Clifton vs. Kearny soccer

Boys Soccer Recap: Kearny and Clifton battle for Section 1, Group 4 glory

The North Jersey Section I, Group IV final took place at Clifton High School soccer field in Passaic County on Saturday afternoon. It was Clifton's third appearance in the last five seasons, but lost the 2022 final.

The Clifton High School boys soccer team faced off with Kearny in the North Jersey Section 1 final on Saturday. Clifton were favorites on the back of a 13-1-1 regular season and being seeded first in the section tournament, while Kearny were not big underdogs as third seeds.

This was an even game from the start. Both teams possessed well, but Kearny were more threatening in the attacking third. The Clifton Mustangs senior goalkeeper Cameron Zutic made two saves in the first half: when Kearny took a shot from outside the 18-yard box, the veteran parried the ball and then stopped a second attempt at around the 20th minute.

The Mustangs didn’t possess the ball as much in the first half but made up for it by being dogged in defense. Their backline consisting of Christopher Reece at Right-Back and Justin Leach at Center-Back didn’t let much get past them and Reece got in the way of Kearny’s second shot attempt. Clifton's best scoring chance involved Vitali Datsyk nicking the ball past a defender and dribbling into the 18-yard box where he took a quick shot that was blocked by a Kearny defender.

The game remained scoreless until the middle of the second half when Kearny broke through. A shot came in from the right side of the field which Zutic dealt with however the rebound was shot just over the line and the visitors took the first lead of the game.

Down But Not Out

There was a lot of nervy moments in the first ten minutes of the second frame. Zutic jumped up and got his fingertips to a shot ticketed for the top right corner of the net and at the other end, a Clifton player crossed to a teammate who was open at the backpost, but the header went over the net.

With seven minutes left, the Mustangs tied the game when Simon Deossa tapped in a ground cross that went across the face of Kearny's goal. The crowd cheered, however right afterwards, Kearny came right back all the way into Clifton's defensive third, but the Mustangs were able to clear the ball in the nick of time. Regulation ended with the score 1-1 and two periods of sudden death overtime ensued.

Just a couple of minutes into overtime, a Clifton player tried to clear the ball but accidentally kicked it to Kearny's Benji Silva. Silva calmly scored into the left side of Clifton's net and the sideline of his team streamed out onto the field to celebrate.

After the game Silva described how it felt to score the Sectional final winning goal.

"It felt amazing. We lost the final two weeks ago, and you know my brother won [the Section 1, Group 4 final] two years ago. I wanted to win it for him."

Clifton head coach Stan Lembryk was able to guide Clifton boys soccer to the North Jersey Section 1, Group 4 championship game for the second year in a row and he discussed the peaks and valleys of today's riveting final.

Credit to Billy and Kearny they disrupted some of the things we were doing, and we just had to find our rhythm and once we found it, we scored a great goal. That's been all year long and we just didn't do it enough today. Yeah, it was a tough goal to give up in overtime. You'd rather have it on a really good play but kudos to them, they pounced on our mistake and that's what happens in championship games. You pounce on the opponent's mistake, and you make the most of it.

Winning on the road today was no easy task for Kearny and something they truly desired. That's because, unlike Clifton (Passaic County Tournament winners), Kearny lost the Hudson County tournament final on Oct. 19. That made coming out to face a team like Clifton that has been one of the best in New Jersey over the last five seasons, a huge challenge and they met it on a warm afternoon at Clifton High School.

Kearny's head coach Bill Galka described how it felt to see his team win the Sectional Final on the road against the strong Clifton boys soccer program.

"Its always great-- no matter if its home or on the road-- to win the Sectional," Coach Galka said. "But to do it in a place like this with such a big crowd [who were supporting] both teams and a lot of neutrals's a fantastic feeling to win a Sectional Final on somebody else's field, for sure."

Anthony Paradiso
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