Blue Tide falls in NJSIAA sectional soccer title game

When Harrison High School defeated Madison by a convincing 5-2 score last Monday in the NJSIAA North Jersey Section 2, Group II semifinals, it almost made you believe that the Blue Tide was destined to collect another state championship trophy a few days later.

But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Blue Tide took a heartbreaking 1-0 loss at the hands of Hackettstown in the sectional championship game Thursday, dropping a game that the Blue Tide controlled the action and the midfield, but not the scoreboard.

“We dominated the game, but we didn’t put the ball in the net,” said a disappointed Harrison head coach Mike Rusek. “We took 21 shots and they took only three, but one of theirs went in. We just weren’t connecting for some reason. We weren’t finishing the play. As coaches, (assistant coach and brother) John and I tried several different things and unfortunately they didn’t work. If you lose a game like this in September, you chalk it up as an experience. When you lose one in November, you go home. It’s over.”

What makes the loss so frustrating is how truly dominant the Blue Tide appeared just three days prior.

“You’re certainly not used to it,” Rusek said. “It was very uncomfortable to talk to the team after the game. We didn’t talk about the game so much. We talked about the season as a whole. We didn’t talk too much about the game. We all felt the same disappointment after the game.”

The loss ended the Blue Tide’s season at 19-5 and ended the local soccer season, as Kearny lost to Morris Knolls in the North Jersey Section 1, Group IV semifinals last Monday.

“The season was going the way we wanted it,” Rusek said. “We took our lumps a little in September and October to get ready for November. And we were playing well. We lost to a good Union City team (in the Hudson County Tournament championship game last week) and came back to play well in the sectional. We were excited to win the sectional Thursday on our home field.”

But that didn’t take place.

“For the second year in a row, we lost in the sectional final on our home field,” said Rusek, recalling last year’s setback to Dover in the North 2, Group II finale. “It’s pretty sad when you lose on your home field. We wanted to win the sectional final in the last home game our seniors would play together. To take a loss is disappointing for everyone. For two years in a row, that hasn’t worked out.”

The Blue Tide finished with 19 wins, yet finished second in the Hudson County Tournament to Union City, second in the North Jersey Interscholastic Conference-Liberty Division to Dwight-Englewood and now second in the NJSIAA North 2, Group II to Hackettstown.

“We’re the best second place team in New Jersey,” Rusek said. “Every time there was a trophy to play for, we lost it. That’s going to stick with me. We just couldn’t win the big game.”

There was another disappointment to the end of the Blue Tide’s season. It marked the end of Omar Sowe’s incredible career. Sowe, who scored two goals in the semifinal victory over Madison, ended the season with 35 goals, one year after he tallied a school record 37 goals.

Sowe ended his tenure with 83 goals and 73 assists for his career, setting new school records in both totals.

“He played in three sectional finals,” Rusek said. “He won the first and lost the last two. I wish he could have had more. He’s definitely the best player I’ve ever coached. You want to have success for that kid, but we couldn’t get him to one state final. That’s disappointing and sad. It would have been a fitting showcase for Omar.”

Rusek credited Hackettstown for keeping Sowe off the score sheet Thursday.

“They shut down Omar and unfortunately we didn’t have an answer,” Rusek said. “My job now as a coach is to target his future and help him out to get to the next level as much as I can. He’s a good kid and has been a great captain. He believes in what we do. He did everything he could to help this team. I’m very lucky to have coached Omar.”

Rusek also mentioned senior starters Maicol Diaz, a defender, and Louis Palomino, a midfielder.

“The one good thing about this year is that we had a lot of juniors and sophomores playing,” Rusek said. “We return a good team, so we hope to build off this year.”

One of those returnees should be junior midfielder Jairo Araujo, who scored 10 goals in the last five games of the season, including a four-goal explosion in the first round of the state tournament against Fort Lee. Araujo ended the season with 15 goals and 15 assists.

“He had become productive for us down the stretch,” Rusek said of Araujo.

Allan DeMelo also returns next year. The junior had 12 goals and seven assists.

So another soccer season ends in Harrison, but this one ends without a championship. Even in a town where winning is everything, sometimes that last win becomes so very elusive.



Junior midfielder Jairo Araujo (7), shown here in last Monday’s win over Madison, a game where he tallied two goals and had two assists, should return next season to lead the Harrison boys’ soccer team. Photo by Jim Hague


Harrison’s loss to Hackettstown marked the end of a brilliant career for senior striker Omar Sowe, who ended this season with 35 goals, including two in a 5-2 win over Madison, shown here. Photo by Jim Hague



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Jim Hague | Observer Sports Writer

Sports Writer Jim Hague was with The Observer for 20+ years — and his name is one of the most recognizable in all of sports journalism. The St. Peter’s Prep and Marquette alum kicked off his journalism career post Marquette at the Daily Record, where he remained until 1985. Following shorts stints at two other newspapers, in September 1986, he joined the now-closed Hudson Dispatch, where he remained until 1991, when its doors were finally shut.

It was during his tenure at The Dispatch that Hague’s name and reputation as one of country’s hardest-working sports reporters grew. He won several New Jersey Press Association and North Jersey Press Club Awards in that timeframe.

In 1991, he became a columnist for The Hudson Reporter chain of newspapers — and he remains with them to this day.

In addition to his work at The Observer and The Hudson Reporter, Hague is also an Associated Press stringer, where he covers Seton Hall University men’s basketball, New York Red Bulls soccer and occasionally, New Jersey Devils hockey.

He’s also doing work at The Morristown Daily Record, the very newspaper where his journalism career began.

During his career, he also worked for Dorf Feature Services, which provided material for the Star-Ledger. While there, he covered the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.

Hague is also known for his announcing work — and he’s done PA work for Rutgers Newark and NJIT.

Hague is the author of the book “Braddock: The Rise of the Cinderella Man.”