GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP - And then it was over.
What will be remembered as perhaps the best season in the history of the Absegami High School boys soccer program came to an unceremonious end on Monday.
Eric Jordan scored the game's only goal late in the first half as second-seeded Washington Township beat the top-seeded Braves 1-0 in the South Jersey Group IV championship.
"This one hurts," Absegami goalkeeper Matt McCormick said. "We thought we had it. We're probably one of the best teams in Absegami history. We thought we'd go all the way."
Absegami (19-3-1) is ranked No. 6 in The Press Elite 11. The Minutemen are No. 3.
The Braves played in their first sectional final since 1981 and were seeking their first title.
Absegami came out flat and didn't have a shot on net in the first 40 minutes.
Things looked bleak early when Washington Township's Burak Ozdemir headed a ball past McCormick less than four minutes into the game.
A penalty off the ball took the tally off the board.
McCormick was stellar Monday as he has been all season.
The senior keeper set single-season school records with 19 wins and 12 shutouts this year.
McCormick came up huge time after time Monday.
He dived to stop a penalty kick midway through the first half and even turned away the point-blank rebound that ensued.
There wasn't much McCormick could do on a bounding ball late in the first half that spun over his head.
Jordan won the loose ball and scored.
McCormick finished with 10 saves, a handful of which were of the spectacular variety.
"I couldn't be prouder," McCormick said of the team's run to the final. "We'll look back one day and think about how great we were, but it's also a 'what could have been,' too.
"A few years from now we'll look back, but not right now. I couldn't be prouder of everyone - from freshmen all the way up to seniors. They all played out of their minds."
Absegami's best scoring chance came 10 minutes into the second half.
Eder Solano played a corner kick to the far post.
Absegami senior Pete Varsalona blasted a header at the left post.
But Ozdemir was there guarding the goal line and cleared the shot with a header.
Washington Township keeper James Jackson had two saves.
"This is a great accomplishment, especially for us seniors," Absegami senior captain Payne Vazquez said. "We really wanted to go as far as we could. We just didn't finish today."
Vazquez is one of 16 seniors on the team's 22-player roster.
"I'm proud of everybody on this team," Vazquez said. "We all worked real hard in the summer. We made it this far and we did all we could to finish the game, but we didn't come out with the win.
"This one is hard to swallow. It's a tough loss. It's our first home loss, too. It was a good fight by both teams. ... We both wanted this game."
The sectional title was Washington Township's first since 2006.
"I am proud of the kids," Washington Township coach Shane Snyder said. "I have 12 seniors on the team with a couple of juniors and sophomores. It was a tough accomplishment and I'm proud that we beat a good team like Absegami."
Absegami's 19 wins set a school record. The team also won the Cape-Atlantic League American Conference title.
But none of that was comforting to the team immediately following Monday's heartbreaker.
"This was unbelievable," Vazquez said. "This is something I'm going to remember for the rest of my life and I'm pretty sure all the other seniors are going to remember this day too."
Contact John O'Kane:
Washington Township 1 0-1
Absegami 0 0-0
Goalies-Jackson (2) WT; McCormick (10) A.
Records-Washington Township 19-3-2; Absegami 19-3-1.
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