Soccer team wins first boys sectional title at New Egypt



A s senior Ken Stillwell hoisted the NJSIAA Central Jersey Group I championship trophy after New Egypt High School beat South River High School, 2-1, on Nov. 15 at New Egypt, it seemed like the entire school population poured onto the field. Coach Sam Palumbo called it a “mosh” as he crumpled to the ground in tears of joy when the final whistle sounded and the celebration began.

“The first thing I did when it ended was go to the goal to [goalkeeper] Connor [Ingenbrandt], my best friend, and give him a big hug. And then when I got the trophy from the athletic director, the fans ran up to me and went crazy,” Stillwell said. “It’s a moment I’ll never forget.”

“It was a mosh party,” said senior sweeper Matt Dey. “It was the most fans I ever saw at a New Egypt game — this giant group of people jumping and screaming. It was crazy, unlike any other game.”

Dey later added, “This wasn’t just for us, but for all of our teams and for all of our boys teams that had made the section finals.”

Palumbo agreed.

“It was unbelievable, especially in front of our own fans, and then seeing 300 [people] run onto the field in one big mosh pit after the game,” Palumbo said. “We beat one of the great competitors that had won the section three of the last six years. It was great for the history of this program.”

Avenging a loss to South River in last year’s sectional championship game, it’s the first sectional championship by any boys team at New Egypt. It joins the school’s girls softball team that advanced beyond three sectional titles in recent years into state championship games, winning two of them.

For Stillwell and the other seniors on the team that notched its first 20-win season in a 21-2 campaign, their season and high school careers were extended for another game, maybe two. They were to play Haddon Township High School (21-3) from the South Jersey bracket on Nov. 19 at Haddon Township in the Group I semifinals. The winner advanced to the state championship game at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 at The College of New Jersey.

It seemed appropriate that Travis Ward, who set the single-season record for scoring goals, sealed the victory with10 minutes left when he took a pass from Jacob Bogucki in the midfield, beat a defender and fired a shot from 18 yards out into the upper left corner of the net for the winning goal, which was his 29th.

Ken Johnston, who earned Palumbo’s praise after the game for scoring so many crucial goals for a team that handily outscored its opponents, 107-18, scored the first goal eight minutes into the game. Ward crossed the ball to Johnston, who connected from just inside the box on the right side into the lower left corner for his 17th goal of the season. South River came back midway through the second half to tie it with a goal scored from 30 yards out into the lower left corner past Ingenbrandt, who again shared the goaltending for a half with Ryan Grasso, as he has done all season.

“I told our midfielders, if we score again, our defense won’t give up another goal in this half,” Stillwell said.

The defense included outside backs Rafael Archer and David Calabrese.

The back line earned particular praise from Palumbo afterward for dictating the tempo.

“It was just a total game,” Palumbo said of his team’s effort. “We had possession. We won most 50/50s and outshot them [14-8].”

It was similar to a less dramatic 2-1 sectional semifinals victory over Bound Brook High School on Nov. 12, when New Egypt dominated play with a gaudy 40-6 edge in shots and the Warriors protected a 2-0 lead that Bound Brook, more stubborn than its 10-9-1 record might indicate, chipped into with eight minutes left. In that game, William Davis took a cross from Tyler Dey, beat a defender and one-touched a shot from short range midway through the first half. Johnston scored what proved to be the deciding goal 15 minutes into the second half when he beat a defender down the left side and targeted a short blast into the lower right corner.

The sectional championship was the Warriors’ seventh straight victory after backto back losses to Cinnaminson High School and Timber Creek Regional High School, the latter in the South Jersey Coaches Association Tournament. It is a goal that Palumbo said has been on the minds of everyone on the team since August, along with winning another Burlington County Scholastic League Patriot Division title.

“Ever since we lost last season [to South River in the state tournament to end the season], we’ve worked so hard in the weight room. But I knew we did have the makings for this,” Stillwell said. “We lost our two outside backs from last year’s team and the new players filled in, and we lost Adam Coyle, who had scored so many goals. And then Travis Ward set the record [for goals scored in a season], and we found that with Ken Johnston, we got big goals.”

Matt Dey and Stillwell felt with so much accomplished, there was more to be done.

“We can’t start out slow. And we have to finish as hard as we start,” Dey said.

“We can’t be satisfied with what we’ve done,” Stillwell said. “We have to stay hungry. We put our school on the map [for boys soccer] and it’s gotten respect. We have to have the drive to play harder than Haddon Township.”