Down to its last kick, Pascack Hills puts Garfield out in PKs

Idhant Kosla celebrates after striking the winning PK in Pascack Hills' 2-2 (5-4 PKs) win over Garfield in the opening round of the Bergen County Tournament.

GARFIELD – Pascack Hills was staring a disheartening loss in the Bergen County Tournament square in the face. On the road in a first-round tilt against a quality Garfield side, Pascack Hills' collective hopes sunk as the home team scored a goal with four minutes left in regulation to take the lead.

In a most adverse situation, the Broncos never flinched and never stopped working together.

With just 45 seconds to play in the second, William Roche hit a perfect strike from 20 yards out off the post and in to send the game into overtime and it would eventually go to penalty kicks. Senior goalie George Geanopulos made a save on the first shot and that is all the Broncos needed.

They connected on all five of their shots with fellow senior Idhant Khosla providing the game-winner as Pascack Hills pulled the upset and advanced into the Round of 16 in the Bergen County Tournament, 2-2 (5-4 in penalty kicks), on Thursday afternoon at 20th Century Field in Garfield.

“This team has held together the entire year, so even when we got down twice we never got down on ourselves,” said Geanopulos. “All you can do is play hard. When you play hard and play together you can do anything, and we showed that today.”

For as exciting as the final 20 minutes of regulation and the overtime periods were the first 60 minutes of play was mainly contested in the middle of the pitch. The two teams had only one true scoring opportunity over that span, both of which came in the first half. Leland Gonzalez nearly scored the goal of the year in North Jersey on a bicycle kick that Geanopulos had to make a diving save on. Later in the half, the Broncos’ Jonathan Mathew had a header at the back post off a cross, but it went wide.

Leland Gonzalez (rigth) scored his first varsity goal to give Garfield a 2-1 lead in the 76th minute.

All four of the goals scored in regulation came in the final 20 minutes. A foul in the Pascack Hills’ box on a corner kick gave Garfield a penalty kick, which Alex Zawada buried to give the Boilermakers the lead. A corner kick also resulted in Pascack Hills’ first goal. The Broncos were dangerous on set pieces all game long and finally connected when Mathew pounced on a loose ball and scored to make it 1-1.

The Boilermakers were more direct in their attack throughout the second half and got good timing for Gonzalez to score his first varsity goal. In the 76th minute, he collected a long cross from left winger Brenden Baena then, from a tough angle, he slotted a shot into upper 90’ on the short side to put Garfield ahead, 2-1.

While Garfield (8-0-2) celebrated, the Broncos were keeping their heads up and giving each other encouraging words along with more coming from their head coach Jim Soltmann.

“We were down but we knew what we had to do,” said Pascack Hills’ Zach Goldman. “This whole season we simplify things and we attack. It’s not that complicated.”

In the final minute, instead of controlling possession and bringing the ball into the corner to waste time, Garfield booted the ball forward. Geanopulos alertly came off his line to pick off a ball and then delivered a long throw. Kai Hamazaki, who was fantastic in the midfield throughout the match, collected it and then sent a through ball to the streaking Roche up the left flank. Roche, who just came back after being out last week due to appendicitis, outraced a defender to the ball, cut back to his right then ripped an absolute whistler that clanked off the far post and in to knot the score at 2 with 45 seconds to play.

“I just made a run and (Hamazaki) played the ball through,” said Roche. “When I took the shot I was just praying and when it saw it go in it was an unbelievable feeling.”

George Geanopulos saved the first shot of the PK shootout and it was enough to send Pascack Hills through to the Round of 16.

Geanopulos and his counterpart, Garfield netminder Jakub Piszczatowski, were both active in the extra sessions but kept a clean sheet over the two 10-minute overtime periods. That forced a penalty-kick shootout to see which team advanced and which team was left to wonder ‘What if?’.

Jumping up to grab the crossbar, crouching down, dancing along the goal line, Geanopulos, one of the top goaltenders in Bergen County who finished with 11 saves on the afternoon, did whatever he could see if could gain some sort of mental edge. It worked on the very first shot of the PK shootout when he dove to his left to push a low liner wide of the post.

That proved to be the only opening needed for the Broncos. John Hoppe, Mike Frangos, Zach Goldman, and Mathew all scored to set the stage for Khosla’s heroics. Garfield’s Sebastian Nitek, who played in the field for all 100 minutes, guessed right but could not get enough on the hard shot from Khosla as the Broncos poured onto the field in celebration of one of the most exciting wins in the history of their program.

“I knew the spot I was going to, I hit it there and see what happens,” said Khosla. “The goalie was right there but when I saw go in I just went crazy. I believed in myself and I believe in this team. We all trust each other and we found a way to come out on top.”

Pascack Hills (5-2-2) moves into the main draw to face sixth-seeded Bergen Catholic on Sunday. They will once again be an underdog, an even bigger one this time around, ut after dropping their first two games of the season, the Broncos are now on a seven-game unbeaten stretch. Before they could focus on the task at hand the Broncos were focused on staying in the moment and basking in the glow of a hard-fought game and result that will resonate with them forever.

“When we’re older this is a game we’ll look back on and talk about when we see each other,” said Hamazaki. “Even worse than losing the game would have been not giving it our all. Despite the outcome, we’re a team that is going to give it our all every second we’re out there. That mentality is what’s making us successful. We going to build off this momentum and get ready for this weekend.”