UNION TWP. - Some teams might have panicked had they played in an NJSIAA Group III championship game for 50 minutes and could not muster a single shot attempt, but this year's Ocean boys soccer team is not some teams - it's not even most teams.

The 2018 Spartans are one of a kind in the history of its soccer program and it is because on Saturday at Kean University, with the game seemingly out of its control past the midway point, Ocean once again saved its best play for the game's biggest moments.

Ocean awoke from a 50-minute malaise for a prolonged surge and senior James Schutz paid it off with the game-winning header in the 72nd minute to give the Spartans a 1-0 win over Millburn and the program's first Group III championship since 1996.

"It was the best feeling in the world," Schutz said of scoring the game-winner. "We defended the whole game and we knew we just had to defend a little bit longer.

"It means the world. I have been playing (varsity) since my freshman year and to end my senior year winning a state championships with all my teammates is the best feeling in the world."

James Schutz celebrates his game-winning goal in the 72nd minute during Ocean's 1-0 Group III championship victory over Millburn. (Photo by Paula Lopez)
James Schutz celebrates his game-winning goal in the 72nd minute during Ocean's 1-0 Group III championship victory over Millburn. (Photo by Paula Lopez)

"So may memories with this group," senior goalkeeper Max Winters said. "Even the younger guys - we have always played with them too and to do this with all those guys, we couldn't have asked for a better way to get sent off."

In Ocean's only other championship season, the Spartans came up short of the Shore Conference Tournament title. That makes this year's team the first in program history to win a division championship, the Shore Conference Tournament championships and an overall group title in the same season.

"I was a sophomore in college at (The College of New Jersey) when the '96 team won and of course I was at the game," said second-year head coach John Terlecsky, who starred as a senior on Ocean's first ever Shore Conference Tournament championship team in 1994. "I remember Anthony Battaglia raising the championship trophy and saying, 'This is for Ocean soccer and everybody who has played in this program.' That's just how we feel - we're a proud program. To be able to connect all the dots back to that team, it's a pretty cool story."

It also marks the third straight season in which a Shore Conference team has won every title, with Ocean joining Holmdel (2017) and Christian Brothers Academy (2016) on that list. Both Holmdel and CBA also won their respective group titles this season.

Ocean eliminated Holmdel in the SCT semifinals on penalty kicks and scored a golden goal in the 14th minute of overtime to win the championship over CBA, which made Saturday's predicament seem relatively routine.

"If wasn't for the CBA and Holmdel games, I would have been thinking, 'Oh (no),'" Winters said. "But knowing that the ball was going to be in our end and that we wanted to possess and attack a little bit more - maybe it wasn't our best game but the chances we got, we knew we'd take advantage of."

Through the 51st minute, Millburn owned an 8-0 shot advantage over Ocean before senior forward and leading scorer Santieno Harding finally uncorked a shot attempt that sailed less than a foot over the crossbar in the 52nd.

That shot nudged the snowball down the proverbial hill and by the midway point of the second half, the Spartans enjoyed a full momentum swing.

That reversal of fortune came to a head in the 72nd minute. Senior Luke Yates struck a 20 yard shot that required a diving save by Millburn goalkeeper Zach Barr. Senior Leo Montesinos crashed the net and followed the miss, but Barr again denied the attempt, this time from right in front of the goal.

Montesinos, however, was not to be deterred. He collected the ball along the right endline, surveyed the area around the goal and served a back-post cross. Schutz positioned himself on the left post and slammed a header back to the far right of the goal for the game's first and only goal with 8:52 left to play.

"After (Barr) made that second amazing save, I took the ball back out toward the flag," Montesinos said. "I took on one player and I saw James in the middle and James can win a ball over anyone, so I chipped it right to his head. It was a beautiful header by him."

"At that point, I recycled my run," Schutz said. "I had to wait, I saw Leo cross the ball, I went up for it - bottom right corner."

Back in the 62nd minute, Montesinos tested Barr with a well-placed, curling shot from the top of the 18-yard box that the Millers keeper saved with a dive to his right.

The senior midfielder has made an impact throughout his first and only season at Ocean. Montesinos spent his first three high school seasons as a varsity starter before transferring to Ocean ahead of this school year.

"Playing at Shore was great - it's a really good program and I loved my teammates and coaches there," Montesinos said. "But these have always been my guys here. From playing travel with them to hanging out off the field. We thought it might take a few games to implement me into the team. Nope. It clicked right away."

Millburn did not go quietly and nearly sent the game to overtime with some last-minute heroics. Ocean senior goalkeeper Max Winters tried to corral a loose ball on the left side of the box but it was knocked away by Alex Migoya. With Winters out of the net and on the ground, Migoya swung the ball to the other side of the box and it ended up at the feet of Alfie Smith.

Without hesitating, the sophomore ripped a screaming shot with an open net, but it drilled the near right post before an Ocean defender cleared the ball away with 13 seconds left.

"I've had a few slip-ups with balls in the air and I tried to put them behind me and just be aggressive," Winters said. "I knew I can't let the aggression get away because once I start doubting myself for a second, those balls that I normally get to, I won't get to. I had to stay aggressive, we got a little lucky and the defenders were there to pick me up. That's been the story of the season."

Millburn's last desperate push into the box was cleared away by Schutz to set off the celebration by a Spartans team comprised of 18 seniors.

After conceding eight unanswered shots over the first 51 minutes, Ocean unleashed 10 of the next 11 before Millburn closed with its final flurry to win the shot-count, 11-10. Both Winters and Barr saved six shots in the game and Ocean's one extra shot on goal proved to be the difference.

"I think the bigger field was causing us major problems," Terlecsky said, referencing a playing field that plays wider than most high school turf fields. "Balls that we were playing from the marking back and hitting across the field, they weren't getting to the targets. Give credit to (Millburn) because they were a high-pressure defense but I thought we could play better and I think the first 40 minutes of the game was us adjusting to the pitch."

Ocean's Big Red Army student section packed a section of the stands at Kean and large section of the community was on hand to watch the Spartans capture their first title in 22 years. Among those in the crowd was former head coach Tom Reilly, who spent 32 seasons running the program and guided the Spartans to four Shore Conference Tournament titles as well as their only state title back in 1996.

Reilly congratulated his former standout player and protege on the field after the game.

"I have seen a lot of soccer here since I was a little kid in middle school," Terlecsky said. "I watched (senior center back) Zach (Sintic's) dad play in high school, coach Reilly was my elementary school teacher and my mom would take me to the games to check out Ocean Township soccer. So I have seen a lot of the teams and I think this team is the best in school history."


Box Score

Ocean 1, Millburn 0

Ocean (21-3-1)011
Millburn (15-5-1)000

Goals (Assists): (O) James Schutz (Leo Montesinos) 72'
Shots: Millburn, 11-10
Saves: (O) Max Winters 6; (M) Zach Barr 6


More From Shore Sports Network