Regulation time was not enough for the Catholic League to determine a boys soccer champion on Nov. 2.
With the title game tied at 1-1, the Father Judge and La Salle high school teams were eager to battle through sudden-death overtime.
But it was over before it ever really got started.
La Salle’s Darius Madison scored the game-winner 55 seconds into overtime, giving the Explorers its sixth Catholic League soccer title. It was their first since 2006.
“They just came out and played harder,” said Father Judge senior captain Nick Battaglia. “We all played a hell of a game, but they came out on top. That goal at the end, they just put it away.”
The Explorers dominated the first half of game action with ball possession and shots on goal. They captured the lead in the game’s 32nd minute when Madison scored his first of two goals.
By the second half, however, a fire had re-ignited within Father Judge. The Crusaders showed the determination that got them to the finals, a run highlighted by an eight-game win streak that took the team to the postseason.
Crusaders standout Kevin Pohl scored on a corner kick to tie the game. It was the first goal permitted this season in Catholic League play by La Salle, which shut out its opponents on the way to a 15-0 record.
And just like that, the momentum shifted.
Both squads battled until regulation time ran out. La Salle seemed rattled after giving up that first goal to a Catholic League foe; the Crusaders seized the moment but failed to capitalize.
Within the first minute of sudden-death OT, it was all over.
“The momentum started swaying to our side. We just couldn’t get another opportunity,” said Judge coach John Dunlop. “They have some special players on their side. We had to make some adjustments accordingly. I think we couldn’t get into a rhythm because of that, and that’s to their credit.”
The Crusaders — and their army of fans gathered along the sidelines — seemed utterly shocked by the outcome. Players cried as La Salle jubilantly hoisted its Catholic League championship plaque.
ldquo;We were confident today. We put the only goal in the net against them,” said Battaglia. “We felt good going into overtime, but they got the shot in … caught the goalie off-guard. It went over his head. There’s nothing you can do about it.”
For Battaglia, the loss was slightly more personal. His best friend since childhood is a starting midfielder for the Explorers.
“One of my best friends, Chris Pawlowski, is on their team,” Battaglia said after sharing a hug with Pawlowski. “I’ve known him my whole life. If I had to lose to anyone, I would want to lose to him. I respect their team. They have a good team.”
La Salle now has a 19-1 overall record, including 16 shutouts. They defeated Public League champion George Washington High School, 3-0, in the state’s District 12 Class AAA title game on Thursday night.
As for Father Judge, their season concludes 14-5-1 overall. The Crusaders outscored opponents by 18 goals.
Father Judge goalkeeper Dylan Trush — who had 10 saves in the title game — allowed only 21 goals this year. He recorded seven shutouts for Father Judge, including two in the postseason.
Battaglia, meanwhile, tried to stay upbeat about the loss.
“I wouldn’t change it for anything. I mean, winning the championship is what we wanted, but we’re a family,” he said. “We all love each other. We all play hard, every play. We have a lot of young guys on the team, but everyone stepped up this year. We had great coaching, great training, everything. It was a great season.”
Now that the season is over, Battaglia — who plans to play soccer at college next year — can allow his groin to heal, an injury caused by a muscle pull during a quarterfinal playoff game against Archbishop Wood on Oct. 25.
ldquo;I just wrapped it up. It doesn’t affect my game,” he said. “Once the game starts, my adrenaline kicks in and I just play. I don’t think about it.”
Battaglia competed in every playoff game. He had one goal in the quarterfinals against Wood, than struck again with another in the semifinals against Roman Catholic.
“Nick has been a grinder. He’s been fighting injuries throughout the season. The whole playoff season he had a pulled groin,” said Dunlop. “He’s a senior captain. He’s a great leader. He’s been with me for three years. He’s like a son. All these guys are. They have a special place with me.” ••