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COLTS NECK - In each of the past two seasons, the Colts Neck boys soccer team has shown it is a team built to make a tournament run.

With only one chance to uphold that reputation this season, the Cougars did that and then some to cap their 2020 campaign.

Junior David Tuschmann pumped in a hat trick to cap his 25-goal season and Colts Neck rolled over Cranford to capture the NJSIAA Central Jersey East Group III North championship - the program's first sectional title since winning the overall Group I championship in 2000.

Photo by Matt Manley

"Everything just really paid off," senior midfielder Jake Gershon said. "I think we really hit our stride in the first game of the state tournament and we really peaked today."

With a host of starters back from a 2019 team that reached the Shore Conference Tournament semifinals as a No. 8 seed and two years removed from losing in the Central Jersey Group III final, Colts Neck came into the tournament as the No. 1 seed in the eight-team bracket and looked every bit the part during its three-game run.

"I think having COVID to think about actually helped us focus," said Tuschmann, who finished the year with four hat tricks. "We didn't take any game for granted and we all wanted to do everything we could to make sure we could play every game, especially for the seniors. We wanted a season and when we saw we had a season, we wanted to get to the last day of the season and win."

After wiping out John F. Kennedy Iselin in the round one and beating Class B North division rival Matawan on a late goal in the semifinals, the host Cougars wasted almost no time at all jumping on top of the visiting Cougars. Off the opening kick, junior Tom Samaras played the ball forward toward Tuschmann, who chipped the ball over goalkeeper Dominic Salvinelli for the game's first goal just 22 seconds into the match.

Colts Neck has scored early and often throughout the season and is no stranger to quick-strike goals. Saturday's opener was the quickest Colts Neck has struck out of the gate.

"I think it comes down to coaching," Tuschmann said. "We get fired up to start every half and we have a good gameplan to start out."

Colts Neck kept Cranford under constant pressure through the remainder of the half but did not break through again until the third minute of the second half. Again, it was Tuschmann striking early in the half, stealing the ball from a defender and finishing to stretch Colts Neck's lead to two goals.

Tuschmann's final goal was his most visually pleasing, with the junior striker lining up a cross from sophomore Jairo Chira and ripping a volley out of the air and into the left side netting.

"I've known these seniors for three years so we wanted to go out on a high note," Tuschmann said. "To get those goals and help them get this win is a great feeling."

Colts Neck's regular season ended in disappointing fashion, with the Cougars dropping back-to-back 2-1 losses to Class B North rival Wall, which finished an unbeaten season on Saturday. Those marked the first two losses of the season for Colts Neck and the Cougars bounced back with three wins and a championship.

"Coming out of the Wall games, we really emphasized getting off to good starts," Gershon said. "Going forward, me dribbling forward and guys running off me has been a key emphasis during these last three games."

With the 2020 season complete, Colts Neck ended it as one of the Shore's most dominant teams by the numbers. Its 75 goals scored were 14 more than the next closest Shore Conference team (Toms River North).

"We came up short the past couple of years and I think for the guys that are in my grade, we really learned from those experiences," Gershon said. "You really see how much you have to put in a full 80-minute game and I think we all pulled together and really just played until the last whistle, and that was awesome to see to end the season."