UNION TOWNSHIP – Brett Guetens struggled to put into words what had happened just moments earlier on the turf of Kean University’s football stadium.
It had been a tough year for the Washington Township senior, as he battled through injury with the clock winding down on his high school career. Guetens, along with 11 seniors, had been a big part of a season that, from the outset, held great promise and lofty expectations. On a cold Saturday night, the senior forward just wanted a chance to contribute.
“I got cleared to play the last game,” said the senior, who entered the night with eight goals and nine assists on the season. “My team pulled through that night but watching them that night, when I was limited, made me want this more. All I wanted to do was contribute.
“I’ve been with these guys since I was six, seven, eight years old. I just wanted to do my part. I think to a man on this team, they’d all say the same thing.”
Guetens embodied a spirit that Washington Township showed all season long on the way to Saturday night when a 2-0 win over Morris Knolls secured the third Group 4 State Title in the last five years for the Minutemen. Township (25-1) got goals from Justin Bautista and Giancarlo Lockhart, who combined for one goal all year, in a game that remained scoreless until the final 20 minutes.
“We’ve had to overcome injury late this year,” said head coach Shane Snyder. “It’s a long season, it’s a lot of games so no one is completely healthy but I always knew this was a special group of seniors.
“But you always worry. We lost Jake (Logar) in the second half and you never know for sure how kids will respond. But then, this group, I somehow knew they’d find a way to win.”
The first thing on Township’s docket was to stop Morris Knolls senior Tommy Scalici. The St. John’s commit carried the Golden Eagles out of the 14th seed in the North 1 sectional and all the way to the final. His 26 goals made him the biggest concern for the Township defense.
“Defensively we made sure we followed him everywhere he went,” said senior center back Will Pollack, who along with Bautista, Sean Zemlak and junior Josh Arkelian made life miserable for Scalici who tried every trick in the book to get loose. “We didn’t let him have an inch of space when we had the ball and we gave him less space when they had the ball. The biggest thing was to keep his back to goal and we did a good job of that.”
“We’ve talked about being a team,” Snyder said. “Our defense starts with our strikers, our offense starts with our backline. Tonight, everyone contributed as a team and that’s why we came out on top.”
Still, with 20 minutes left the score remained tied at 0-0 so someone, anyone had to step up and find the back of the net. Chad Yates, who scored two in the state semifinal and leads the Minutemen with 26 goals this year, took a restart from 46 yards away. The ball sailed into the box and after Ryan Jobes had a shot blocked by a defender, Bautista scored his first varsity goal.
“I don’t even know,” the junior said. “I saw (Ryan) Cleary go up for the ball coming in so I found an open space. I don’t know, there was a scramble and finding net was the only thing on my mind.
“I don’t think I ever thought we didn’t have the momentum. They have (Scalici) up top and I think we did a great job of shutting him down.”
“It doesn’t matter who scores on this team,” said Yates, who finally gets a championship ring to go with his brother Travis who won a pair in 2014 and 2015 with the Minutemen. “I’ve said it a couple of times over the last few weeks. I may have the most goals on this team but I don’t really care. That scoreboard says 2-0 and that’s all that matters.”
Eight minutes later, Guetens asserted himself into the action. A restart by Sean Zemlak curled into the box. Guetens worked his way to the six where a heel touch put the ball into the middle and Lockhart rumbled through with the second goal of the night.
“Everybody on this team has contributed,” Guetens said. “Big, small it doesn’t matter. We won as a team all year long and I’m just happy I got on the field tonight.”
In the end, Pollock summed up a season that will go down as one of the best in school history. The defender, who let his play do most of his talking this season chose a few perfect words to speak for every person in the program.
“I’ve never been this happy on a soccer field,” Pollock said.
Seniors Chad Yates (l) and Sean Zemlak celebrate with Township crowd after a 2-0 win brought a third state title to Washington Township
Morris Knolls 0--0----0
Washington Twp. 0--2----2
Justin Bautista, Giancarlo Lockhart. saves: Mike Pagano, WT 5