Blue Tide rolls along in state playoffs

HARRISON – Sometimes in high school soccer, things just don’t go according to plan, especially when November comes and it’s time for the NJSIAA state playoffs.

Even the best of teams, the ones with the rich and storied tradition of success in the state playoffs, might tend to feel a little pressure when the ball just doesn’t find the nets like they normally do.

Take for instance the Blue Tide of Harrison High.

Harrison was facing Mountain Lakes in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II quarterfinals Friday afternoon and for the first 30 minutes of the match the Blue Tide was dominating play, but had nothing to show for it.

But the Blue Tide players all remembered the words of their head coach Mike Rusek.

“Mr. Rusek always tells us to stay composed,” said senior captain Deydiry Chamba. “He says that no matter what the score is, we have to just play like we normally play and the goals will come.”

“We just have to keep playing good soccer,” said junior forward Omar Sowe. “There was no need to rush it. We just had to take our time and play the same way. The goals will come.”

Sure enough, the goals came for the Blue Tide in rapid succession.

First, sophomore Steven Espinosa broke the seal on the contest by knocking home a brilliant pass from Sowe in the 34th minute, giving the Blue Tide a 1-0 lead.

Four minutes later, it was Sowe who scored on a header off a great corner kick from Israel Dos Santos, pushing the lead to 2-0 at the break.

“Once we got the first one, the gates opened,” said Sowe, who now has an amazing 36 goals and tallied 30 assists this season. “We knew we could get more if we just kept playing.”
In the second half, it was more of the same, two goals within the span of a minute.

First, Chamba scored off a feed from Dos Santos to push the lead to 3-0 and then Sowe capped the scoring with a goal in the 70th minute off a pass from Chamba.

The result was a 4-0 win for the Blue Tide, a solid win all the way around.

And the win makes Rusek look like a fortune teller, because his prophecy about being patient certainly had some truth.

“I think it’s easy to explain,” Rusek said. “But it’s a lot harder for the kids to do it. I tell them that it’s a long game and things will eventually come to you.”

Rusek said that Sowe’s goal right before halftime really gave the Blue Tide the impetus to secure the victory and improve to 19-2 on the season.

“I think the second goal was big, but we still were playing hard to get the third goal,” Rusek said. “We’re not known for our defense, but our defense was solid as well.”

Kalleb Braga was especially tough controlling the ball in the midfield. Eduardo Nelson and Joshua Tapia both got playing time in net for the Blue Tide, sharing the clean sheet by making 13 saves.

The Blue Tide was scheduled to move on to the sectional semifinals against 12th seed Morris County Tech on Tuesday. The winner of that semifinal will face the winner of Dover-Garfield in the sectional title game on Friday. If the Blue Tide managed to defeat Morris Tech (11-5-2), then the sectional championship game will be at Harrison on Friday afternoon.

“We are a very strong team on our home field,” Rusek said. “The whole season is played for the state tournament. Our goal this season has been to play our best soccer come November. I’m really happy with the way we played here. We’re playing real well right now, playing our best soccer. I just hope it continues. I want this team to keep winning because they really love being together and having fun playing. We have good team chemistry.”

Sowe knows how important the games are now.

“We have to play every game like it’s our last one,” Sowe said. “We just kept focused and kept our minds on winning.”

“When it’s November, then it’s our season,” said Chamba, who now has 25 goals and 11 assists this season. “It’s amazing how we have so many different players scoring and contributing. I’m so proud to be a part of this team. It’s incredible. And Tuesday is my birthday, so we have to make it a happy birthday for me, of course.”

And playing for a state sectional championship Friday would be even better.

Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer