The season many associated with the Absegami High School boys’ soccer program tab as the “best ever” came to an end Monday afternoon, Nov. 19, and the Braves weren’t about to let it go without a fight.
Ultimately, though, it was the Minutemen of Washington Township that walked out of Galloway Township as the champion, bringing home a 1-0 win over the Braves in the NJSIAA South Jersey Group IV title game.
“I’m going to remember how hard they worked,” Absegami coach Bill Rose said of his team following the game. “Since mid-June, their work has been incredible. I have nothing but praise for them.”
This year's Braves collected the most wins in school history, finishing the season with a record of 19-3-1, and winning the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title for the first time in school history.
It was the second time the Braves had ever advanced to the Group final. In 1981, Absegami lost a 1-0 decision to Brick Memorial.
“This is a great accomplishment for a lot of us seniors who really wanted this,” said Payne Vasquez, one of 16 seniors on the 23-man roster. “I’m proud of everybody. We worked hard to make it this far.”
Eric Jordan’s goal with 10 minutes, 54 seconds left in the first half was the only score Washington Township would need on Monday. It came roughly six minutes after Jordan failed to convert a penalty kick, which was knocked away to the left side of the goalpost by Braves goalie Matt McCormick. Jordan’s rebound attempt also failed, as McCormick caught the ball to end the threat.
In all, McCormick made 10 saves.
“He is an outstanding keeper,” Rose said. “He made big plays in key situations, and made one of the best saves I’ve ever seen, against Cherokee.”
Rose was describing a save during the second round playoff game against the Chiefs, in which McCormick scraped his face against the right goalpost as he was knocking a shot up over the crossbar. It was a game the Braves won 1-0.
McCormick is part of the senior class that had its sights set on Monday’s game.
“It was something we thought about. We wanted it, and then we started winning all these games,” Vasquez said.
The Braves opened the season with four straight wins, giving up three total goals.
Absegami’s first loss came in the fifth game, a 1-0 defeat to Egg Harbor Township, followed by a 2-2 tie with St. Augustine Prep.
The Braves won their next 11 games, including a 1-0 win over Egg Harbor Township, a 9-2 win over Cedar Creek and an 8-0 victory over Lower Cape May.
The Braves’ only other regular season loss was 1-0 to Eastern Regional on Oct. 24.
Absegami entered the playoffs as the No. 1 seed. It defeated Southern Regional, 2-0, followed by the 1-0 win over Cherokee and a 2-1 conquest of Cherry Hill East.
It was an historic season for a group of teenagers set to go to college after playing together since they were children.
“We’ve played soccer together for years,” Vasquez said. “We’ve played together since we were kids. We know each other very well.”
No. 2 Washington Township improved to 18-3-3, and advances to the state semifinals.
“This one’s hard to swallow,” Vasquez said. “We put up a good fight. Both teams wanted it. After the game, our coach told us he’s proud of all of us. He’s going to remember us as one of the best teams he ever coached.”