UNION - As the clock ticked down in the second half and the score remained tied, Cinnaminson continued to push the envelope as it applied more and more pressure upon the Hackettstown defense and its goalkeeper Kyle Palomino.
Meanwhile up top, Hackettstown's Jared Leckburg was hoping for just one chance to deliver a state championship for his team.
Hackettstown withstood Cinnaminson offensive pressure. Then, Josh Weiss sent a long through ball to Leckburg, who scored the go-ahead goal with 6:30 remaining and Hackettstown went on to defeat Cinnaminson, 3-1, in the NJSIAA Group 2 final at Kean University.
The two late goals gave Hackettstown (23-1-1) its first state championship since 2001 and denied Cinnaminson (19-5-2) a shot at its first state title since 1991.
"I wanted that so bad. I wanted one thorugh ball, that's all I wanted and that's what I got and I finished it," said Leckburg, who had had 14 goals this season. "They were able to get me that through ball and I capitalized on it and finished it.
"As soon as I beat the one defender, I saw a one-on-one with the goalie. I kept my composure, tapped it around the goalie and it was unbelievable. I still can't believe it went in."
Leckburg received the long feed, beat the defender and then slid the ball past keeper Mike Deal, who had charged to contest the play.
Trying to mount a late comeback to tie the game, the Pirates were victimized by another long thru ball. This time it was Weiss on the receiving end as he eluded a defender who had fallen down and added an insurance goal with 1:43 remaining.
"I definitely think it worked to our disadvantage that we had so much pressure offensively. I think our back line got aggressive," Cinnaminson coach Jason Meile said. "We had film on them and we showed them how their goalkeeper makes the save and then he sprints to the top of the 18 and he gets rid of that ball. They want to play counterattack. It was nothing that surprised us, it just beat us in that instance because we were on the offense so much."
Indeed they were.
Cinnaminson struck early when Allen Barrett headed the ball inside the box to Mark Staudenmayer, who flicked the ball into the net for a 1-0 lead just 4:06 into the contest. The Pirates' lead was short-lived however. A failed clearing attempt by Cinnaminson led to Jeremy DelValle evening the game up as he ripped a shot just under the crossbar, tying the game in the ninth minute.
From there Cinnaminson initiated the majority of the game's offense. The Pirates unleashed a flurry of shots, but each time they were denied by Palomino, who made 13 saves on the night. Seven of those saves came in the first half, highlighted by a leaping stop on Pat McCarthy's shot with less than two minutes remaining.
"That's what they expect me to do. I'm the keeper, I put on the number 1, I'm the one who wears a different color (uniform)," Palomino said. "I'm the one who can use my hands, so I got to use them to the best of my ability."
Cinnaminson's pressure continued on into the second half in hopes of a second goal to win the game. However, that goal never came, resulting in a bitter defeat to end an otherwise stellar season for the Pirates.
"I'm extremely proud of the guys," Meile said. "I just don't think the better team won today. The better team doesn't always win.
"It's unfortunate. It's a good Hackettstown team out there, but I definitely don't think they were the better team today. We put a lot of pressure on them in the second half and we just couldn't capitalize on any of those opportunities. They snuck a long ball on us and unfortunately, that's how the season ends."