CORAM — Andres Aldaz’s right leg was cramping up, but it was the Center Moriches Red Devils who felt the pain.
Just moments after he was seen struggling with muscle tightness in his leg, Aldaz struck the game-winning blow, the golden goal that gave the Mattituck Tuckers a 3-2 overtime triumph over defending New York State champion Center Moriches in the Suffolk County Class B boys soccer final on Saturday. It is Mattituck’s third county title in four years.
The goal that decided the action-packed county final under the lights at Diamond in the Pines was set up by a Brandon Lake throw-in to Shawn Smiley. Smiley trapped the ball, took a touch and flicked it over to Aldaz. The senior center midfielder, finding himself unmarked at a tough shooting angle, then put his shot past goalkeeper Jason Albert in the 100th minute for his 12th goal of the year.
“At that moment,” Aldaz said of his ailing leg, “it just felt fine.”
Aldaz was then tackled by his coach, Mat Litchhult, while the ecstatic Tuckers (15-2-1) celebrated wildly. The Red Devils (14-4), meanwhile, looked stunned and devastated, trying to come to terms with the conclusion of their season.
Did Aldaz give any thought to coming out of the game because of the cramps?
“No,” he replied with a smile, “definitely not.”
For Aldaz, it was a little pain and a lot of gain. Mattituck will play Nassau County champion Wheatley (12-4-3) in the Long Island final on Wednesday night at Diamond in the Pines.
“It’s very big,” Mattituck sweeper Matt Waggoner said. “This is what we wanted all season.”
Leading up to the Long Island final, however, was an intriguing matchup between Center Moriches and Mattituck. The two rivals had scored one-goal wins on the other’s field during the regular season, which ended with them sharing the League VII championship. But something had to give in the county final, and the teams treated the spectators to an entertaining match.
“I’ve been involved in many Center Moriches- Mattituck rivalry games, regular season, playoffs, as a player, as a coach, and this is one of the all-time best,” Litchhult said. “It was a classic.”
The Tuckers took a 2-0 first-half lead on goals that both came off corner kicks. Joe Pfaff ran in Mattituck‘s first corner kick of the game, by David Burkhardt, in the 21st minute. It was Pfaff’s fourth goal of the year. Then it was Kevin Reyer flicking home a header from a corner by Alex Scalia in the 33rd minute for his eighth goal of the campaign.
The game was far from over, though, and Waggoner knew it. He said, “We gave away 2-nothing leads about three times in the season, so we knew we were in for a fight, and especially with a Center Moriches team that we knew was just not going to roll over for us.”
Center Moriches, a skillful and dangerous team, charged back with a pair of second-half goals that Harvey Houpe and Brian Alifano were both instrumental in.
Mattituck goalkeeper Cody Huntley extended for a full-stretch save to deny Alifano, but he left an easy rebound for Houpe to sweep in in the 49th minute. It was the 22nd goal of the year for Houpe, who started the day as the county’s leading goal scorer.
Houpe returned the favor in the 61st minute when he slid a free kick across the goalmouth for Alifano to knock in for his sixth strike of the season.
While Mattituck was leading, 2-0, Albert made a pair of fine saves on Aldaz and Reyer to keep the Red Devils in the game. Houpe’s goal gave Center Moriches new life, and one could sense a change in momentum.
“It wasn’t like they had a ton of chances, but they were definitely in our end, and they were coming at us,” said Litchhult.
Houpe, who proved to be a handful for the Tuckers to mark, nearly won the game in dramatic fashion. He ripped a vicious volley just over the top with 86 seconds left in the second half.
The thrilling back-and-forth play continued in overtime. As the wind picked up, so did the suspense. In the 96th minute, Aldaz received a ball from Smiley and unloaded a fierce blast that struck the underside of the crossbar before Albert collected it.
Aldaz would have to wait nearly five minutes before becoming Mattituck’s hero.
Mattituck faced a stiff test in Center Moriches, which returned seven starters from its 2009 team that won the school’s first state title. The Center Moriches roster is loaded with 18 seniors.
Aldaz said he had never played in a game quite like this before.
“It was a great game to watch,” he told reporters. “They’re an awesome team. I’m just glad that we beat them.”