By Brandon Gould/The Jersey Journal
The barrage of shots came quick and often in the second half of Harrison’s 1-0 victory over rival Kearny in the boys semifinals of the Hudson County Tournament tonight.
Kick after kick seemed to generate just the right push that second-seeded Kearny (11-2-1) needed to erase a one-goal deficit that came in the first half on a goal from junior forward Ali Lakhrif.
Yet, Harrison goalkeeper Nick Araujo was up to the task each time.
“I had my heart pumping, this was a big game and it was just a crazy finish,” Araujo said. “All my mind was focused on this game. I threw everything else out and just concentrated on this.”
That focus paid off big time for the third-seeded Blue Tide (12-0-1), especially in the last few minutes of the contest when Araujo stopped a shot from point-blank and pushed away another that nearly rolled over the goal line at Caven Point in Jersey City. The Blue Tide now advance to Sunday’s Hudson County Tournament final against fourth-seeded Memorial, which edged No. 1 seeded St. Peter’s Prep, 3-2, tonight.
“Without (Araujo), we wouldn’t be here and we’d be crying right now,” said senior defender Modou Sowe. “He saved two great shots at the end that easily could have been goals. We’re just glad that we can say we have one of the best goalies in the state.”
The Kardinals, who won last year’s county title, started to ramp up the pressure in the second half, creating chances on several corner kicks that “felt like missiles being launched,” said Harrison coach Mike Rusek.
With the shutout, Araujo, who finished with eight saves, has now held opponents scoreless in eight of the 11 games he has started this year.
“(Nick) was very impressive today,” said Rusek. “Our defense was tested constantly in the second half and we never would have held on to the 1-0 lead without Nick.”
In a game that featured a collection of almosts and could-have-beens, it was Lakhrif who gained the lead for Harrison, scoring with 12 minutes to go in the opening half.
The goal came after the junior gained control of a header from teammate Christian Marques. Once Lakhrif had the ball, he sprinted toward the net between two Kearny defenders and pushed a shot into the lower left corner. The shot sneaked past the approaching Sebastian Ferreira, who had six saves for Kearny.
That goal proved to be just enough for the Blue Tide, which absorbed everything that Kearny had to offer in the second half.
“We certainly put some numbers forward at the end of the game, trying to get something off the corners kicks,” Kearny coach Bill Galka said. “The keeper came up with a number of saves and some of the shots were blocked and never made it to the goal. We were hoping to get something, we thought one might have been in at the end, it’s unfortunate.”
With the victory, Harrison avenged a 2-1 loss to Kearny in the teams’ most recent encounter in 2011 — a game played at Red Bull Arena. It was also the second time that the Blue Tide topped Kearny in the county tournament, joining Harrison’s 1-0 win over the Kardinals in the 2009 county championship.
“It’s a special win. You could tell by the intensity throughout the stadium from the players on the field to the fans in the stands,” Rusek said. “It was just something different than your average high school soccer game. We really feel like we beat a great team today in a game that almost felt like a state final.”
Harrison (12-0-1) 1 0 – 1
Kearny (11-2-1) 0 0 – 0
Goals: (H): Ali Lakhrif
Assists: (H): Christian Marques.
Saves: (H): Nick Araujo 8. (K): Sebastian Ferreira 6.