For the third season in a row, the Rowan men’s soccer team (10-5-5) will get a chance at winning their first New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) title since 2003 after taking down Ramapo College in penalty kicks (PKs) 3-1 on Tuesday, Nov. 1.
The conference semifinal started off great for the Profs with All-NJAC second-teamer Alex Ferrara setting up Johnny Troiano for his fourth goal of the season less than two minutes into the match, giving Rowan the early 1-0 advantage.
They would hold onto that lead until the closing minutes of the second half when Roadrunner Damian Zuraswki headed in the equalizer. What seemed like a hard-fought 1-0 victory quickly changed, as now the Profs had to prepare for overtime.
“Right before that you’re fighting to end the game and keep it 1-0. Once they got that goal you’re obviously defeated and we’re getting our guys back into it to finish the game and, hopefully, we can get a late one. We did have a chance real late that could have ended it,” Head Coach Scott Baker said. “Getting ourselves to fight to at least end regulation tied and shake it off by the time overtime started.”
Ending regulation tied 1-1, they shook off the late-game heroics of the Roadrunners by holding them scoreless in both overtimes. However, Ramapo did the same, so a place in this years NJAC finals would come down to PKs.
Dylan Aportela, who allowed his first goal of the season on that last-minute score in the second half, would need to rise to the occasion in his first-ever shootout if the Profs hoped to advance.
He did exactly that, making saves on three out of four shots from Ramapo.
“[I] definitely was a little nervous,” Aportela said. “The tension is all on you and the player taking the penalty. Honestly, I wasn’t too nervous. I understood what I had to do and the outcome of my performance was three out of four penalties were saves. So I think I definitely kept my nerves down, kept my cool and did my job.”
With Aportela doing his job, it was now up to the players taking the PKs for Rowan to back up their teammates’ masterclass performance in goal.
Ryan Cleary and Mason Materlloni both made the most of the opportunity, giving them a 2-1 advantage on PKs with Luke Yates up next looking to put the game on ice.
The senior had battled through injuries but was still an All-NJAC Honorable Mention despite only playing 481 minutes this season in comparison to 1516 minutes last season. He came through to send Rowan to their third consecutive NJAC title game.
“I live for those moments. I love being able to step up in those opportunities,” Yates said. “Dylan [Aportela] saving three out of four penalties is unreal. The coaches put their trust in me and the guys worked unbelievably hard all game. I was just happy to step up and contribute to the team win.”
Without the mid-season emergence of Aportela, it’s hard to believe that Rowan would have the opportunity to play in the conference final once again.
Aportela, the All-NJAC honorable mention, also can’t fathom the position he’s found himself in.
“Not at all. I’m really happy I finally got the opportunity to play,” Aportela said. “Really happy that Coach Baker saw the amount of effort and work I put in throughout the entire season to finally help the team move forward and hopefully win an NJAC title this season.”
Rowan’s opponent in the title game this year will come against the ninth nationally ranked Montclair State University Red Hawks, a squad Rowan lost to earlier this season 3-0.
“I’m just always excited to see the guys be in a position to win a championship,” Coach Baker said. “As far as the program is concerned I’m excited that we’ve proved who we are and how consistent we are… We obviously want to win one, that’s our main focus. But getting there year in, year out in one of the toughest conferences in the country is a super accomplishment in itself.”
The NJAC title game will take place this Friday, Nov. 4, at 7 p.m. at Montclair as the Profs look to upset the Red Hawks.
For comments/questions about this story tweet @TheWhitSports.