UNION - Just like it had over the course of the year, the Red Bank Catholic girls soccer team looked down and out several times during Sunday's NJSIAA Non-Public A championship game against Oak Knoll at Kean University.

And just like they did during the entire postseason, the Caseys bounced back all game long Sunday and earned themselves a state championship.

Red Bank Catholic rallied from three different one-goal deficits Sunday and played Oak Knoll to a 3-3 draw to earn a share of the Non-Public A championship - the program's fifth overall state title and first championship since winning a Non-Public A co-title in 2010.

"We worked really hard to get here and we didn't want to just give up," said senior Sophia Demurjian, who scored the first RBC goal. "We knew that if we kept going, we could win the game and we ended up as co-champs and I'm really proud of all the girls."

Photo by Matt Manley.

Each time the Royals scored a goal to take the lead, RBC responded with an equalizer within 2:18 all three times. After Ashley Ferry gave Oak Knoll a 1-0 lead with a goal in the 18th minute and Demurjian answered 1:15 later by chipping an 18-yard shot over goalkeeper Shannon McDermott after taking a through ball from junior Jyllissa Harris.

Both teams defended for the next 20-plus minutes before Oak Knoll again struck. Senior Meagan O'Callahan ripped an 18-yard strike off the bottom of the crossbar and the ball bounced straight down. The ball was initially ruled to be in play after hitting the bar, but the middle official checked with the sideline referee and overturned the call to a goal 60:39 into the match.

"If our team fell apart after that, you could understand it," RBC coach Frank Lawrence said. "From our perspective, it didn't look like it was in to us, but those calls are the calls. Our kids just immediately wanted to attack and score goals, and I thought we scored three really great goals."

The Caseys did not allow the demoralization to fester and senior Marissa Rafaniello slammed the equalizer into the goal 2:18 after O'Callahan's goal.

It was then Oak Knoll's turn to answer, with O'Callahan again burying a 20-yard strike from the right side 1:40 after Rafaniello's goal.

Just 2:13 after Oak Knoll took its third lead, RBC answered off an Emily Holtz corner kick. Sophomore Juliana Rafaniello parked herself on the far post and knocked the corner kick off a defender and in to tie the game 65:52 into the action.

"It's really an incredible display of our grit," Lawrence said. "At some point in the season, when we were struggling with a lot of these injuries, I talked a lot about grit. Kids this age don't necessarily know what grit is and we talked about it and tried to teach them about it. We said if we wanted to win, that's what it was going to take and they obviously believed it."

From that point on, neither team could add a goal, although each came close. Oak Knoll's Yasla Ngoma drilled another shot off the bar that bounced straight down, but this time stayed in play in the 72nd minute.

In the eighth minute of overtime, RBC nearly ended the game when Demurjian broke away from the defense. McDermott came off her line and rejected Demurjian's approach before she could get off a shot.

"Before the game, our coach told us (McDermott) loved to come out of the box and that's my favorite thing when a keeper comes out of the box and tries to play one of the outside backs," Demurjian said. "She didn't do that as much this game.

"I hesitated by like two steps and it probably cost me. In the end, though, we came out as co-champs and I'm just happy about that."

Red Bank Catholic began the season 4-6 and rallied to reach the Shore Conference Tournament before advancing to and winning a share of the group championship. The Caseys beat Howell and lost to second-seeded Freehold Township, 1-0 - a short run that prepared them for the South Jersey Non-Public A bracket.

"We had to fix things," DeMurjian said. "(We believed) if we kept working hard, things would change and it did. We got this far and we became co-champs."


Box Score

Red Bank Catholic 3, Oak Knoll 3

1 2 OT OT F
Red Bank Cath. (15-10-1) 1 2 0 0 3
Oak Knoll (20-2-3) 1 2 0 0 3

Goals (Assists): (RBC) Sophia Demurjian (Jyllissa Harris) 20', Marissa Rafaniello (Juliana Rafaniello) 63', Juliana Rafaniello (Emily Holtz) 66'; (OK) Ashley Ferry (Daniella Caputo) 18', Meagan O'Callahan 61', Meagan O'Callahan 64'
Shots: Oak Knoll, 13-10
Saves: (RBC) Anthi Panayides 2; (OK) Shannon McDermott 4