By Mike McClure

After regulation and two 10 minute overtimes in which the first goal scored would win the game, last Saturday’s Henlopen Conference boys’ soccer championship game came down to penalty kicks. Sussex Academy found the net three times on four penalty kicks while Seahawks’ goalie C.J. Norton allowed two scores on five Sussex Central shots on goal for the home win.

“These guys work so hard. You try to put them in a position to be as successful as they can,” said Sussex Academy head coach RJ Dina. “We’ve put in a lot of time at the club level to build out the players that are at Sussex Academy.”

“Last year was rough for us but this year we put it together. When we say family is everything we mean it. We really are a family,” Norton said.

Sussex Academy’s Esteban Lara Nieto scores the game-tying goal in the second half of last weekend’s Henlopen Conference championship game against Sussex Central. The game would go into overtime before the Seahawks won on penalty kicks, 3-2. Photo by Mike McClure

The Golden Knights’ Yonny Mazariegos Ortiz scored a first half goal (37:00) following a Sussex Academy miscue to give his team a 1-0 lead.

Sussex Academy had some near misses early in the second half as Liam Stegall shot the ball off the bar and Chase Ballinger’s follow went over the goal. Sussex Central goalkeeper Justin Glasco later stopped several shots on a Sussex Academy corner before the ball was cleared by Alex Velasquez Morales, leading to another corner.

The Seahawks later picked up another corner, this time Sussex Academy’s Esteban Lara Nieto scored the game-tying goal with 21:50 left in the game off an assist from Andres Romero-Nieto.

“We told the boys (at half-time) it was going to be about desire,” said Dina.

Both teams continued to take their shots on goal as the end of regulation neared. Mazariegos Ortiz’s shot went wide left with over 17 minutes left. Sussex Academy’s Ethan Couch shot one wide and Norton made a save on a kick by Sussex Central’s Yersin Velasquez-Lopez. 

Seahawks’ senior Ethan Boladas fired a shot on goal which led to a corner with over 12 minutes left. Glasco made a save on another Seahawks’ corner before the game went into golden goal overtime.

In the first overtime period, Sussex Academy’s Joseph Herrera Gomez had a long kick stopped by Glasco. Sussex Central’s Richard Ortiz Roblero nearly had a breakaway opportunity before it was broken up.

The Knights went down a player when a player received a red card for not obeying a referee. Lara Nieto’s kick was turned back by Glasco and the game went into a second overtime. Sussex Academy had a couple corners late into the second overtime, in which the Knights were still down a player, but the game ultimately came down to penalty kicks.

Sussex Central’s Yersin Velasquez-Lopez and Wilder Ramirez-Sandoval and Sussex Academy’s Mendoza-Martinez and Aiden Villar each found the net to make it 2-2 in penalty kicks. Sussex Central goalie Glasco took a kick which was stopped by Norton then Stegall made it 3-2 in favor of the Seahawks.

Norton made a save on a shot by Sussex Central’s Alvin Perez Perez and Ballinger’s kick was stopped by Glasco, setting up the Knights’ final penalty kick. Norton made a save on Rodney Escobar-Gonzalez’s shot and the Seahawks won the conference championship.

“Going in (to penalty kicks) I was confident. I knew what I was going to do. I knew who was going to take the shots. I knew what I had to say to get in their heads and I knew what I had to do,” said Norton. “It (save vs. Glasco, who he plays club ball with) definitely made it a little sweeter. I got it with just the tip of my toe. I was able to use the length that I have to my advantage.”

“C.J. is the best goalkeeper in the state in my opinion. I couldn’t be more proud of this kid,” Dina said. “We were confident going in because of him.”

Dina also credited his goal scorer and the players who scored who took the penalty kicks despite having tired legs from playing regulation and overtime.

“It’s a testament to their work. They’ve been preparing for this moment since May,” said Dina.

Sussex Academy outshot Sussex Central, 11-5, and held an 11-3 advantage in corner kicks. Norton was credited with four saves while Glasco had 10 for the Knights.