Julian Fernandez ’11, new head men’s soccer coach and four-year star of the team when he was a student, did something he had never accomplished as a player — he took the team to the program’s first-ever playoff victory.
But the firsts didn’t stop there as the team enjoyed a magical run all the way to the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference (CACC) Championship.
It was certainly something the coach hadn’t expected.
“At the beginning of the year we had a meeting to set goals,” Fernandez says. “A lot of the guys wanted to make it to the NCAA tournament but we knew that would be an uphill battle. So we settled on something realistic, earning a home playoff game.”
As the conference’s fifth seed, the Griffins did get that home playoff game, against cross-town rival Philadelphia University, a team they had beaten not three days prior, to close out the regular season.
“It’s tough to beat a team twice in one season, let alone twice in three days,” Fernandez says.
The Rams kicked off the scoring but the Griffins were quick to get the equalizer less than one minute later. CHC took the lead on a penalty kick off of the foot of Nicholas Jaffe ’16, who had led the conference in shots taken and was top five in goals and points, only to have Philly U regain the momentum with a game tying goal toward the end of regulation. After two ten-minute overtimes, the game was still tied, so it headed to a shootout.
“We had taken shootout practice the day before and were writing down the names of the players as they made shots,” Fernandez says. “We didn’t have any paper so my assistant coach handed me a business card and we wrote on that. I still have that card in my wallet.”
After missing their first shot, the Griffins were successful on the next four before goalie James Jackson ’17 made the biggest save of the game, stopping what would have been the go-ahead goal and allowing CHC the final shot, a goal by freshman Jeffrey Ast.
The win led the Griffins to the CACC semifinals where they matched up against Wilmington University, a team that had given CHC their worst loss of the season.
“Going into the Wilmington game, we knew we were going to be underdogs but we thrived in that role,” Fernandez says. “They are a team of big egos and once we were able to frustrate them defensively, we knew we’d be in good shape.”
In net, Jackson was brilliant, allowing just one goal to the team that had scored six on the Griffins back in September and that averaged just under three on the season. Offensively, it was the captain Jaffe who had put the team on his back, scoring the game-tying goal with just over half of the game left and the game-winning goal in overtime with a penalty kick.
“Nick has always been a tremendous player and has grown into his role as a leader,” Fernandez says. “He’s a game-changer and a lot of teams don’t have that kind of player, so when it came down to Nick making a penalty kick, I won’t say I knew we were going to win, but I was confident. With the game on the line, he is absolutely the guy we want taking that shot.”
Jaffe made the kick, his third goal of the playoffs, and the Griffins advanced to face Bloomfield College, which was coming off an upset of its own, in the championship.
It was two early goals that got the Bears staked to a quick lead and while the Griffins battled back, evening the score with just under 30 minutes left to play, Bloomfield scored the championship-winning goal in the 86th minute.
“I think after getting that far and doing it the way we did, this team is far beyond the goal of just making the playoffs,” Fernandez says. “The bar has been raised and now that the guys have gotten the experience and gotten the taste, we want to be back in the finals, in that championship game. And we want to win.”
—Marilee Gallagher ’14
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