MANALAPAN - During its 2019 season, the Long Branch boys soccer teams finished tied for second place in the Shore Conference Class A North division, defeated both Christian Brothers Academy and Marlboro in the process, and boasts the leading scorer in the Shore Conference at the top of its formation.

As a reward for its accomplishments, the Green Wave drew the No. 13 seed in the Central Jersey Group IV Tournament and in its first game, had to play the newly-crowned Shore Conference Tournament and Class A North champion.

It seemed a bad break that Long Branch had to play fourth-seeded Freehold Township in the first round. It turned out to be a bad draw for Freehold Township.

Patrick O'Dwyer - the Shore's leading goal scorer - finished his 21st goal of the season in the first minute of the second overtime period and Long Branch stunned the red-hot Patriots, 2-1, on a golden goal.

Long Branch senior Eryck Lazo. (Photo by Matt Manley)
Long Branch senior Eryck Lazo. (Photo by Matt Manley)

One year after failing to qualify for both the Shore Conference and NJSIAA Tournaments, Long Branch is heading to the Central Group IV quarterfinals to play at No. 5 Princeton on Friday after taking out one of the favorites in the bracket. During the regular season, Freehold Township beat Long Branch, 3-1, in Freehold.

"We knew we had it in us," O'Dwyer said. "We just had to play hard and never doubted ourselves. We felt like the underdogs and we felt like people didn't really know what we had and what we have is special."

"We're a good team; we just needed that break," Long Branch coach Adrian Castro said. "We knew what Freehold Township had - we saw them the first time and we scouted them like crazy. We knew set pieces were going to be huge and that was our number one focus, which we did a good job on."

For the first 68 minutes of Tuesday's game, it appeared Long Branch would be on the wrong side of the ledger again thanks to some unfortunate bounces, missed opportunities and a Freehold Township side that made the most of its best chance.

Long Branch missed four quality looks in the first half - three of which were off the foot of O'Dwyer. He had a clean shot saved by Patriots junior John Wilhelm, missed wide right on a low rip, and popped a shot over the crossbar with the goal open.

The Green Wave also nearly scored in the second half when Wilhelm saved a point-blank shot by junior Jason Laviola and the follow-up by Laviola stayed wide of the far bar in the 51st minute.

That all set the stage for the game's first goal, which happened on the other end of the field. Junior Adam Havens wound up for a strike and instead touched a pass through the defense to classmate Zach Orrico. The junior ran onto it without a defender near him and finished in the 58th minute for the game's first goal and his team-high 16th goal of 2019.

Long Branch did not go away, however, and pulled even in the 69th. Senior Eryck Lazo continued his recent hot streak when he carried the ball to a spot 25 yards from the goal and ripped a shot that deflected off a defender and carried into the goal.

"It was amazing to see Eryck pull up from 25 yards out," O'Dwyer said. "That's when I felt a sense of hope. We just carried that hope with us the rest of the game."

Lazo has now scored at least one goal in four straight games for Long Branch and has five goals and three assist in those four games - wins over Marlboro, Shore and Freehold Township and a draw vs. Jackson Memorial.

"Eryck has been big for us," Castro said. "Him and Laviola really drive us. Laviola controls the midfield for us, gets the ball side-to-side and really pushes us forward."

The senior forward was not done after scoring the equalizer. After a scoreless 10 minutes of overtime, Lazo got the winning play started when he tracked the ball into the box and slid a pass across the top of the 18-yard box toward O'Dwyer.

O'Dwyer stepped on the pass with his back toward the goal, spun to his left and fired a low shot past a diving Wilhelm and inside the right post for the game-winner.

"I ran too far at first," O'Dwyer said. "I just put my foot down to try and trap it and I tried to take one step back and just hit it."

Freehold Township had the best opportunity of the first overtime period, with senior Evan Savino hitting a 20-yard free kick from the right side of the field that glanced the crossbar.

Tuesday's loss ends a banner season for the Patriots, who won the outright Class A North title for the first time since 2008 and the Shore Conference Tournament championship for the first time since 2014.

"Freehold Township is a program we try to emulate," Castro said. "That's a big program win for us."

Box Score

Long Branch 2, Freehold Twp. 1 (OT)

Long Branch (9-7-2)01012
Freehold Twp. (14-6-1)01001

Goals (Assists): (LB) Eryck Lazo 69', Patrick O'Dwyer (Eryck Lazo) 91'; (FT) Zach Orrico (Adam Havens) 58'
Shots: Long Branch, 17-13
Saves: (LB) Tyler Abbot 7; (FT) John Wilhelm 4

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