hyde beat a defender up the right flank and drilled a cross that reached the near post, where sophomore Amy Paternoster headed it into the goal just as Colts Neck goalkeeper Lauren Feaster got her hands on the ball.

"We haven't given up many goals this season, so anytime one goes in, it stings," Russo said. "I think we knew coming in that this was going to be our day and we weren't going to let them take this from us."

"Seeing that goal go in woke us up," King said. "It reminded us that we need to have that full urgency. This wasn't going to be our last game of the season. We didn't work this hard to get here and then not leave it out on the field."

Up until that point and for a little more than seven minutes after, Colts Neck struggled to find much offense against the Crimson Knights. Lee took two shots that sailed just over the crossbar, but the Cougars did not test Wall goalkeeper Alex Panasuk beyond one harmless shot on goal.

Part of Wall's defensive gameplan included man-marking Tagliaferri - a Penn State recruit and member of the U.S. Women's U-17 National Team - with senior Nora Burdge. Juska refrained from marking Tagliaferri with one defender in the past meetings but decided to let his senior defender take a stab at defending Colts Neck's top scorer.

"We gave her the assignment and she stayed with it pretty much the whole game," Juska said of Burdge. "Frankie got flick on at the end, which was a nice play, but I don't think there was much Nora could have about that. Other than that, she was relatively quiet and that just shows you what kind of competitor and athlete Nora Burdge is."

As it turned out, it would have taken Wall two goals to beat Colts Neck and the Crimson Knights almost scored the first of two goals in the 26th minute. Sophomore Lauren Karabin volleyed a shot off a long throw-in that was ticketed for the upper part of the goal, just under the crossbar. Feaster slightly mistimed her jump, but still managed to parry the ball over the crossbar to force a corner kick, which the Cougars would eventually clear out.

The win is the fourth for Colts Neck in four games against Wall this season and it puts the Cougars in their second straight sectional championship game after reaching the Group III final last year. Colts Neck also beat Wall in last year's sectional final, 1-0, and this year is the second straight year that the two Class B North rivals played four times in one season. Colts Neck owns a 6-2 edge in those eight games, with one of Wall's wins coming in the 2014 Shore Conference Tournament championship game.

"It's annoying having to play a team four times," Russo said. "It's a lot of pressure for us, especially because we knew how they felt because when we went into the Shore Conference semis this year, we were motivated because they took it from us last year. They felt the same way about this game so we had to tell ourselves we weren't going to let them take it."

Colts Neck will host No. 3 Toms River East on Thursday as the Cougars look to follow up their first ever sectional title last year with a second consecutive crown.

"I always look at every game believing we are going to win," Juska said. "That's the best team in the Shore, they beat us four times and I thought we were in every game with a chance to win with a play here or bounce there. We haven't had a chance to play (defending group champion) Northern Highlands because we've run into Colts Neck, but I feel good about our team's ability to compete. After seeing them beat us four times, I find it hard to believe that anybody is going to be in that state final other than Colts Neck and Northern Highlands."

 

Box Score

Colts Neck 2, Wall 1 (OT)

1 2 OT OT F
Wall (15-6-1) 0 1 0 0 0
Colts Neck (21-0-1) 0 1 0 1 2

Goals (Assists): (W) Amy Paternoster (Katie Hyde) 61’; (CN) Amanda Visco (Frankie Tagliaferri) 77’, Ali Russo (Bridgette King) 96’
Shots: Colts Neck, 11-8
Saves: (W) Alex Panasuk 3; (CN) Lauren Feaster 4