Matt Marinich held N/V Demarest control the midfield and the Norsemen turned the possession advantage into a 2-1 win over Caldwell in the North East D, Group 2-B state sectional semifinals on Thursday.
DEMAREST – Northern Valley/Demarest sure picked a crazy year to have the best season in the history of its boys soccer program. On the same day that it was confirmed that its girls program would have to exit the state tournament because of COVID-related issues and after falling behind by a goal less than 10 minutes into Thursday’s game against Caldwell, Demarest turned it all around.
David Buzharsky scored the equalizer in the 19th minute and then what turned into the game winner eight minutes into the second half to send the Norseman on to a 2-1 victory and into the section final for the first time in the history of the boys soccer program. Demarest, the top seed, will play No. 2 Rutherford, a 2-0 winner over McNair Academic in the Thursday’s other North East D, Group 2-B semifinal, for all the marbles on Saturday in an 11:00 a.m. start in Demarest.
“We are just so grateful for this opportunity. We are blessed with a great group of boys that care about each other and about the program,” said Rob Romeo, whose first season as Demarest’s head coach has been a memorable one of a bevy of reasons. “I always tell them to keep their heads up even if we go down 1-0, even if a certain play does not go our way. If they keep working hard then they know that good things can happen and good things happened here tonight.”
Caldwell had the first good thing of the game happen to it to start the sequence that led to the game’s first goal. The Chiefs were given possession on a disputed line call in which Demarest thought it had won a throw only to see the lineman point his flag in Caldwell’s direction. #4 played it in quickly to Scott Bivona, who drew the reforming defense with a couple of hard dribbles and then played the ball across for #14, who shot back to post from whence he came. With the wind at its back and with 31:39 showing on the first half clock, Caldwell led 1-0.
Scott Bivona assisted on the goal that gave Caldwell a 1-0 lead.
Enter Buzharsky, the senior striker who was in his first game back after suffering a broken collarbone in the first week of the regular season. With Matt Marinich winning balls in the midfield and holding up play and Kai Maor orchestrating the attack, Buzharsky got some early chances and then got up to speed. He took down one of Maor’s adventurous serves with his knee, settled it at the back post and then scored past Ethan Bishop, the quick-arriving Caldwell keeper, the knot the game at 1 in the 19th minute.
“I just feel like the nerves were there. We haven’t played in a long time, our practices weren’t up to our standards, but finally we just got it together and decided to play well,” said Buzharsky. “That first goal was what we needed because after that we dominated the whole game. Our defense played an amazing game – Connor Chin, Nicholas Ashizawa, Andrew Tandler and Skylar Bogdonowich – did an amazing job locking them up because Caldwell is a good team.”
After the early game jitters, Demarest was able to settle the ball and built and advantage in possession and then picked up another edge in the second half with the wind at its back. That made transitions from defense to offense even quicker and one of those led to the game-winner eight minutes into the second half.
“The second goal was a total team effort. Andrew Tandler chipped a ball through and one of their defenders was too far back,” said Buzharsky. “I got in between the two defenders, I took a touch and then I volleyed it home. I looked at the ref on the sideline to make sure I was on-side, the flag stayed down and it was an amazing feeling.”
Kai Maor and top-seeded Demarest will host No. 2 Rutherford in the section final.
From there Demarest used its possession advantage as a hammer. The long balls that made Caldwell so dangerous in the first half were curtailed by the wind and the Chiefs needed to do a lot of chasing to get back on the ball.
“It was a great team effort here. All of us worked a unit, fought through it and got the job done,” said Marinich, who drew and delivered plenty of contact in the middle of the field. “Obviously the nerves were there when we went down 1-0, but with the team we have I knew we were going to get the goals. We did and now it is off to the finals.”
Demarest improved to 9-3-2 on the season and a 10th win would mean the first state sectional title in the history of the boys soccer program.
Making history smack dab in the middle of a pandemic has been a less-not-more proposition.
“We have emphasized the importance of staying healthy. There have been times where we did not practice. Sometimes it was necessary to hide, to get away from all of this, to stay home and let things settle down,” said Romeo. “We took a week to keep the boys away from each other to give ourselves the best chance to finish the season. This was our first game in over a week and hopefully we will get to finish strong [on Saturday].”