An all-time classic between two powerhouse programs on Wednesday as the No. 4 ranked Hunterdon Central Red Devils played hosted against the No. 14 Westfield Blue Devils in the North Group 4 semifinals.
The bleachers were filled with a sea of white and blue representing both teams and fans in attendance at Stewart Field on Wednesday.
From the opening face-off it was quick to see the physically of this game and sense of urgency as players from both teams battled to get the opening possession.
Westfield would draw first blood as they controlled the first possession of the game draining 3 minutes on the clock when they fired a bullet past Central with 10:26 in the first quarter to take a 1-0 lead.
The pressure was on early for Central’s goalie Dillion Baehr as he came up with two huge saves on consecutive shots but didn’t have much time to celebrate as Westfield’s Tim Murray was able to turn up the heat and fired a shot that hit the back of the net with only 15 seconds to go in the quarter.
After a slow first 6 minutes the Red Devil’s turned to their defense to help spark the offense as an incredible save by Baehr turns into a fast break opportunity the other way in which Dylan Johnson the team’s leading scoring dodges past two defenders to wake up the home crowd as Hunterdon Central gets on the board 2-1.
After winning the face-off and taking the next possession head coach Mike Vergalito signaled for a time-out for the Red Devils understanding the importance of this change in momentum.
The time-out would ultimately end up being the right call as Dylan Johnson decided to take it himself ducking and weaving through the Blue Devils defenders to score his impressive 45th goal of the season to tie the game at 2 a piece.
Hunterdon Central would keep their foot on the gas as Chris Bill would get on the board to give Central its first lead of the game with 3 minutes left until half.
Westfield would answer right back on a turnover to score with just one second left before half to send both teams to the locker room knotted up 3-3.
The third quarter would have both sides trading punches as 3 quick goals by Sean Creter, Owen Bill, and Brendan Lehrer for Central were answered quickly by Westfield’s Ryan Waldman who scored another late second goal to finish the third quarter down 5-6.
Controlling most of the 4th quarter up by two goals it looked like Central was in the driver’s seat to advance to state finals but critical defensive mistakes by the Red Devils allowed Westfield to climb by into the game.
John McDonald for Westfield was able to capitalize on a lack of communication between the Red Devil’s defense as he snuck behind on a screen and was left wide open to bring the game within one.
Another critical turnover for Central helped Trey Brown, a Maryland commit, showed why he is one of the best defenders in the state for Westfield. But this time the junior used his passing ability as he delivered a perfect full field pass that went over the head of Logan Lamarca who mistimed the jump and let Waldman get behind him to give up an easy goal to tie the game.
Ryan Waldman, the Cornell commit, attacked the sleeping Red Devils defense to score his 53rd goal of the season and send the game into overtime.
Too much surprise, the extra period wouldn’t last long as the game shifted completely on the biggest face-off of the season for both teams as a Westfield player delivered an excruciating hit on Sean Creter who immediately went to the ground hard.
The hit would send the crowd into a frenzy as Creter laid on the ground while multiple players from both teams signaled over to the trainers to come check on the star midfielder.
Creter would end up running off the field with just a stinger, but this wasn’t before a yellow flag flew in the air alerting Westfield of a huge 3-minute penalty to come.
However, Hunterdon Central would only need one minute as Dylan Johnson would show why he is the team’s leading scoring as he dialed up the game winning shot off his knees to send his team back to the state championship as the players rushed onto the field to celebrate.
Westfield's Ryan Waldman’s with 4 points and Cody Lam with 2 points delivered impressive performances but it just weren’t enough for Westfield as their season ends on a crushing defeat.
“You again?” Dreaded Rivals Face off in State Championship
Hunterdon Central will now face their biggest rival and a team they are very familiar with just down the road in a strong Bridgewater-Raritan team on Saturday at 10am. Central will have a chance to defend their state tittle for last year and go back to back to capture a perfect undefeated season.