For the second time in four seasons, the Sussex Academy boys’ soccer program will be playing for a spot in the DIAA Division II championship. Top-seeded Sussex Academy defeated Tower Hill 1-0 Nov. 11 to advance to the DIAA semifinals, where they will square off against Indian River.
“It's massive for the boys to win at home under the lights,” said coach R.J. Dina. “For our seniors, this is their last game on this pitch, and we talked about how they perform today is a lasting memory for them. We talked about the energy level that was needed to come out and perform in a highly intense game like this, and they did it.”
Sussex Academy and Tower Hill maintained intensity throughout the game despite frigid temperatures. Each team refused to back down on 50/50 balls but maintained focus on the ball, leading to a physical but clean game. Early on it looked like Tower Hill might break through, but junior goalkeeper C.J. Norton stayed strong yet again.
“He hit a nice ball that had a little zing and I was able to get there, which felt amazing,” Norton said. “I then had to make another save right after that.”
The defenses held tight to close out the first half. It was Sussex Academy’s adjustments that would put them over the top, and a series of corners led to the icebreaker.
“I was going into the corner kick thinking I was just gonna head it from the back, mark the back post, but I heard coach R.J. screaming, ‘Mark up on the keeper! Mark up on the keeper, Aiden. That's your man!’ He said to keep my hands down and stay in his face,” said Seahawks junior Aiden Villar.
As he dutifully stayed in front of the goalie, the cross made its way to Villar’s feet. He blasted a shot. Tower Hill senior Robby Saunders managed to block it, but he wasn’t able to corral the loose ball. Villar followed his shot and connected again, and this time, the ball found twine. Seahawks led 1-0.
“It's an incredible feeling, especially in the quarterfinal when all is on the line; there are no other games if we were to lose,” Villar said. “I was doing it for my senior friends, too, because I know this is their last season, the last time they're gonna play home on this pitch. I didn't want it to end here.”
Despite Tower Hill’s best efforts in the closing minutes of the game, the Seahawks backline and Norton answered the call corner after corner.
Sussex Academy will square off against Indian River in the semifinals at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 15, at Milford High School.