CHERRY HILL — The game deserved a scenic goal.
Matt Conger didn’t actually provide it.
“I didn’t quite hit the shot I wanted,” the senior Shawnee forward said. “But he entered. That’s all we needed. I was so excited, I had to go around the corner.
It was there that he was mobbed by his teammates. Conger’s goal, with 4:44 remaining, lifted No. 1 South Jersey Mean 15 team Shawnee past No. 2 Rancocas Valley, 4-3, in the South Jersey tournament semi-final. Jersey Coaches Association on Wednesday night.
It came after Rancocas Valley fought back from a two-goal deficit. Aiden Santamaria and Sean McFadden scored first-half goals for Shawnee. The Red Devils responded with a 30-yard laser from Owen Sugra into the bottom right corner of the 51st minute, but Santamaria added his second just two minutes later, and Shawnee’s lead was 3-1.
“On the first goal, basically, I was in front, in the box, and I saw the ball was going to go over my teammate’s head, and nobody was marking me, so I just came back to the post. It fell on me and I scored,” said Santamaria. “On my second goal, we got the ball in the right place and I was just wide open. I took a child 1 against 1 and I scored.
Rancocas Valley equalized with Eddy Rivera’s bouncing finish off a Jake Barletta cross and then Scott Sweeney’s 20 yards into the top left corner with 5:53 left.
But that was not the last word. McFadden made a run down the right side a minute later and found just enough space to throw a right-footed shot at Brady Barletta. The Red Devils main goalkeeper dived to put his palms on it, but bounced high off the turf and straight into Conger’s path.
“There was just no way I was going to miss,” Conger said. “I didn’t think I had cracked on it. From what I saw, it didn’t go very well, but I read where the goalkeeper was, so it was totally fine.
What this means
Finally, one team didn’t faint after being dubbed No. 1 in South Jersey. Shawnee will retain that accolade at least until Saturday, when he takes on the winner of Thursday’s match against West Deptford at Haddon Township in the tournament final.
Not just Conger’s goal, but the moment before it. Barely a minute and nine seconds had passed since Rancocas Valley leveled the game. How often do you see a team concede a late equalizer and then be unable to switch gears and get back on the attack? Somehow, the Renegades made it.
“We preach and we talk about the momentum after a goal,” Shawnee coach Ryan Franks said. “Who is going to take it and how do you react to adversity. We’ve just played so many tough teams over the past two weeks; of these guys now twice, in (Cherry Hill) West, Hammonton, Cherokee – these are great games to see what you are and see what your character is, and I think our guys have proven to me and , hopefully proven to themselves that they won’t back down from any challenge.
By the numbers
Shawnee will make his first Finals appearance since 2006, when the Renegades won football’s ‘Triple Crown’; a division title, the coaches tournament and the state tournament – en route to a 27-0 campaign. The Renegades’ opponent in the final that season was Rancocas Valley. … The Shawnee girls advanced earlier with a 2-0 victory over Cherry Hill West, setting the school up to win both the boys’ and girls’ tournaments – only Shawnee has achieved this particular feat, and only once, in 2003. Rancocas Valley has conceded just nine goals in 16 games this season, but Shawnee has scored six.
They said it
Franks on his team’s reaction to losing their minds:
“It looks like we can’t win games unless we’re on the edge and scoring late. Thought we might get one with less drama, but what credit to RV. These kids just didn’t stop fighting. They didn’t give up and they just fought in this game. That’s why this tournament is fun; you go out and get a taste of what the playoffs are like, against a good team.
Conger, reaching the final:
“It’s been a while, obviously, and a lot of people disagreed with us – doubting how good we’re going to be this year. I think we’ve proven a lot of people wrong and that feels good. .
Damon Petras, Rancocas Valley coach:
“We haven’t allowed four goals all season, so congrats Shawnee. I wish we played on our home turf, like Haddon Township is (Thursday), but that’s football fairness, I guess. Good job by Shawnee Conger – Every time he’s around goal, he’ll finish.
John A. Lewis is a sportswriter for the Burlington County Times, the Courier Post and the Vineland Daily Journal. Email him at [email protected] Please consider supporting local journalism with a subscription.