After the top two seeds went down Friday, it will be an All-New Jersey final to wrap up the weekend. No. 4 Fairleigh Dickinson stunned top-seed Sacred Heart, 1-0, to advance to its first championship game since 2008. No. 3 Monmouth, meanwhile, played Central Connecticut State to a 1-1 tie but moved on after defeating the Blue Devils 4-2 in a penalty kick shootout. Both teams will square off for the title and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on Sunday, Nov. 13, at 1:00 pm. Fans can also watch all of the action between these two Garden State foes via a free webcast on northeastconference.tv.
Moore, Knights Stun Top-Seeded Pioneers, 1-0
NEC Semifinal Highlights
Fairfield, CT – Junior Antony Moore (Douglass, Isle of Man/St. Gregory’s) took on the role of hero Friday afternoon, as the third-year midfielder broke a scoreless tie in the 56th minute to send the fourth-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson Knights to the NEC Championship Game with to a 1-0 victory over top-seed Sacred Heart.
Moore helped the Knights reach their first NEC Title game since 2008 and hand Sacred Heart its first loss in 10 games when he headed in junior Nicholas Walker’s (Port of Spain, Trinidad/St. Mary’s) pass to the far post after freshman Anders Vest-Hansen (Nykobing, Denmark/Celf) delivered a perfectly-placed corner kick into the box.
It proved to be the turning point for the Knights, who spent most of the first half defending their own cage while the Pioneers controlled the tempo and outshot the visitors 6-2. The Knights built off the score as they turned the tables on Sacred Heart, finishing the stanza with an 8-5 edge in shots.
Sophomore Jacob Lissek (Highlands Ranch, CO/Rock Canyon) also played an integral role in the win, stopping three shots and taking away several possible scoring chances. Senior Alex Fait (Ottawa, Ontario/St. Joseph’s), an All-NEC First Team selection, made six saves, including five in the second half. SHU ended the game with an 11-10 edge in attempts and a 6-3 advantage in corner kicks.
“It is great to be playing in Sunday’s championship game after a very good win against an outstanding opponent,” said FDU head coach Seth Roland. “The guys competed very well today and deserve to be playing for the championship trophy.”
Fairleigh Dickinson (11-4-3) will now face Garden State foe Monmouth for the NEC Title on Sunday. Sacred Heart, meanwhile, ends its season with a 10-5-4 mark and a share of the NEC Regular-Season Title.
Hawks Down Blue Devils in Penalty Kick Shootout; Advance to Third Straight NEC Title Game
NEC Semifinal Highlights
Fairfield, CT – It won’t count as a goal on the stat sheet, but senior Anthony Vazquez’s (Belford, NJ/St. John’s) strike in his team’s fifth attempt of Friday’s penalty kick shootout might have been the biggest of his Monmouth career. Vazquez found the back of the net following a Central Connecticut miss to take the shootout by a 4-2 margin and send the Hawks to their third straight NEC Title game after playing to a 1-1 draw with the Blue Devils.
With the tie, the Hawks move to 13-5-1 and will have a shot at making it three NEC Championships in a row. The Blue Devils, meanwhile, end their season with a 10-8-1 mark after making the playoffs for the first time since 2007, the same season they won the title and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA Tournament.
In a tale of two halves, it was the Hawks who controlled the pace early on.
Derek Luke (Bridgewater, NJ/Bridgewater-Raritan) gave Monmouth an early lead when his shot from atop the box found its way over a leaping Anthony Occhialini (Montville, CT/Montville) and into the top corner with less than five minutes gone off the clock. Joseph Schmid (Kingston, PA/Wyoming Valley (Villanova)) earned the assist on the goal, playing the ball down the sideline before Luke took it the rest of the way.
Central weathered Monmouth’s lengthy possessions and flipped the switch in the second, outshooting the Hawks 9-2 and finally beating junior Alex Blackburn (Natick, MA/Natick), who stuffed the Blue Devils up to that point with three of his game-high five saves. Ognen Stamakovik (Clinton Township, MI/School Craft) took a sharp pass from Jessie Menzies (Prospect, CT/Woodland Regional) off a corner and belted it past the netminder to tie the game 1-1 in the 70th minute.
After a pair of scoreless overtime sessions, the game ended in a tie and forced the teams into a shootout to determine who would advance to the championship game. Both squads made their first attempts before Occhialini and Blackburn stuffed their opponents. Following a pair of conversions, MU made its third try while CCSU failed to match it, setting up Vazquez for the winner.
Overall, Central Connecticut State held the upper hand in several statistical categories including shots (13-8) and corner attempts (6-1). Blackburn improved his record to 13-5-1 after making five stops while Occhialini made three, two of which came in the second overtime session. He ends the year at 10-6-1.
"Derek scored a tremendous goal early to get us off to a good start," said Monmouth head coach Robert McCourt. "I give Central credit. This is what happens in championship-level games. But I give our guys a lot of credit. Hard work, determination and experience playing in these types of matches got us through. We have tremendous character in our locker room. I'm extremely proud of our young men."