UNION - Luke Pascarella wasn't thinking about the clock, the undefeated opponent, the goalkeeper who had already denied him or the fact that he, the leading scorer on the Christian Brothers Academy boys soccer team, had not found the net during the NJSIAA Non-Public A Tournament.

Pascarella wasn't even thinking about himself when he lined up a 33-yard free kick with only seconds remaining until the first ever penalty kick round in the history NJSIAA Group Finals. He was thinking about two things: his senior teammates and the two things he had to do to give them a state championship - get his shot over the wall and to the left post.

CBA's junior striker did both and when his 33-yard direct kick clanged off the left post and nestled into the back of the net with 19 seconds left on the clock in the second overtime period, the Colts had officially ended defending champion Delbarton's 57-game unbeaten streak in the most dramatic of fashions, by a final score of 2-1 in 99-plus minutes of play.

Photo by Matt Manley.
Photo by Matt Manley.

"We have 17 seniors and this is for them," Pascarella said. "You never know when it's going to be your last game and I just wanted to give them one last run and one last state championship. They deserve it and everyone here deserves it. We have been working hard for this since August."

A foul outside the top of the 18-yard box set up CBA with one last scoring chance before the game would have moved to penalty kicks. This is the first season in which group finals will be decided by penalty kicks if two teams are tied after two scoreless overtime periods.

With that scenario looking likely, Pascarella patiently waited over the ball for Delbarton to set up their wall 10 yards away from the spot. Once the wall was set, Pascarella ripped a perfect shot that just cleared the reach of Delbarton keeper Kyle Swift.

"I just needed to get it over the wall," Pascarella said. "Their keeper made some great saves. We were knocking on the door the whole game and I just knew if I got another opportunity, it had to go in. I had no idea of the clock - I just knew if I hit this and it goes in, the game's over."

Once the shot went in, Pascarella's shirt came off and his teammates chased him around the field and all the way to the CBA cheering section to celebrate with its student fan base.

"I just wanted to run forever, Hempstead said. "You don't know even know what to do except scream and jump. It's amazing."

The championship is CBA's second in the last two seasons, seventh overall and third against 13-time champion Delbarton in the Non-Public A final. The last time Delbarton lost in a Non-Public A championship game was in 2011, in overtime, to none other than CBA.

Prior to Sunday, Delbarton's last true loss (the Green Wave were eliminated from the 2016 Non-Public A Tournament on penalties) was a 3-1 defeat at the hands of Delran on Sept. 28, 2016 and part of a three-game losing streak that accounted for all of Delbarton's three losses that season.

"It's a surreal night for these kids and for the people who came to watch CBA - they will never forget this night," Mulligan said. "To defeat a program like Delbarton is an honor. It's a tough team to put down but my seniors really came through."

Pascarella's heroics followed the same by senior outside back Jack Hempstead, who ripped a picturesque shot from 23-yards out to tie the game, 1-1, in the 75th minute for his first career varsity goal.

Unlike its championship win over Delbarton seven years ago and its victory over Seton Hall Prep two years ago, this CBA team was very much an underdog heading into Sunday's game at Kean University, even if the Colts did not think or play like one. CBA outshot the defending champions, 16-10, and controlled most of the possession.

"No disrespect to Delbarton or any of the other great teams we have played on our schedule - for the most part, I have watched a lot of soccer this year and I firmly believe, I told our team the other day, that you're the best soccer-playing team I have played all season," CBA coach Tom Mulligan said. "It hasn't always shown in the result but I'm confident that when people look back on this, no matter what happens, they are going to say that was a team that played really good soccer."

Although a double-yellow card for dissent on Sam Burvill that left Delbarton at a man disadvantage had something to do with the Colts edge in possession and shots, CBA was leading the shot count, 7-5, at the time of the red card and was in control of the ball for most of the 45 minutes since Delbarton took a 1-0 lead in the fourth minute.

"The moment we started playing, we started seeing some weaknesses in them and we started to just know that we can play our game and attack and create chances like we have all year," Hempstead said. "I feel like once we leveled out and were patient, we gained a lot of confidence because we knew it was anybody's game."

All that possession and all of those scoring chances would mean nothing, however, without a goal, which has been a theme for CBA over the last two seasons in late-round tournament games.

"I think those were the two best goals I have ever seen," senior Joe Lozowski said. "To see those goals go in was a relief. We were banging on the door the entire game and to get that first goal was just great and we knew we could win it from there."

Senior outside fullback Jack Hempstead would not have seemed like a candidate to give the Colts their biggest goal of the past two years given he has not scored a varsity goal as a two-year starter. Yet Mulligan kept telling Hempstead that goal was coming and it was going to be big.

"You talk about a goal," Mulligan said of Hempstead's strike. "It's ironic because I watch him every day in practice and I tell him, 'You are going to get a big goal, Jack. It's coming, just trust me, it's coming. I don't know if he got the biggest, but he got a big one."

Mulligan was right. Hempstead ran onto a loose ball and unleashed a 23-yard missile that tucked inside the top right corner of the goal to tie the score with 5:08 left in regulation.

"It was one of those shots that when you line it up, you just know you are going to hit it well," Hempstead said. "I have done it in practice a few times and I just knew. I saw that familiar path and it was like a light at the end of a tunnel. It was right there and it went in. No words for that - it was just so much emotion. I've never scored a goal before so this was a good place to do it."

Delbarton grabbed a 1-0 lead just 3:52 into the match on the team-leading 13th goal by junior Brendan McSorley. Matt Pease uncorked a long throw from the right side and after a CBA defender got a head on it, McSorley line up a shot and drilled it from six yards out for a 1-0 lead.

"Last year, we might have given up that early goal and started to cave and started panicking," senior Jack Gill said. "We continued to play the way we do, our possession game. In the 75th minute, a lot of teams would start kicking and hoping but we kept moving it around the box and we finally got what we felt we deserved."

The early Delbarton goal set off what turned out to be nearly a complete role-reversal from last year's championship game, won by Delbarton over CBA, 4-1. In that game, CBA's Dom Bellomo scored in the third minute to send CBA to the half with a 1-0 lead before Delbarton dominated the rest of the way, eventually gaining a man advantage after a CBA red card.

This time around, it was CBA who took over the game after falling behind early and benefited from the opponent's loss of composure.

"It's unfortunate that they got a red card and had to play a man down, just like it was unfortunate when the same thing happened to us last year," Mulligan said. "Stuff happens, I guess."

CBA's defense kept Delbarton's dangerous rotation of forwards in check after McSorely's breakthrough, with senior Liam Mulvey and junior Connor Anderko controlling the middle and goalkeeper Eric Wnorowski - who was the No. 1 backup to two different goalkeepers in each of the past two seasons - steady in the net. Wnorowski had to come up with one key save in the second half and did so by rejecting a shot by Ivan Scotto.

"We preach to them as a staff if you play the right way, you are going to have more opportunities than the other team," Mulligan said. "I told them on the bus that our best defense is our possession. The more we have the ball, the less they have the ball and the less opportunities they are going to get, so I was really satisfied with our style of play tonight."

Lozowski and Gill are the two seniors on CBA's roster who played significant minutes on the Colts' 2016 championship team and now have a second championship to go with the title from their sophomore seasons. They are the first pair of Colts teammates to be a part of two state titles since CBA won three championships in five years from 1998 to 2002.

"This is all the seniors wanted," Lozowski said. "We felt what it was like to win two years ago and then we felt what it was like to lose last year and we just wanted to finish the job really badly this year. It's a surreal feeling right now."



Box Score

CBA 2, Delbarton 1 (OT)

Delbarton (21-1-1)10000
CBA (19-4)01012

Goals (Assists): (D) Brendan McSorely 4'; (CBA) Jack Hempstead 75', Luke Pascarella (DK) 100'
Shots: CBA, 16-10
Saves: (D) Kyle Swift 7; (CBA) Eric Wnorowski 5


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