GETTING HIS KICKS: Princeton High boys soccer player Archie Smith kicks the ball during recent action. Junior midfielder Smith had two assists last Saturday to help top-seeded PHS defeat second-seeded Howell 5-1 in the Central Jersey Group 4 New Jersey sectional final. State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA). The Tigers, now 20-2, will host South Jersey champion Washington Township (18-1-2) on Nov. 8 in the Group 4 semifinals, with the winner advancing to the final on Nov. 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
While the Princeton High boys soccer team was locked in a scoreless tie with Howell in the first half of the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association (NJSIAA) Central Jersey Group 4 sectional final last Saturday, Archie Smith won the ball and sprinted down the sideline.
Getting past the Howell defense, junior midfielder Smith lofted a pass to Pasquale Carusone, who buried the ball in the back of the net to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the eighth minute of the match.
“I just saw Connor (Hewitt) look up and I said, ‘I’m going to make this run he’s putting behind for me,’” Smith said. “I continue and of course Pasquale is here to finish.”
The Rebels responded with a goal midway through the half, but PHS took a 2-1 lead on a goal from freshman Troi Panniel.
“When they got their gala back, it was a little fragile and just before half-time Troi managed to put one in,” Smith said.
About 10 minutes into the second half, Smith picked up a second assist, sending the ball to Azariah Breitman who fired it home as PHS increased its lead to 3-1.
“I saw Pasquale on a foul, the ref called it and I looked up and it was wide open in front,” Smith said. “Z races and finishes very well.”
PHS went from there, earning a 5-1 win and improving to 20-2 and will now host South Jersey champion Washington Township (18-1-2) on Nov. 8 in the state semifinals of Group 4, with the winner qualifying for the final on November 11.
“We have a great history with this team, it’s obviously a good team,” Smith said, noting that Howell knocked PHS out of the state tournament in 2021. “It shows how strong we are. We’re not haven’t gotten far in the last two years, so it’s great to get a win here.
In assessing the team’s superb season, Smith credited strong on-field bonds with fueling the Tigers.
“I just think we all play really well with each other,” Smith said. “A lot of us play club together so we know each other very well.
Playing with his brother, Harvey, a PHS freshman midfielder, helped Smith improve his game as a player and leader.
“We played together our whole lives,” Smith said. “I love playing next to him in the middle. That’s great. I was more of a person of impact towards the team and more of a leader. Our midfielder is very strong. Matthew Kim is a phenomenal player; my brother and I work very well together.
First-year PHS head coach Ryan Walsh knew his team faced a tough challenge in the game against Howell.
“They were super athletic in the middle with jersey 8 (Nicholas Turturro) forward,” Walsh said. “They were a handful, especially in the first half. They broke a lot of games and didn’t let us play the kind of games we like to play. It was certainly the biggest challenge we had to face.
Taking the lead helped the Tigers play their game. “It was huge for us to get that first goal, we’ve been playing with a lead most of the year,” Walsh said. “We do our best when we defend and try to kill a game, so scoring early was very important.”
According to Walsh, Panniel’s goal just before
halftime was of crucial importance.
“They came back, they fought, they didn’t give up; they scored and equalized,” Walsh said. “We really had to buckle down and play a match, they were never going to die there. Troi’s goal was huge, going into the half 2-1 to 1-1, the dynamic changed.
Smith’s assist in the second half helped the Tigers continue.
“It was one-on-one, I was screaming no, no, yes because Harvey scored so many goals there,” Walsh said. “I wanted Harvey to succeed, but those guys were so one-on-one. These guys are just football junkies, they love to keep playing and they are so smart. Archie played a hell of a game. On the first goal, he picks up a ball in the middle of the field and drives it. He was the one who started this goal.
The senior Carusone, who scored two goals in the victory, led the PHS offense in joining the team this fall after focusing on club soccer for the past three years.
“He makes the difference in every game, when he wants to play, he’s definitely the best player on the pitch,” Walsh said of Carusone, who has a team-high 25 goals so far this season.
The Tiger’s stingy defense also made the difference against Howell.
“I thought they were really athletic, but our four defenders in particular are also very mature and athletic,” Walsh said. “They were able to handle whatever any team gave them this year.”
Seeing his team improve its level of play to reach the state semifinals was encouraging for Walsh.
“We were so good in that second half, it was one of the best football games we’ve played,” Walsh said. “It’s amazing, I’m so proud of these guys. We started the year and we had a conversation on the first day about how we have the potential to be special. The fact that we are now where we are is truly special.
The Tigers will need another big day to defeat Washington in the state semifinals.
“It’s a rematch of the 2017 semifinals at Rowan, they had a great year,” Walsh said. “Historically, the last 15 years, they’ve been so good. We will definitely enjoy this one and we will start preparing for it on Monday. It’s just about continuing to do what we do: defending with everyone in good shape, making sure we’re accurate in the middle and not turning the ball over in the wrong places.
According to Smith, the Tigers need to stick to the basics to keep rolling. “We just have to go in there prepared and ready to win,” Smith said.