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MANCHESTER TOWNSHIP – Hopeful to claim a Class B South division title this year after a strong 2019 season, Manchester’s regular season didn’t work out quite as planned. The Hawks finished a distant fourth in division play and entered the postseason just one game over .500 and as the No. 6 seed in the Central East Groups 1 and 2 South bracket.

What the second season presented to the Hawks, however, was a chance to wipe the slate clean. A chance to turn an ordinary season into something extraordinary with one week of the best soccer of their lives.

It was a back and forth game from start to finish between Manchester and ninth-seeded Monmouth Regional on an unseasonably warm Saturday afternoon in Ocean County, and in the 70th minute, the Hawks finally got the golden opportunity they’d been hoping for.

Junior forward Brandon Sogness used his speed to get wide and drive into the box where he was fouled as he got off a shot. Sophomore Owen Edwards then stepped to the line and buried the penalty kick, and that goal was all Manchester needed to hold off Monmouth, 1-0, and capture the NJSIAA Central East Groups 1 and 2 South sectional title.

It is the first sectional title in program history for the Hawks.

“I’m really at a loss for words right now,” Edwards said. “At the start of states nobody thought we’d get out of the first round so to win it all, it’s out of this world.”

“It’s so unreal at this point that it hasn’t really set in yet,” said senior defender Trevor Juralewicz. “We kept our heads up even though we didn’t get it done in B South. We told ourselves it’s states now and it’s now or never.”

“It may have been Owen who said it before we started states, that ‘anything is possible’,” said Manchester head coach Troy Madison. “We asked the kids after our first practice before states, ‘Who can beat us?’, and that was kind of our rallying cry. I’m so proud of these kids and everything they’ve done. Manchester has never been a soccer powerhouse or anything like that but these kids fight hard every day and they kept believing. It’s special.”

It was a fairly even first half with Monmouth (8-8-1) having the better chances and Manchester (10-5-2) holding a possession advantage. Monmouth had a good look in the 15th minute when junior forward Kaan Pehlivan had a left-footed shot just miss the far post and again in the 30th minute when junior midfielder Ryan Kuldanek blasted a shot just over the crossbar.

Manchester had a good scoring opportunity in the 63rd minute when a ball ping-ponged over to Edwards inside the 18-yard line but Monmouth goalie Dom Santaniello was able to dive and make the save.

Then, in the 70th minute, Sogness’s work resulted in a foul and a penalty kick. The choice of who would take the kick was an easy one for Madison.

“With the composure he has there was no doubt in our minds he was going to make it,” Madison said.

Edwards, who scored with 23 seconds left in regulation in a 2-1 win over Raritan in the semifinals, came through in the clutch again by finding the back of the net with a shot that hit twine in the bottom right corner.

“I’ve been there before so I just took a deep breath and said, ‘I got this’,” Edwards said. “It was great work by Brandon. A lot of the goals I’ve scored this season have been made from him getting fouled and getting PKs and free kicks. We just worked hard and kept at it.”

The next 10 minutes felt like 10 hours for Manchester but the Hawks were able to survive a frenetic few minutes where Monmouth made a hard charge at the goal. Monmouth had several shots and chances and nearly found the equalizer when a bicycle kick from Kuldanek hit the crossbar with one minute left.

“It was a nervous mess in the back in the last couple minutes but we just wanted to get it out and drain time,” Juralewicz said.

Shortly thereafter the final whistle blew and Manchester stormed the field to celebrate the first sectional title in program history. In a season like none other that was filled with adversity never faced before, Manchester found a way to persevere and go on an unprecedented run to a championship.

“We didn’t exactly have the season we wanted in B South but this was our extra push and we got hot at the right time,” Edwards said.

“I’m so proud of these kids,” Madison said. “It was not easy but it shows that if you work hard you can be rewarded like this.”

 

Box Score

Manchester 1, Monmouth 0

 

 12F
Monmouth (8-8-1)000
Manchester (10-5-2)011

 

GOALS – MANCH: Owen Edwards (PK), 70’.

SAVES – MON: Dom Santaniello, 6; MANCH: Keith Fallon, 6.

SHOTS – Monmouth, 12-9

CORNERS – Monmouth, 6-3

 

Managing editor Bob Badders can be reached at bob.badders@townsquaremedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Badders. Like Shore Sports Network on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube channel for all the latest video highlights.