Millburn, NJ- The 2 seeded Millburn Millers kept their season alive in a state tournament game with a scare on Halloween against the 15 seeded Columbia Cougars in a 1-0 win that needed an extra overtime period.
In speaking with the Columbia coach before the game, Coach Russotto said his Cougars were fired up and looking for revenge after losing 3-1 to Millburn on September 20th. They lived up to their word, as the defensive unit for Columbia came to play, specifically Ethan Pigeon and Ryan Perlee, as they stopped multiple Millburn fast breaks.
The game was a 2pm kickoff, so there wasn’t a crowd in the early going. Millburn didn’t need a crowd though as they controlled the game from the start. They had over 5 shots on goal in the first 5 minutes. This continued for the Millers for the entire first half, during which they had plenty of opportunities to score but were unable to do so. The ball was on Columbia’s half of the field for the majority of the first half, as Millburn played with a possessive style, keeping the ball for as long as possible. Goalie Sam Maidenberg made some terrific saves, jumping over Millburn players at times, and diving left or right.
The trend continued in the second half as Millburn was close to scoring on multiple occasions. As school ended, an active student section began to form in the bleachers. The people in the crowd were on the edge of their seats for the entire second half, shot after shot for Millburn, waiting for a goal. Although the Cougar defense was superb, the Millers uncharacteristically missed some shots that they would normally make. Crosses from Ben Kessler and Andrew Aronson were there all day for the Miller offense but they were unable to get the right touch on the ball.
The Cougar offense was almost nonexistent as Millburn goalie Perry Schwartz had a slow day. The strategy for Columbia on offense was a questionable one. They kept trying very long passes from either Maidenberg or one of their defenders, which went way too far; even over the heads of the Miller defenders. The ball would always end up rolling lazily into the arms of Schwartz.
A headline heading into the game today was the injury bug. Defender Christian Clark and midfielder Spencer Schneider were out today. Andrew Aronson, a sophomore, took Schneider’s spot which was expected and deserved, as he got a lot of minutes this season. Clark’s replacement was a pleasant surprise though. Aidan Grigorian, a freshman who played almost the entire season at the Junior Varsity level was a call up a few games ago and Coach Robinson gave him the nod to start on defense. He played like a Senior today at center back racking up many steals and even showing great touch on passes.
Inside 2 minutes of regulation, the Cougars played a more aggressive style of offense and it almost paid off, as they strung together a few productive offensive possessions and tested Millburn, despite the seeding differential. They still didn’t get a hard shot on Schwartz though, and it was a matter of time when, not if, the Millers would score and win.
The game was scoreless at the end of regulation and the first of two possible 10 minute overtime periods would be played before a penalty shootout if necessary. The Millers repeated the theme of the game, controlling the ball and eventually, with 7 minutes remaining in the first overtime, a Cougar kicked the ball out of bounds for a Drew Cohn corner kick. Cohn placed the ball perfectly, into a pile of players near Maidenberg. All of a sudden, the ball rolled out of the pile to Benji Prashker, who was unguarded. This chance was too good to miss as the Senior striker shot a missile in the bottom right of the goal from around 5 yards out. The Millburn bench charged the field to celebrate with their leading scorer, and hero of the game.
The Millers will advance to play the winner of 10 seed Dickinson v. 7 seed East Orange right here in Millburn on Thursday for another 2pm kickoff.
-Casey Kamiel