The men’s soccer team needed to defeat an unbeaten Montclair State University squad to move on in the NJAC playoffs and qualify for NCAA’s last Wednesday, Nov. 6. But the team fell into a 2-0 hole in the first half from which it never recovered, losing 4-1 to the eventual champions.
If anyone could beat Montclair, it was the Lions (12-6-2) — one of only two teams to tie them through 21 games this season and with defense in emaculate form heading into the semifinals.
The Lions won five of six games before traveling to the Scarlet Knights, including a 2-0 playoff win over Rowan University, and had not given up more than one goal in a game during that time.
But even with NJAC Goalkeeper of the Year senior Aaron Utman protecting the net and making five saves, the College could not stop the vaunted Scarlet Knights (19-0-2) offense, which opened the scoring in the 26th minute indirectly off a corner kick after Utman guided a shot wide just a minute earlier.
A Scarlet Knight got on the end of the corner and headed the ball toward the center of the six-yard box, where it got lost and midfielder Keegan Balle lashed it into the net.
Rutgers-Camden was able to strike again for the game-winner in the 34th minute when midfielder Connor Huffe won a 50-50 battle for possession in the final third, collected himself and blasted the ball far post.
The College was on the offensive for much of the game, taking 17 shots overall and peppering Rutgers-Camden’s goal with six shots on target, but Scarlet Knights goalkeeper Mike Randall was equal to everything that came his way.
That left the Lions pushing forward in the second half, and Rutgers-Camden took advantage by scoring another two times in the game’s final 15 minutes.
Junior midfielder Kevin McCartney was able to get on the board for the Lions with a late consolation goal, but the eventual 4-1 score line was the College’s least flattering of the season in what turned out to be its final game — even though the Lions were ranked fifth in the region, their bid for NCAAs was unsuccessful.
Despite missing out, though, this year ended up being the Lions’ best season run in years — the program won its first playoff game in regulation and just second overall since the 2005-06 season while integrating a lot of freshmen into the lineup and establishing a formidable defense, setting up cause for optimism heading into next year.