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Knights shift focus to state boys’ soccer tournament

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By Warren Rappleyea

Old Bridge High School’s boys’ soccer team entered the Greater Middlesex Conference (GMC) Tournament on an 11-game unbeaten streak. But after being upset in the first round, the Knights are turning their attention to the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV tournament.

A goal on a header off a corner kick 20 minutes into the game enabled 13th-seeded Edison High School to best Old Bridge, which had earned the fourth seed. Coach Chris McGrath’s team dominated possession and out-shot the Eagles badly but could not connect for the tying goal.

“That was one of the hardest losses we’ve had in the program,” McGrath said. “You have to give Edison credit. They did what they had to do. It seemed like it was only a matter of time before we’d get a goal. We hit the crossbar. We hit the post. We hit several shots right at their goalie. Their goalie made some good saves. We were creating chances right up to the final whistle.”

Defending set-piece plays has been a source of pride for the Knights ever since the team fell to Saint Joseph High School of Metuchen as the result of a similar header earlier in the year. The Edison goal marked the first set-piece tally Old Bridge has allowed in 14 matches. In addition, the top two seeds, Monroe Township High School and New Brunswick High School, were also upset.

“We have a lot of seniors on the roster, and no one wants to end their career on a loss like that,” McGrath said. “We’re focusing on the state tournament now. This is a good team. I expect to have a good run.”

A potential benefit of the loss is that Old Bridge will have a layoff before traveling to New Brunswick Oct. 31 for a first-round game. The two teams played twice in the regular season. The first match ended in a tie, but the Knights took the second, 2-1.

Old Bridge started slowly, getting out of the gate at 1-4-1 before its unbeaten streak. McGrath’s team took the rematches after losing to both St. Joe’s and South Brunswick High School the first time around. During the streak, the Knights posted five clean sheets and allowed just six goals against.

Goalkeeper Mark Akselrud has been solid, recording nearly 100 saves to date. Jason DeNovellis and Matt Tedeschi spearhead the defensive corps.

Central midfielder Christian McCartney gives the Knights a formidable two-way presence in the middle. McCartney, who is hobbled by an injury, was only able to play a half against Edison but should be fit for his team’s encounter with New Brunswick. The senior has five goals and five assists to his credit.

Old Bridge scores goals by committee. Striker Joel Quist leads the team with 10 goals to go with four assists, while Gregg Johnson has scored eight times and added two assists. Midfielders Sual Downes and Bobby Shannon have scored five and four goals, respectively, while Chris Modica leads the Knights in assists with six.

“Our guys know what they’re capable of doing,” McGrath said. “They also know there is no margin for error. All of the teams that are still playing at this time of year are quality teams.”

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