HOLMDEL -- Holmdel's 2023 boys soccer season began with the Hornets searching for a way to replace three out of the four starters from last year's back line. In Saturday's NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II quarterfinal against Shore Conference Class A Central division rival Wall, Holmdel had to figure out how to replace two defensive starters from this year's team.

The solution to the problem became much clearer for Holmdel coach Matt Isaacson when his best senior volunteered to be a major part of it.

Senior David Weiner not only shifted from midfield to center back and lead the way in a shutout effort by his team; he also converted the tiebreaking penalty kick in the 75th minute as part of a 2-0 win for the top-seeded Hornets over No. 9 Wall.

Holmdel entered Saturday's game vs. Wall without its two regular starter center backs -- junior Tyler Gravier and sophomore Dom Poli -- unable to play. Gravier was required to sit as part of a red-card suspension levied against him in the Shore Conference Coaches Cup championship game on Oct. 21, while Poli injured his ankle at practice this week, according to Isaacson.

With two vacancies on the back line, Isaacson turned to the bench to fill one and to his talented attack to fill the other. Sophomore Connor Paul filled in at one center back spot and Weiner took his seven goals and 10 assists and shifted to the back line.

"I think his natural position is a defender," Isaacson said. "He knows when to pick his battles going forward and when to hang back. Being the upperclassman and leader back there, he knew he had to be patient, hold his own and wait for those opportunities. As much as I wanted to see him going forward, he played it exactly how I wanted him to: he made some runs forward and even though he didn't finish them, they made us more dangerous."

Defense became a priority for Holmdel against a Wall side that scored four goals when the two teams met during the regular season. Holmdel won the Class A Central showdown, 5-4, but surrendered three goals in the final 10 minutes and twice in the final minute.

With Weiner running things in the back, Holmdel relied on junior Stephan Kapranov to run the attack alongside seniors Jaime Martin and Frankie Brusco. Senior Younis Kamel filled in as a starter up top, which was not a stretch for a Kamel, who has five goals and seven assists on the season.

"He has been scoring points for us all year," Isaacson said of Kamel. "We put him up top and that allowed Stephan to drop in. Once we saw we were going to be able to control the middle, that allowed us to push Stephan forward as well. We did miss David in the offensive third, but I think the other guys stepped up and took care of business."

Even with the players in question rising to the occasion, Holmdel could not gain the edge on the scoreboard for the first 74 minutes. Wall senior goalkeeper Charles Schirmer made two saves on Kapranov in the second half that kept Holmdel out of the net, while Hornets junior keeper Matt Campillay came up with a diving stop of his own on a rip by junior Robert Keegan in the first half.

"That's been the theme with us all year," Isaacson said. "Just keep pounding away and eventually, it's going to come."

In the 75th minute, Holmdel's came of chip-away finally broke through. Weiner and Kapranov played a combination that freed up Weiner to make a run toward the end-line on the right side and play a cross into the box. The ball bounced back out to, Kapranov, who headed it ball toward the left post. Wall defender Colin Roarty left his feet and came crashing down on top of Holmdel senior Frankie Brusco, which prompted the penalty call.

Weiner stepped up to the spot and ripped a shot to the lower left of the goal to break the scoreless deadlock.

Wall earned a pair of corner kicks in quick succession and had a chance to tie the game, but the Crimson Knights could not get off a solid shot out of a scrum inside the box.

After Holmdel cleared out one last free kick by Wall, Martin scored on an open net with 0.3 seconds left to seal the victory for Holmdel.

Saturday marked the sixth time Holmdel and Wall have played one another in the last three seasons, including five in the last two seasons. Four of those meetings have been in tournament play and the two newfound rivals have clashed in each of the past three NJSIAA Central Jersey Group II Tournaments. Prior to the 2021 state-tournament match, outside of scrimmages, Holmdel and Wall had never played one another during Garry Linstra's 22 seasons as Wall head coach.

Holmdel owns a 5-0-1 record in the six games and since winning a penalty shootout over Wall in 2021, the Hornets have won the last five matches. That includes a win in last year's Central Jersey Group II championship game.

"We have gotten the best of them the last five games and every one of them has been a battle," Isaacson said. "It's always a one or a two-goal game and one went to penalties, so they (the Holmdel players) knew this wasn't going to be easy."

With Saturday's win, Holmdel is one win away from returning to the Central Group II final and will try to earn that opportunity Wednesday at home against fifth-seeded Arthur L. Johnson. Last year's sectional championship is Holmdel's first since its 22-0-1, Group II championship season in 2018. Since that undefeated campaign, the Hornets are 72-12-6 in nearly five full seasons, but have not made it back to the Group II championship during that span.

From Wednesday forward, Holmdel will have Gravier back on the defense and Weiner showed that if it benefits the team, he can make an impact playing center back as well.

"It will be considered," Isaacson said of Weiner possibly playing in the back going forward. "It will depend on what the other team's attack looks like. But Gravier has done a great job for us and we had Connor Paul step up today. He is six-foot-four, he wins everything in the air and he did exactly what I wanted him to. So we have options and we feel good about all of them."

Box Score

Holmdel 2, Wall 0

Wall (10-9)000
Holmdel (14-2-1)022

Goals (Assists): (H) David Weiner (PK) 75'; (H) Jaime Martin (Stephan Kapranov) 80'
Shots: Holmdel, 17-7
Saves: (W) Charles Schirmer 11; (H) Matt Campillay 6

More From Shore Sports Network