BEAR – St. Mark’s had controlled the pace of play throughout much of Saturday’s state championship soccer game against Salesianum, and the Spartans appeared headed to their first title since 2001. The clock was stopped, as the referee was keeping track of extra time on the field at Caravel Academy. With a 2-1 lead, the Spartans remained aggressive, and their fans prepared to celebrate.
“Come on, blow the whistle,” St. Mark’s coach Dan Swasey said to himself on the sideline.
But a defender’s slip gave the Sals the opening they needed, and senior forward Cam Granger headed in a ball that had bounced past St. Mark’s goalkeeper Chad Fox to tie the contest, 2-2. As a boisterous student section and others on the Salesianum side exploded, the referee blew his whistle. It was four seconds after Granger’s goal.
The Sals and Spartans went back and forth into overtime, and with 2:37 left in the second 10-minute session, Sals’ junior Moja Hale feathered a loose ball into the net, giving No. 1-seed Salesianum a 3-2 win and the championship.
It was the school’s second straight title and seventh in the last eight years. It also marked the 11th state championship for Salesianum, tying St. Mark’s for the most in Delaware.
“I’ll never forget it. Against St. Mark’s, best rivalry in the state, overtime goal, that’s crazy. As a junior, that’s memorable. I’ll never forget it,” Hale said.
Salesianum coach Scott Mosier said the rival Spartans deserved a lot of credit for their effort.
“St. Mark’s was awesome tonight, they really were. With the seniors and the hard work and the dedication they put into the game, they were really, really incredible. And we knew it,” he said. “We knew they were going to come out, we knew they were going to play extremely hard. We knew it was going to be a fight, a late, ugly goal kind of game.”
Swasey said his players should hold their heads high after taking one of the country’s top teams to the limit, even though the defeat left a sour taste in their mouths.
“I’m proud of their toughness, I’m proud of their heart, their resiliency. I couldn’t be happier with this bunch. It’s a great 22 young men,” Swasey said.
Third-seeded St. Mark’s trailed, 1-0, at halftime, but two goals six minutes apart by senior Greg Bechard gave the Spartans the lead that many thought would hold up. Bechard’s first tally came in the 58th minute off a free kick that went off the hands of Sallies’ goalkeeper Nick Galentine. Bechard picked up the loose ball and rolled in the tying goal. In the 64thminute, Bechard drilled one past the keeper from about 30 yards out.
Bechard attempted to complete the hat trick in the final minutes of regulation, but he was ruled offside.
According to Granger, the Sals knew what they had to do after Bechard’s tallies.
“We knew we had to come together as a team. No matter what, we would fall as a team or rise as a team, and the odds just played our way this time,” he said.
St. Mark’s played an aggressive style against the Sals, taking the play to their foes. It was important for the Spartans to establish the pace, Swasey said.
“We wanted to attack them. Teams sit back on Sallies and let Sallies dictate tempo. We wanted the St. Mark’s tempo,” Swasey said.
Salesianum opened the scoring late in the first half when senior Nelson Lundgaard took a free kick from approximately 30 yards out and knocked it by Fox.
The Sals had two quality scoring opportunities from Hale go over the net early in the first half. In the 24th minute, Lundgaard found himself all alone against Fox, but Hale’s pass was ruled offside.
St. Mark’s turned the momentum as the half wore on. In between their goals, a shot off a corner kick rolled just wide. The Spartans’ best opportunity in overtime came halfway through the first when a shot rang off the crossbar above Galentine.
Swasey called this “another story in the book” about the archrivals. “The atmosphere, the crowd, the respect between the two programs is fantastic. There’s no two better programs in the state of Delaware, and you saw it tonight.”