Sebastian Varela (right) scored the game-winning goal in the Bergen County Tournament final for the third time in his career and Ramapo won its fourth straight title with a 2-1 victory over Old Tappan.
OAKLAND – Just by being on the field on Saturday night when Ramapo beat Northern Valley/Old Tappan in a game worthy of being a county championship match, Sebastian Varela set a record that can never be broken: Four high school soccer seasons, four appearances in the Bergen County final and four county championships. And considering what he did in those pressure packed games makes his the best ever resume of any player that has ever laced up the cleats. His accomplishments have not been seen before and probably will never be again.
Here are a few reminders:
2014: As a freshman, Varela set up the equalizer and then scored the game-winning goal against Northern Highlands that gave Ramapo its 10th county title in program history.
2015: As a sophomore, Varela helped Ramapo master the midfield in 3-0 victory over Tenafly.
2017: And on Saturday night, in his final county tournament game, he took a bow with the game’s first goal and then its last one, a rip of the second ball off a long throw-in by Andrew Furman with 6:47 left in regulation of Ramapo’s 2-1 victory over Old Tappan at Indian Hills High School.
Colin Eifert scored his third goal in his last two county tournament games, a header early in the second half that got Old Tappan even at 1.
Varela became the first player ever to score three game-winning goals in county finals and Ramapo became the first program to win four straight Bergen County championships. How Varela really feels about all of this is hard to know. He is not the type to brag in postgame interviews, he will take no credit and he will always heap praise on the opposition.
“I just thank God because I have just been in the right place at the right time in these games and that is what it comes down to really. My teammates do everything to get me in the right spots, I try to get there as best I can and today it happened,” said Varela, who will play at Lafayette College next year. “Old Tappan is a great team and they deserve it as much as we did, but overall with how the game went, it fell our way and that is what you need in these types of games when it is really close.”
Just to finish the thought on Varela before getting into game specifics, here is the impression that he has left on his head coach over the past four years: “At the end of the day, it is what [Varela] does, not just on the field, but with all of the guys; how humble he is,” said Evan Baumgarten. “It is how good of a teammate he is to his other teammates is what makes him so special.”
So now on to the game where Ramapo came out flying. Less than five minutes in, the Green Raiders won a free kick about 25 yards from goal on the left and Connor Finn lined one into the penalty area where Varela was the first to it. His gliding header gave Ramapo a 1-0 lead and there were plenty of chances to extend that advantage over the next 35 minutes.
Ramapo's Dyan Zane heading off ball of bottom of the crossbar which eventually stayed out and kept the Raiders even in the second half.
Chris Heffernan nearly headed in a Furman long throw in the 10th minute, Liam Nelson’s shot on a counter attack and feed from Furman missed wide left in the 13th minute, Heffernan’s knuckling rip from 35 yards out forced Old Tappan keeper Matt Burstein into scramble mode in the 17th and Heffernan again had a on the second ball off a long throw 16 minutes before the half.
It was not until the final 10 minutes of the first half that Old Tappan started to counter punch. Danny Yun and Deenae Sujak generated chances through the run of play that tested the Ramapo backline and, just two minutes before the half, Colin Eifert just missed curling a free kick into the top right corner. Although none of those chances hit the target, they did serve to bolster the Golden Knights’ spirits as they hit the intermission trailing by just a single goal.
“The first half was a bit of a struggle. It was a game of two halves and the first half was theirs,” said Old Tappan head coach Mark Torrie. “I thought the boys battled in the first half and then the second half we were much better at finding little seams and getting in behind.”
That was the truth as Old Tappan’s speed on the flanks kicked in in the second half and the Knights were not playing from behind for long. Eifert, the senior central defender, has been the rock in the middle of the park for Old Tappan in this county tournament run and we was at it again on Saturday night, six days after scoring on two headers in the come-from-behind semifinal win over Northern Highlands. Just over one minute into the second half, Eifert would not be denied in the air as he got up over everybody and headed home the equalizer on a set piece sent in from the corner flag.
Old Tappan was on the front foot from there. Sam Kang won the endline on the left in the 45th minute and cut back a pass for Danny Yun, who nearly converted. Then the teams traded defensive gems as Eifert, standing to the left of his keeper, cleared a Varela rip off the line in the 56th minute and Dylan Zane returned the favor two minutes later and his came with a higher degree of difficulty.
Danny Yun and OIld Tappan will try to turn the page on Monday when it hosts West Milford in the opening round of the North 1, Group 3 state sectional playoffs.
Eifert’s long throw was spit out of the scrum and fell to Sujak, who got whatever he could on the ball and sent it sailing toward the roof. Zane, a senior defender and not the tallest player on the field, somehow got up high enough to nod the ball off the bottom of the crossbar. It fell straight down but not over the goal line then was cleared out as Ramapo barely avoided falling behind.
“They are very dangerous in the air and a guy like me is probably not going to be able to win the first ball in the air. I thought I might as well try to help out Jeremy [Andreoli], our goalie, get in the net and if anything got by him I might be there,” said Zane. “I have played soccer for a long time and have been in that position before. You don’t think, you just react at that point.”
The overtime rules were starting to be talked about when the clock got below 10 minutes and the noise from the bleachers only increased from there. Then, with just under seven minutes to play, Ramapo won a throw-in and Furman let loose another won that bounced around before Varela got on it with the defense scrambling. Varela had time to settle, turn and rip and he hit the lower right to add finishing touches to his county tournament legacy.
“One of the defenders went for the ball and headed it out. It landed to me, I chested it down and hit it with a volley,” said Varela. “Again, just being in the right place at the right time. I got kind of lucky.”
Now the teams face different challenges as they head off to the North 1, Group 3 state sectional playoffs. Ramapo, which has not lost since dropping its opening two games of the season and is the defending Group 3 state champion, has all the momentum as the top seed with an opening round match against No. 16 Dwight Morrow. Third-seeded Old Tappan, on the other hand, has little time to regroup as it gets ready to host No. 14 West Milford in the opening round on Tuesday. It is conceivable that these two teams could see each other again in a section final in Franklin Lakes, but there is a long way between now and then in a notoriously brutal bracket in which upsets are more often the rule than the exception.