By Matt Stypulkoski
Shore Sports Network Contributor

HOLMDEL – For the second straight year, Holmdel boys soccer team’s season ended on penalties, this time after playing Governor Livingston to a scoreless draw in the Central Jersey, Group 2 sectional final.

“Nothing I’m going to say is going to make them feel better,” Holmdel coach John Nacarlo said. “But I always tell them, I’m proud to be their coach. They gave me every effort, they worked hard and that’s all I can ask them to do.”

The Hornets dominated the 100 minutes that preceded the shootout, winning the possession battle and creating far more dangerous chances than the Highlanders, including a 7-1 edge in shots on goal.

But despite creating a handful of quality goal-scoring opportunities, Holmdel was unable to find the back of the net due to a combination of outstanding goalkeeping and some slight misfortune.

“I don’t want to say I’m used to it, but this is probably the fourth or fifth game this year where the same thing happened,” Nacarlo said. “Sometimes that happens and the ball doesn’t go your way.”

In the 24th minute, Menos Hiras put a shot on target from 20 yards that required a diving effort by Jake Topor to push it around the post. Hiras got a second chance at goal on the ensuing corner kick, but his close-range header was cleared off the line by a Gov. Livingston defender.

That was the kind of day it would become for the Hornets (12-7-3). Ten minutes later, after the Highlanders failed to clear a cross, Rohan Ghandi hit a volley that Topor scrambled to save. In the 70th minute, Gino D’Agostino skipped through three Gov. Livingston defenders before letting a shot go from the top of the area, only for Topor to come to the rescue again.

“[My mindset] was just to go for the ball,” Topor said. “And no matter what, don’t let it go into the back of the net. I wanted to keep this going and I wanted to win.”

In overtime, it was Topor that received a rescue after D’Agostino again made his way past a pair of Highlanders defenders. This time, he curled a shot past the goalkeeper from 12 yards that seemed destined for the back of the net, only to find the crossbar instead.

The lack of goals opened the door for Gov. Livingston, which managed only a few half-chances on the day, and the Highlanders (7-15-1) made the most of it.

Mike McKenna, Michael Coimbra, Josiah Crawford and Logan Dooley all converted their spot-kicks to give Gov. Livingston a 4-3 win in the shootout.

Dooley clinched the victory with his shot in the fifth round of penalties. As it turns out, the senior wasn’t guaranteed to be in the shootout lineup prior to the game – he volunteered to take one of the penalties just as overtime ended.

“He just felt that he could do it,” Gov. Livingston coach Bruno Somma said. “As a coach, you’ve just got to trust the kids sometimes. For a kid to step forward like that, you have to give it to him.”

That trust was rewarded when Dooley placed his shot in the center of the net after forcing Holmdel goalkeeper Tyler Marchiano to make the first move, setting off the celebration and sending Gov. Livingston to the Group 2 semifinals.

“I’ll never forget that, ever,” Dooley said. “It’s a feeling like no other, really. It’s unreal.”