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After Monroe-Woodbury dropped a 1-0 match to rival Newburgh back on September 20, Crusaders coach Pat Bulla had this to say: "We’ve been in this position with (Newburgh) for many years with scoreless or one-goal games. Hopefully, we’ll get them back at our place next time.”
The Crusaders did just that on Monday afternoon, exacting revenge on the Goldbacks (10-4-3) with a 1-0 overtime victory at Central Valley Elementary School.
Making it even sweeter, Monroe-Woodbury (11-3-2) also clinched its second straight OCIAA Division 1 title.
"That 1-0 loss to (Newburgh) earlier this season as well as a 1-0 loss to them in the sections last year definitely motivated the boys in this game," Bulla said.
Junior midfielder Kevin Rafferty exorcised the Newburgh demons, burying the game-winning goal in the 81st minute off a precise cross from senior midfielder Andrew Mpasiakos. It was Rafferty's fourth goal of the season.
"We were playing with it on the outside and I was wide open in the middle screaming for it," Rafferty said, detailing the goal. "Once I saw (Mpasiakos) take it down the line, I knew it was just going to come back. I waited for it and put it in the goal."
Keeper Nico Pasquariello made sure the Goldbacks stayed out of Monroe-Woodbury's goal. The standout senior made five saves — at least two of which were highlight-worthy — to record the clean sheet.
"I've been dreaming of this since I came onto the team as a sophomore," said Pasquariello, who backed up all-section keeper Ryan Roethel the past two years. "We worked hard, played as a team and we deserved it. We played harder than they did."
Pasquariello's biggest save came in the 50th minute on an absolute rocket by Newburgh's Christian Cuervo. Initially, the shot appeared side netting-bound, but Pasquariello extended his arm to deflect it away.
"That was just reaction," he said. "It took a really bad skip right in front of me and I put my arm out to get it."
Overall, Monroe-Woodbury's defense — which is anchored by senior sweeper Mike Nastu — put the clamps on the Goldbacks' dangerous counterattack. Fullbacks James Delaney and David Santos tracked their men well on the wings, while stopper Kyle Reilly dominated on 50-50 opportunities in the air. Nastu was brilliant under pressure, calmly distributing the ball when pressed deep in the Crusaders' defensive third of the pitch.
"(Newburgh) always comes out very hard against us and I was especially looking to keep our defense strong against their counterattack," Bulla said. "They are very, very quick and very, very fast. Today, I thought we did a good job of that."
As the game ticked toward overtime, Monroe-Woodbury sensed the momentum shifting in its favor. Bulla used a boxing analogy to describe the situation.
"I thought we had (Newburgh) on the ropes," the coach said. "I saw they falling apart and were yelling at each other. Once you see that, it's not a good sign. It was a matter of time before we put the ball in. I told (the team) that we just needed to get the ball to the corners and get a decent cross and finish."
It marked the fifth straight 1-0 result between the two Section 9 Class AA powerhouses. Newburgh had won the last two, including a double-overtime classic in last year's sectional final. Monroe-Woodbury won both of last year's regular-season meetings.
The Crusaders will now look to duplicate Monday's effort throughout the Section 9 Class AA playoffs, which has been a house of horrors the past two years. Monroe-Woodbury went a combined 30-1-3 in the regular season from 2010-11 but fell short of a sectional title both times. Newburgh, meanwhile, has captured the last four Class AA crowns.
Still, the Crusaders are confident that this season will be different.
"If we play like we did today, I have no doubt we can beat any other team in sections and into states," Rafferty said.
Contact Isaac Cass at Icass@cablevision.com or follow him @MSGV_Icass on Twitter.