The Waldwick boys soccer team poses for photos after winning the 2019 title for North 1, Group 1.
Story & Photo: Sean Farrell/NorthJersey.com
CRESSKILL — Once Matt Popeil shot it, he knew.
A nervous crowd and four huddled teammates had just watched him take the solitary walk from midfield to the defining moment of his career. But the Waldwick senior treated his shootout attempt like any other, even if the stakes were higher.
One team would go on. The other would go home.
“It was just like practice,” Popeil said. “I knew I had to put it in my spot and it would go.”
Popeil buried his shot to the right corner and was rewarded with a second-straight sectional title. The Warrior defender came up with the winning kick in a 4-3 shootout win (2-2 score in regulation) over Cresskill in Friday’s North 1, Group 1 final. He was surrounded on the field moments later when the last Cougar attempt sailed wide.
“When we got off the bus, we said that we have one more group of doubters to silence,” coach Jonathan Noschese said. “They did it.”
What it means
Waldwick will face Glen Ridge in the Group 1 semifinals at 6 p.m. Wedensday at Passaic County Tech.
The Warriors have now won five sectional titles in this decade and seven in Noschese’s 22-year tenure. Of course, it was hard to miss the championship history on team jackets worn by former players.
The latest title was far from a guarantee. The Warriors needed to replace eight starters and a deep senior class.
“This is one of the sweetest,” Noschese said. “Nobody expected it from them.”
Jacob Lee and Conor Tobin both scored for Cresskill, but Waldwick battled back from a pair of deficits.
Frank Kasperowicz tied the game around the 20th minute and Kyle Jahnke volleyed in a Warrior goal in the second half.
The Warriors dominated the overtime periods, but could not take advantage with Cresskill playing with a man down.
Both keepers saved the first shootout attempt, but Waldwick pulled away with successful shots by Lucas Ruehlemann, Jagger da Silva, Jahnke and Popeil.
Popeil asked to be one of the shooters after watching the Warriors’ last two sectional finals from the bench.
“This kid trains hard,” Noschese said. “He knew his time would come. Sometimes we have juniors that are so close and when we lose a lot of people, we know we’re all right.”
“When we didn’t get one in regulation, I knew we had it in PKs,” Popeil said. “I had a feeling. We’ve been practicing all the time.”
“When it’s time, I just say who wants it?” Noschese said. “Whoever has that look gets it.”