Kiszkiel kicks Clifton into section final

Wiktor Kiszkiel converted a PK 1:21 into overtime to give Clifton a 1-0 win over Passaic Tech and a spot in the North 1, Group 4 state sectional final.

CLIFTON – As Wiktor Kiszkiel stepped to the penalty spot with Clifton’s season on the line there could have been a million things running through his mind. It was the most pressure packed situation he has ever experienced on the pitch. Locked in a scoreless duel with Passaic County Tech in the North 1, Group 4 state sectional semifinals, Kiszkiel blocked out the crowd, blocked out the opposing keeper, along with any other thoughts that could have crept in. His focus was on one thing and one thing only, hitting the target.

The junior calmly jogged up to the ball then blasted a shot into the lower left-hand corner 1:21 into the first overtime to give top-seeded Clifton a return trip to the section final with a 1-0 semifinal win over fifth-seeded Passaic County Tech on Wednesday afternoon at Clifton High School.

“This year we were so determined to win championships and now we’re one step away from doing it,” said Clifton sweeper Omar Flores. “We have a lot of seniors and a lot of leaders. PCT is a real strong side and we had to fight hard. We didn’t want this to be our last game and we had to leave it all on the field to get the win.”

Clifton got off to a quick start and was in control of the possession game throughout the match. However, it was the Bulldogs who had the two best chances of the first half. Both came off the foot of Christian Adame less than a minute apart. The first was saved by Clifton keeper Cameron Zutic and the latter bent just over the crossbar.

Matthew Porcelli made 8 saves fro PCT and guessed right on the deciding PK.

After a scoreless first half, the Mustangs started to open up their attack and use the width of the field to create scoring chances. They had several chances inside the box to get on the scoreboard but were turned away each time by PCT netminder Matthew Porcelli. The senior was solid between the pipes all game long to keep the Mustangs at bay and keep his team in the game.

PCT’s best scoring chance of the second half came at the midway point. Christian Martinez Vasquez struck a hard volley, but it was right at Sebastian Perez, who came on in the 58th minute for Zutic.

From there on it was all Clifton. The Mustangs got a spark off the bench with Benjamin Nelken creating havoc along the right flank. He got to the end line on two occasions, each creating a scoring opportunity. Neither found the back of the net with one being cleared away and the other turned aside on a diving save by Porcelli. As the whistle sounded to end regulation, reality had set in for the Mustangs. That a conceded goal or 20 scoreless minutes away from a penalty-kick shootout that could potentially end their season without a championship to show for it.

That sense of urgency reared its head immediately as the Mustangs pushed numbers forward and quickly earned a corner kick. Senior captain Dylan Perez bent the kick into the middle of the box where it was knocked down by the hand of a PCT (11-7-1) player. That awarded the Mustangs a penalty kick and there was no hesitation as to who would take it, albeit an unlikely choice on paper.

Omar Flores and Clifton will face old rival West Orange in the section final on Saturday.

Kiszkiel only had one goal in his varsity career heading into this game. That mattered little to Clifton’s longtime head coach Stan Lembryk. He signaled for the junior marking back to take the kick and he calmly stepped to the penalty spot as if it were all but a forgone conclusion. Porcelli (eight saves) guessed correctly on which way he was going to shoot, but there was nothing Porcelli could have done. Kiszkiel hit an absolute whistler into the back of the net 81 seconds into the first extra session for the golden goal that put Clifton back in the North 1 Group 4 section final.

“I don’t care who is in goal. I knew I had a job to do, and I had my spot picked out,” said Kiszkiel. “We felt like all game it was just a matter of time that we would find a way to score. Our team is really strong mentally and we always believe that we’ll pull it together in the big games.”

The Mustangs will get the match they have been hoping for all season with a section crown at stake. They will face off against West Orange, which handed New Jersey’s last unbeaten team, Kearny, a 1-0 defeat in the other semifinal. It will be a rematch of last year’s North 1, Group 4 final when West Orange scored all four goals in the first 22 minutes of a 4-0 triumph. This time, Clifton is a year wiser, a year hungrier, and will be playing on its home field.

“I remember being asked what happened in that game last year against West Orange, we were still a little young and we weren’t physical enough to get going,” said Perez. “But now we are more sure of ourselves and we have the experience on our side. In a state tournament game, you have to set a tone and take more chances. It’s a game we’ve been looking forward to all year and we’ll be ready to go on Saturday.”