Harrison wins third straight state sectional soccer title
By Jim Hague
Observer Sports Writer
It was the final time that Jorge Castro was getting a chance to play soccer on his home turf at Harrison High School, so the Blue Tide senior midfielder wanted to make sure it was a memorable day.
“I’ve been here for four years and this was my last time here,” said Castro, who led the Blue Tide into action in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group I championship game last Thursday afternoon against Secaucus. “This game really meant a lot to us.” Castro made the most of his last home game, scoring a brilliant goal in the second half, leading the Blue Tide to a 2-0 victory, giving Harrison its third straight state sectional championship.
“Winning three in a row really means a lot,” said Castro, who unleashed a rocket blast from about 35 yards out that eluded stubborn Secaucus goalkeeper Eric Quitiquit for the final score of the game. “I think they kind of figured out who we were, so they were going to be tough to beat this time.”
Harrison (22-3) had defeated Secaucus twice previously in the regular season, winning by 5-0 and 3-0 margins. But the Patriots were a more stubborn opponent this time, not allowing a goal until Ali Lakhrif’s header off a Leandro Gonzales cross went past Quitiquit with 32 minutes remaining in the game.
It was the 35th goal of the season for Lakhrif, who broke the all-time single season school record for goal scoring earlier last week.
Lakhrif was wearing two different colored shoes, one a fluorescent orange and the other a luscious lime green.
“I wanted to do something a little different for good luck,” said Lakhrif, who has now scored 10 goals in the five games that he’s donned two different colored cleats. “I was glad to be able to get the first goal, because after that, the game opened up for us.”
Harrison head coach Mike Rusek realized that Secaucus was a tougher opponent than the first two games this season.
“It was very tough to beat this team three times,” Rusek said. “The coach (Christopher Garcia) knows us well and they played us hard. They had a lot of good, tough kids. You fear that you’re playing against a team like this and you dominate action, but you make one mistake, have one breakdown and the result could be different. We said to them at halftime that they just had to keep coming, that the goal would come.”
Gonzales made a perfect cross and the guy with the two different colored shoes used his head to add to his scoring record.
“We knew that our best opportunity to score was from our midfield,” Rusek said. “Leandro made a perfect pass and Ali made a perfect header.”
The score remained that way until there was 13 minutes left, when Castro made his sensational shot.
“He’s always been capable of doing that,” Rusek said. “It was a great shot. It was perfect timing, because it made us very tough to beat with a two-goal lead.”
As it turned out, the two teams could have played until next August and Secaucus would still be searching for a way to get a goal. The Patriots actually played the ball past midfield only a handful of times and never got off a legitimate scoring opportunity. Goalkeeper Nick Araujo didn’t have to work too hard to collect his 17th shutout of the season. He was credited with making one save, but it certainly wasn’t a memorable one. That’s how dominant the Blue Tide’s play was in the midfield and their back line.
It marked the 10th time in 15 years that the Blue Tide captured a state sectional title under the tutelage of Rusek and his brother and assistant coach John Rusek. The Blue Tide were slated to face Section 1, Group I champion Waldwick in the overall state semifinals Wednesday at Indian Hills High School.
A win there would put the Blue Tide in place to capture the 27th overall state championship in the school’s rich and storied history. The Group I state title game is scheduled for Sunday afternoon at Kean University, with the scheduled starting time to be approximately 3 p.m.
First things first. The Blue Tide needs to beat Waldwick to move on.
The Blue Tide has fallen short of that overall state title in each of the last two years – something that the players definitely remember.
“This was just the first step,” Lakhrif said. “We want to win it all this year.”
“We’re going to do it this year,” Castro said. “I know it.”
“It’s a good feeling,” Rusek said. “We have 14 seniors on this team and they had not lost on this field since their freshman year in 2011 against Glen Ridge (in the state sectional title game). They enjoyed a lot of success on this field. They’ve been with us a long time. They deserve this.”
At the end of the game, Rusek managed to get his seniors on the field so they could be playing when the final few seconds ticked off.
“Every year, it’s a different feeling, but these kids have worked so hard,” Rusek said. “Things have seemed to fall into place for this team. We’re the last team in Hudson County to still be playing, so we’re very proud of that.”