Like so many other opponents this season, Montgomery knew what Bernards was going to try to do on Saturday.
And like those previous teams, despite an exhaustive effort, there was simply nothing the Cougars could do to keep one of New Jersey’s most prolific scoring teams off the board.
JJ Zaun and Drew Elliott, a tandem who combined 47 goals and 31 assists in 2021, connected for an early goal and never gave up as second seed Bernards, the No.5 ranked team in the NJ.com Top 20, defeated sixth-seeded Montgomery to a 3-0 semi-final victory at the Somerset County Tournament.
The victory sends Bernards (14-1) into the county title game for the first time since 2016 and sets up a titanic showdown with No.1-ranked Pingry (17-0) next Saturday at the Torpey Athletic Complex in Bridgewater.
Zaun threw a ball over to Elliott, the fierce Bernards forward 6-4, who was flanked by two Montgomery defenders (8-6-2).
But it didn’t matter. Elliott pushed his way past those defenders and slipped a shot inside the far post just seven minutes later to give Bernards a lead he wouldn’t give up.
“They’re magic,” veteran Bernards coach Joe LaSpada said. “Whether Drew scores and JJ assists or JJ scores and he assists, it’s amazing. They are special. If you stop one, the other will get it.
Bernards added to their lead 10 minutes later when Elliott’s long throw-in found Brayan Gutierrez-Diaz and his header hit the post to give the Mountaineers a 2-0 lead.
Brayan Gutierrez-Diaz finished this long throw from Drew Elliott in the 17th to add to Bernards’ lead.
Bernards 2, Montgomery 0 pic.twitter.com/mAj7TOARTp
– Brian Deakyne (@BrianDeakyne) 23 October 2021
Elliott put the game aside in the 52nd minute when played over from behind, beat a defender and Montgomery goalkeeper Marc Oilu, who had defied his line, before kicking the ball in the open net.
“We just learned to feed on each other,” Zaun said. “He crosses, it seems to me to cross. At the beginning of the year he was helping me, now I am helping him. It’s a gentle back and forth.
It was simply the latest in a long streak of crushing wins for Bernards this season. The Mountaineers have conceded two or more goals in just two games this season, one of them being a 3-1 loss to No.3 Hunterdon Central, where Bernards lost center-back Sean Doran shortly before the kickoff. sending.
“All the younger guys, all the seniors, everyone stepped up,” Zaun said. “Everyone played their best game of the year. I think we are clicking on the right time.
Bernards are looking to close a sensational three-year run (which included a Group 2 title in 2019 and an unbeaten season in the COVID-shortened 2020 season) with the first Somerset County Tournament title since 2016 before starting a race to a another group 2 title in the state tournament.
But in order to do that, Bernards will need to stop another powerful attack at Pingry next Saturday – a challenge this underrated and sometimes forgotten backline is ready for.
“Personally, I think we have the best back line in the state,” Zaun said. “I think Nico has become a monster. We have Doran in the back and he’s been the starter for four years. We have a really good back line there.
LaSpada echoed Zaun’s vote of confidence in a back line that has seen many changes this season, but has remained consistent.
“We gave up a corner today and against Hillsborough we didn’t give up any,” said LaSpada. “There are four games now where we haven’t given up any corner. I think they are awesome and if you notice we added a new boy every two weeks and he did really well.
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Brian Deakyne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @BrianDeakyne.
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