By DAVE O’SULLIVAN
MAYS LANDING — The thought of coach Pete Lambert potentially springing for Chipotle after Thursday’s game provided plenty of motivation for the Egg Harbor Township boys soccer team. Not that the Eagles needed any more, mind you. They were visiting Oakcrest, a physical soccer team that not only is the defending Cape-Atlantic League Tournament champion, but the Falcons came in sporting a spotless 9-0 record and had outscored opponents 66-2 this season.
EHT was in Mays Landing to prove a point — that even with a recent 1-0 loss to St. Augustine Prep, the Eagles were one of the best teams in the league.
They proved their point, and then some, as senior star striker Ahmad Brock recorded another hat trick — his third of the season and second in the last four games — and Niko Rubio added three assists in EHT’s 4-2 victory.
“This was a big win for us. We lost a tough one at Prep and people probably thought we couldn’t win big games,” said Brock. “But we came here and put on a show today. Everybody played hard, gave it everything they had and we walked out of here with a victory.”
“We knew coming here, remembering the guys who were here last year and remembering the result on this field — (Oakcrest) returns a lot of very talented players, they are a very good team. We knew coming here it’s always a tough game at Oakcrest. We’re only a few minutes away, these kids all know each other, so we knew what we were up against,” Lambert said. “A couple calls didn’t go our way and we gave up a PK early in the second half and they were right back in it. But I loved the way our guys responded, they never quit and we had really good chemistry today. Nico was serving dimes out there and Ahmad was finishing everything. We were dangerous in the attack and I thought we locked it up defensively.”
Egg Harbor Township (10-1, 7-0 Cape-Atlantic League East) got on the board first on a tally from Christian Paskalides in the 13th minute, but Oakcrest (9-1, 8-0 CAL North) responded when Colin Veltri fed a pass to Asembo Augo, who finished to tie the game at 1. With less than 10 minutes to go before halftime, Brock scored on a header off a ball served in by Rubio to give EHT a 2-1 lead.
“I just know where he’s going to put the ball. He always tells me to be ready for the ball, anywhere, any place. He told me to go back post earlier in the day, so I was like, ‘I’ll be back post all day.’ He found me, every time,” Brock said.
Added Rubio, “It’s pretty easy because he’s so tall, I just loft it in the air, back stick, and he’s always there to put it in.”
Oakcrest got things square again at 2 early in the second half when Veltri was taken down inside the box, leading to a penalty kick that Augo converted. But Veltri was injured on the play and did not return, and that affected the Falcons’ offense the rest of the way.
“We didn’t want to get beat by Veltri — it’s unfortunate that he got hurt and I hope he’s OK. And Asembo, as well. Those two players are dynamic, but we have some dynamic players as well and they responded,” Lambert said. “It was a really good team effort today. We knew it was going to be a playoff-level game and a playoff-level atmosphere. We’ll work on a few things and be better tomorrow, but I thought it was a really good game and I’m really proud of these guys.”
Midway through the second half Brock put the Eagles up for good, 3-2, when he corralled a direct kick from 40 yards out from Rubio, took a touch past Oakcrest keeper Ryan Liberty and deposited a soft shot into the empty net for what would turn out to be the game-winner. Brock scored his third goal of the game later in the second half, again off a feed from Rubio, for the final margin.
“There are dynamic players on both sides who can score goals in a hurry and in bunches,” Lambert said. “For Ahmad to come out and score a hat trick against this team, he shows up in the big games. He’s our go-to guy, and Nico off the set pieces — overall we wanted to be 10-1, and here we sit at 10-1. We’ll get ready for Mainland next week and then hopefully a good playoff run.”
Oakcrest, which came into today’s game as the last undefeated team in the CAL, is back in action on Nov. 10 when the Falcons host Oakcrest while Egg Harbor Township travels to Mainland on Nov. 13. The matchups for the modified postseason “sectional” tournaments likely will be announced today by the NJSIAA. The sectional tournaments will be limited geographically, which means EHT and Oakcrest likely will only face other teams in the CAL during the modified postseason.
“It’s been pretty good so far,” Rubio said. “We’re 10-1 so far and hopefully we’ll win sectionals soon.”
Contact Dave O’Sullivan: firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @GDsullysays