GLASSBORO – The halftime speech had all been worked out in the mind of Glassboro boys’ soccer coach Mark Bridges.
On a rain soaked afternoon at the Glassboro High School football stadium, Bridges' Bulldogs had controlled most, if not, the entire first half with steady movement despite the soggy conditions. Still as the clock ticked down under five minutes, despite a 7-0 advantage in shots on net, the top-seeded hosts found themselves locked in a scoreless draw with upset minded Haddon Heights.
“We had played well and really had the ball down their end for most of the half,” Bridges said. “The halftime speech was going to be about if they wanted to let Heights stay in the game. That’s a good team and the longer it went the more concern you have in case (Heights) catches a break.
“Luckily, Sinan (Tuzcu) found a way to get us on the board.”
Tuzcu put the Bulldogs ahead in the 38th minute of the first half and Ian Carter added a penalty kick with 16 minutes left as Glassboro beat No.5 Haddon Heights 2-0 in a South Jersey Group 1 semifinal game. The Bulldogs (18-2-2) advance to host the Group 1 Final on Friday against the winner of Palmyra and Schalick and look to erase the memories of a loss in last year’s final at Haddon Township in the process.
“The goal this year was not to just reach the final,” said Carter, who manned a back line on a day the weather created more issues than the Heights attack. “We’ve been together, the core of us, for over ten years or so. Last year, we were disappointed to get to the final and fall short. We came into this season with a singular focus and now that we’re back in this spot, we can’t ease up.”
Glassboro came out on the attack and pressured the Garnets (9-8-4) throughout the first half as the conditions and Glassboro’s style forced Heights into a strong defensive shell. Heights keeper Connor Rink came up with several big saves, including one stretch of three straight shots and it appeared as if the game would head to the half scoreless.
“We pulled our defense up and we were able to create space out wide throughout the first half,” said Tuzcu, who leads the team with 28 goals this season. “We had chances but it was tough to get really good opportunities. On that play, it came in and I saw where it was headed. It was my job to get it on net.”
Down a goal, Heights came out in an aggressive posture and as the game evened out, the Garnets got several opportunities. At the midway point, Heights attacker Andrew Gibson ran onto a ball played into the box that Carter misplayed. Before Gibson could get the shot off, sophomore Aaron Harrison came through with a key slide tackle to prevent a shot on net.
“The conditions were tough and I saw the ball headed for Ian,” Harrison said. “The ball skipped over his foot and I knew I had to drop back. That happens in these conditions so I knew I had to get back and just support the defense as a whole.”
“We’re a family,” Carter said. “We go into this knowing we can’t win as individuals, especially on defense. (Harrison) made a great play and our confidence grew from that point.”
Glassboro can now focus on its final goal and, unlike last year, will be able to do it on their home turf.
“We started the year with five goals,” Bridges said. “We completed three of them and now we want the fourth.”
Bulldogs 2, Garnets 1
Haddon Heights 0--0----0
Sinan Tuzcu, Ian Carter. Saves: Connor Rink, HH, 8; Griffin Rogers, G, 2.