Rebels top Mustangs, 3-0, to advance in state sectional tournament

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Howell High School boys soccer player Rob Lacqua dribbles the ball around Marlboro's Zain Taqvi during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro. Howell defeated Marlboro 3-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School boys soccer player Gavin Soutar knocks the ball away from Marlboro's Miles Richardson during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro. Howell won 3-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School boys soccer player Marcelo Romano steals the ball from Marlboro's Evan Torillo during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro. Howell won 3-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School goalkeeper Charlie Scanlon punts the ball up the field against Marlboro during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School boys soccer player Rob Lacqua dribbles the ball around Marlboro's Zain Taqvi during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro. Howell defeated Marlboro 3-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School boys soccer player Gavin Soutar knocks the ball away from Marlboro's Miles Richardson during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro. Howell won 3-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School boys soccer player Marcelo Romano steals the ball from Marlboro's Evan Torillo during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro. Howell won 3-0.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF
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Howell High School goalkeeper Charlie Scanlon punts the ball up the field against Marlboro during the quarterfinals of the NJSIAA Central Jersey, Group IV Tournament on Nov. 4 in Marlboro.STEVEN BASSIN/STAFF

There is a Cinderella story unfolding in the Central Jersey Group IV state sectional boys soccer tournament.

Howell, the No. 13 seed in the sectional field, advanced to the sectional semifinals on the strength of a 3-0 victory over Marlboro on Nov. 4 in Marlboro.

The team’s victory in the quarterfinal round match moved the Rebels into the sectional semifinals, where they will play No. 8 seed West Windsor-Plainsboro South on Nov. 8 in West Windsor.

“The kids are playing well,” Coach Rich Yuro said. “We thought we would start the season better. We had a lot of one-goal games that we did not do well in. We started winning some games and the kids started believing we can do this. They have a lot of confidence and a lot of momentum behind them.”

Howell (10-6-1) is 9-1 in its last 10 games. In the first round of the state sectional tournament on Nov. 1, the Rebels defeated Princeton on penalty kicks, 4-2.

Against Marlboro in the sectional quarterfinals, the Rebels’ dominance in the second half produced three goals in the final 20 minutes of the 80-minute match.

In the 61st minute, following a handball by a Marlboro player, Howell was awarded a free kick 25 yards from the Mustangs’ net. Chris Osario-Rodriguez blasted the ball over the outstretched hands of Marlboro’s goalkeeper for a 1-0 lead.

Later, Osario-Rodriguez said that before he took the free kick, he “knew it was going in.”

“I felt like I was on top of the world,” Osario-Rodriguez said. “I practiced that shot all summer. It felt great. I knew we were winning the game from there.”

In the 62nd minute, junior Nick Spisak found himself alone when R.J. Eckelman’s shot hit the crossbar and landed in front of the net, allowing Spisak to tap in the ball for a 2-0 lead.

In the 72nd minute, Spisak took a perfect pass from Kris Maza and booted home his second goal for a 3-0 lead that sealed the victory.

“It feels great,” Spisak said. “Nobody believed in us. I really think we can win this thing.”

Goalkeeper Charlie Scanlon made five saves in the victory.

The Rebels’ winning run late in the season has not surprised the players or Yuro. All of Howell’s losses this season have been by one goal, so the coach and his players knew they were “right there” in every match with a chance to win.

The 2021 Rebels are trying to put Howell into a state sectional tournament championship match for the first time since 2007.

“When you get to this point in the season, it doesn’t matter,” Yuro said. “Everybody is about the same. It’s just who catches a break. You just have to work hard and see if it works your way.”