by Andrew Garda

WEST ORANGE—In a battle of two top high school boys soccer teams, Montclair High School pushed Seton Hall Prep into overtime, but fell just short, 1-0.

Mounties keeper Rowan O’Brien played a brilliant game, making six saves, including a game-rescuing denial on a Seton Hall penalty kick in the MHS box. O’Brien and Pirate goalie Anthony Petruzziello both made multiple saves to keep their teams in the game and ultimately send the match into overtime.

However, in the fifth minute of first overtime, Seton Hall’s Aidan Dunphy brought the ball into the Mountie end, cutting to the left side of the net before sending a cross to the opposite side where Jon Ned was waiting.

O’Brien dove across the net but couldn’t make it in time as the ball came off Ned’s foot quickly and found the back of the net.

“We had a lot of opportunities,” head coach Toure Weaver said after the game. “It was two good teams, in a heavyweight match. I told them they should all pick their heads up [because] we just took one of the best teams in the state to overtime. And when it comes down to it, I don’t think we played the best we can play.”

Weaver has a point.

To take one of the top soccer programs in the state to overtime, in a game you could have won, is something to build momentum off of. The Mounties did just that, carrying forward their energy from the Seton Hall game into Monday’s dismantling of Bloomfield, a game they won 5-2 on the road.

If MHS’ offense seemed like a dam ready to break on Friday, it fully burst against the Bengals as Phillip Cubeddu scored a pair of goals and added an assist while Bobby Knoth and Andreas Nanavati both scored once. The final goal Bloomfield scored on itself (commonly referred to as an own goal).

Keeper Rowan O’Brien continued his exceptional work in goal as well, saving six shots of eight attempts. The Mounties defense, which stood tall in the game against Seton Hall, continues to impress, as do the forward lines, which had 15 shots on Bloomfield’s keeper.

The Mounties continued their momentum with a well played 2-1 over Glen Ridge Tuesday night.

Friday’s Seton Hall game was a very physical one, with five yellow cards issued throughout the course of the game and one scuffle involving several players of both teams in the second half. This was a hard-fought battle between two very good teams, and the rough-and-tumble style of play resulted in several fast breaks and near misses for both teams.

And that is why, despite the disappointment, the fact that the Mounties pushed Seton Hall — one of the best teams in the state of New Jersey — into overtime, nearly winning the game multiple times, is a reason to be excited for what the team is capable of.

Weaver says one of the keys is the team knowing who they are and playing their style of soccer, not the other team’s.

“I think we got away from our identity a little bit,” Weaver said. “ In this sport, and really not just on the field, but as a person, and as a team, you have to know who you are. And you have to always let that be what guides you. And I think we got a little away from that today.”

The Mounties did seem to chase the ball more, rather than move the ball in a way that the opposition needed to do the chasing. Weaver said that’s to be expected when you face a team like the Pirates.

““I think that’s only natural,” he explained. “When you play a good team, you have to understand games move in waves. There’s going to be moments when they have momentum, [and others] when we have momentum. But for me ... we didn’t put the ball on the floor and play as much as we usually do. And our spacing and how we move off the ball, those types of things I didn’t see as much as I usually do.”

That only reinforces Weaver’s point that despite holding their own against a top Seton Hall squad, the team still hasn’t shown everything it is capable of.

“We’re still in the first third of the season,” he said. “I still say we haven’t played our best.”

The Mounties continued their season against another top-ranked team as they welcomed Millburn to Fortunato on Wednesday Sept. 27, beating them 1-0.

It's safe to say this MHS team belongs among the best in New Jersey.