By Rich Fisher | Contributing Editor
As the clock melted down to five minutes remaining in the second overtime of the NJSIAA Non-Public A state championship game, Christian Brothers Academy coach Tom Mulligan turned to his assistants and asked if they wanted to start thinking about candidates for a possible shootout.
“They looked at me and said, ‘Nope, just be patient coach, the game’s not over,’” Mulligan said. “I said ‘OK, sounds good to me.’ We just stayed in the moment right ‘til the end. We didn’t forego any second on that clock.”
The result was one of the most amazing endings to a state soccer final in New Jersey history. With 19 seconds left at Kean University in Union, junior Luke Pascarella blasted a free kick over the Delbarton wall, off the post and past the goalie to give Lincroft’s Colts a remarkable 2-1 victory over New Jersey’s No. 1 ranked team Nov. 11.
It took 99 minutes and 41 seconds for the Colts (19-4) to win their second title in three years and seventh overall.
But it took a year-long grind to get there.
“It was a tough season,” noted captain Joe Lozowski, one of 17 seniors on the team. “We couldn’t really score – that was our big problem. We needed to stay positive, really tough through it.”
Mulligan created what he felt was “probably the most challenging schedule in our school’s soccer history,” including games with South Jersey power Delran, perennial national power St. Benedict’s, Group IV semifinalist East Brunswick and several other quality sides.
“If you don’t challenge the kids throughout the season, then they don’t learn how to deal with adversity in a game,” the coach said. “They don’t learn how to deal with not getting the result.”
They were hard lessons indeed, which included several losses in which CBA held the better of the play only to fall by one goal. One of those instances was a 1-0 loss to Ocean Township in the Shore Conference Tournament finals.
The setback, however, was not as devastating as one might think.
“We needed like, a day to mourn, but then we started the state tournament and were not going to let that drag our season down,” said Lozowski, a parishioner of Holy Innocents Parish, Neptune, until the family recently moved to Point Pleasant Borough.
Surprisingly, that loss had very little effect on the team, positively or negatively, Mulligan said. “This team has been pretty even keeled. We lost a couple games during the season; I think that’s healthy for a group of kids. You don’t have the pressure of being undefeated or you don’t have the expectation of trying to win every game without letting up a goal.
“There were a couple times at key moments during the season where they could have probably surrendered, but that’s not the CBA way. They were young men who put in the work, they pushed each other in practice, they supported each other in difficult times, they focused on the next team-goal or the next game and with a relentless attitude from all 17 seniors and the rest of the team.”
An attitude that showed itself in the championship game. After a shaky opening 10 minutes, the Colts began to take control, but it was another case of dominating without scoring. CBA got a break when a Delbarton player was red carded in the second half, forcing the Green Wave to play short-handed for the final 30 minutes.
Jack Hempstead’s first career goal with just over five minutes left in regulation tied the game at 1-1.
“Jack kind of gave us belief we would win the game,” Lozowski said.
The game stayed deadlocked for the next 25 minutes, and it appeared this would be the first state final to be decided by penalty kicks. Prior to this year, teams were declared co-champions if the game was tied after two overtimes.
As the seconds ticked down, Lozowski’s thoughts were whirling.
“At that point I’m like, ‘We’re probably going to shootouts, get prepared for that,’” he said. “But then you’re kind of thinking there’s 20 seconds left, try to make the most of it and think positive. When Luke was lining up, I kind of had a weird feeling about it, that it might go in.”
When the shot was struck, Lozowski ran toward the goal in hopes of converting a deflection if there was one. But time stood still as the ball ricocheted off the post into the back of the net.
Pascarella had done it again, with his team-leading lucky 13th goal of the season.
“He has come up with clutch goals against many of the best teams in the state this year,” Mulligan said. “He’s got an ability to score in big moments in a game. The unique thing about Luke is he’s got this unselfish attitude. He really cares about the guys around him more than himself.”
Pascarella’s goal avenged state final losses to Delbarton in 2017 and 2015, making the win that much sweeter.
“Stuff like that never happens,” Lozowski said. “It was the craziest game I’ve ever played in.”