After a riveting postseason run, marked by upset victories, East Brunswick High School finally ran out of steam on Nov. 13.
In an NJSIAA Group 4 semifinal, the Bears fell to Washington Township High School, 4-0, in the game that was played at Rowan University in Glassboro.
The Minutemen from Gloucester County were 23-1 going into the game, and they played like it, out shooting East Brunswick, 11-3.
The Bears stayed in the game for 40 minutes, trailing just 1-0 at the break. But Washington Township scored three goals in the second half.
The defeat prevented East Brunswick from playing for its first ever state group championship. But in 2018, the Bears still won their first state sectional championship since 2011.
They also did it in upset fashion, beating top-seeded Hunterdon Central Regional High School, 1-0, in the Central Jersey, Group 4 state sectional tournament championship on Nov. 8. It was not the only trophy East Brunswick earned in the postseason.
The Bears beat South Brunswick High School, the No. 1 seed in the Greater Middlesex Conference Tournament, in the championship game, 1-0, on Nov. 3. The Bears then followed up that triumph with a 2-1 victory over South Brunswick in the state sectional semifinals on Nov. 5.
It was an impressive, memorable run for coach Terry McKibbin’s team.
“We went on this crazy run,” McKibbin said. “It feels amazing. These kids were every bit good enough to win it.”
They were a senior heavy group with speed all over the field.
Senior forwards Corrado Carbone and Josh Newton led the Bears with 10 goals each. Carbone also had eight assists.
Senior midfielder Max Lee posted six goals and six assists. Fellow seniors Justin Woo (four goals), Sean Joo (three goals, three assists), Andrew Hong (two goals, five assists) and Poorav Desai (four goals, two assists) also contributed all over the field.
During an eight-game winning streak between the GMC tournament and the state sectional tournament, East Brunswick wore opponents down by controlling the ball and attacking in the offensive third.
The Bears were especially proud of beating South Brunswick twice during that stretch. They lost to the Vikings two times in the regular season, 3-1 on Oct. 15 and 2-1 on Sept. 20.
“In the GMCs we were motivated (to beat them). We were looking better as a team,” Hong said. “Even with the windy weather in the GMCs, we were able to beat them. That carried us forward. We didn’t want our season to end. With this energy, strength and motivation, we were able to outplay them.”
“It just feels surreal because we knew we had big expectations in the beginning of the season, and that it would be hard to fulfill them,” Lee said.
East Brunswick exceeded them.
“We have not won a trophy since 2013. That’s definitely the longest drought for us in a while. This is the year to do it,” McKibbin said in August. “If we don’t win the conference or the sectional, at least one, it will be considered a disappointment.”
The Bears won both. They just ran into a great Washington Township team in the state group championship. Either way, it was a successful year for East Brunswick.
Next year will present different challenges. All of those seniors will be gone.
Goalkeepers Ryan McSwieney (53 saves) and Gabe Espada (43 saves), and midfielders Srihari Sudhir (four goals, seven assists) and Derek Ferro (three goals) are the only key players projected to return.
But the Bears always reload. McKibbin is 200-81-18 in 14 years as East Brunswick’s coach.