Just as they did in the Henlopen Conference championship game, the Sussex Academy Seahawks came back from a 1-0 deficit, sent the game into overtime, and won on penalty kicks in last Saturday’s Division II state championship game in Dover. The victory over St. Mark’s marked the program’s first ever state title.
“It’s amazing. You work so hard for the end of the season to come down to pens,” said Sussex Academy head soccer coach R.J. Dina. “It’s a great feeling. These guys worked so damn hard.”
“In the conference finals we went down 1-0, it wasn’t new to us,” George Sapna, who scored the game-winning penalty kick, said. “We’ve worked all season for this starting back in May.”
The Sussex Academy boys’ soccer players run toward George Sapna, who scored the game-winner, and goalkeeper C.J. Norton, left, in celebration of the team’s win over St. Mark’s in the Division II championship game. Photo by Mike McClure
St. Mark’s took the first shot of the game, but it was stopped by Sussex Academy goalkeeper C.J. Norton. The Seahawks returned the favor, but St. Mark’s Roman Curro headed it away from the goal.
The Spartans had a penalty corner and was then awarded a penalty kick following a Sussex Academy foul. St. Mark’s Daniel Otlowski scored on the penalty kick for a 1-0 lead with 26:16 left in the first half.
Norton made a save on a St. Mark’s corner. Sussex Academy’s Ethan Couch had a shot turned back and the Seahawks had a pair of corners before the first half ended.
Sussex Academy had a number of close calls in the second half. Chase Ballinger passed the ball to Andree Mendoza-Martinez who found Sapna whose shot went off the goalkeeper’s hands, resulting in a corner. Mendoza-Martinez also had a shot careen off the crossbar.
The Seahawks had a couple more corners including one in which the ball was punched away by the Spartans’ goalie, but St. Mark’s picked up a penalty for a push. Mendoza-Martinez connected for a goal on the penalty kick to knot the score at 1-1 with 6:45 left.
“It was a lot of pressure but I knew where I was going (with the ball),” said Mendoza-Martinez.
The score remained tied through regulation. In the first 10 minute overtime, Mendoza-Martinez’ shot was turned back by the St. Mark’s goalie. Sapna had a shot on goal stopped by the goalie in the second overtime.
St. Mark’s Kieran O’Connor collided with Norton and Esteban Lara Nieto in front of the goal with 4:25 remaining and was awarded a penalty kick. Norton made a save to avoid the golden goal to end the game.
Lara Nieto later headed the ball out on a St. Mark’s corner and teammate Ethan Boladas shot the ball over the goal. Norton took a hit from a Spartans’ player at the end of overtime.
“It almost felt like my arm snapped but I had so much adrenaline,” Norton said, added that he was confident going into penalty kicks. “I trusted my team. I knew they were going to score all of them.”
“C.J. has the upmost confidence going into PKs. He’s the best keeper in the state,” said Dina.
St. Mark’s Brendan Walsh went first and scored on the penalty kick. Mendoza-Martinez led off for the Seahawks and once again connected.
“I knew where I was going. I wasn’t going to change anything,” he said.
Norton made a save on Daniel Otlowski’s attempt and Sussex Academy’s Aiden Villar scored on his team’s second penalty kick. St. Mark’s Gabriel Arick evened things at 2-2, then the Seahawks’ Liam Stegall made his team’s third pk goal.
O’Connor evened things at 3-3, Boladas made Sussex Academy’s fourth successful penalty kick, and St. Mark’s Charles Manleski evened things out at 4-4 going into the final kickoff. Sapna netted his team’s fifth and final goal of the pk session to clinch the win.
“I knew where I was going to go (top left) as I walked up there,” said Sapna. “I knew I needed to make the keeper make the save and he didn’t.”
“We’ve been the underdog for awhile. We’re in the south and the south gets a little disrespect compared to the north,” Norton said. “I’m just happy we could come together.”