The last few seconds came off the clock and a silence fell over the field.
No fist pumps.
No chest bumps.
Delbarton, No. 1 in the NJ.com Top 20, never trailed and held off rallies from No. 10 Montgomery in a 12-8 win as it advanced to its fourth consecutive Tournament of Champions final. The Green Wave’s senior class has never lost a playoff game and the three-time defending TOC champion is now one win away from another title and a massive celebration.
This is the time of year Delbarton lives for.
And its final game comes against a dream opponent.
The Green Wave will go toe to toe with No. 2 Mountain Lakes for the third time this year when the Morris County rivals meet in the final at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday at Kean University. One last game to prove who the best team in the state is.
“It’s always a treat to come here and it’s always so special to get to the Tournament of Champions,” said senior defenseman George Johnson. “As a freshman, you dream of getting here as a senior. We’ve been here four years in a row now, but it’s just extra special to do it as a senior and have your last game be a TOC final.
“We can’t wait to play for another championship.”
WATCH REPLAY: Delbarton advances to 4th straight TOC final
Delbarton jumped out to a 7-0 lead in Thursday’s semifinal win.
That slow start could have sunk Montgomery, but the Cougars climbed back into the game and put pressure on Delbarton when it made it a 7-4 game earlier in the third quarter. The issue for Montgomery, however, was that the deep hole it found itself in meant it needed to play perfect lacrosse to get out of it.
Montgomery also couldn’t afford to let Delbarton get back in rhythm.
That’s a task that has been nearly impossible to pull off this spring, and Delbarton eventually got back on its feet and scored five straight goals to put the game away. Even then, Montgomery never backed down and rattled off four straight goals of its own during a final push in its second-ever TOC semifinal appearance.
“We knew how good Montgomery is and we knew seven goals wasn’t going to be enough,” said senior LJ Millar, who was a part of that early offensive burst. “You saw them creep back into the game, but getting off to that hot start really took some pressure off the defense and it was a great way to open up the game.”
Millar, senior Michael Long and junior Jack Cerza all finished the night with two goals, while junior C.J. Kirst led the offense with four goals and two assists. Senior Tommy Jepson and sophomore Donnie Tedesco both tacked on a goal apiece for Delbarton.
Johnson was part of a defense that also relied on junior pole Cole Krauss, and senior poles Jack Coffey and Michael Jarmolowich. Senior goalie Michael Riccardelli was another veteran presence on that end of the field for Delbarton, which has won 20 consecutive state playoff games and is 80-6.
Delbarton won the first three TOC titles and played in the first six finals, starting with the first championship game under this format in 2004. The Green Wave have never won four straight TOC championships, however.
This senior class has a chance to add a new chapter to Delbarton’s storied history.
“Going into this year, we knew we had to step up into bigger roles because it’s always a team led by seniors here at Delbarton,” said Millar. “We have juniors like Jack Cerza, Cole Krauss and C.J. Kirst who are really good, but the seniors are the leaders on this team and we’re ready to play in another final.”
The only thing standing in Delbarton’s way is Mountain Lakes.
That’s a team that Delbarton has owned recently and a squad that the Green Wave has beaten twice already this season. The first win, 12-7, came back in April during the regular season. The second victory, 14-12, came in the beginning of May in the Morris County final.
Those results mean nothing now, however.
“Mountain Lakes is an extremely talented team and you look up and down the board and they have commit after commit,” said Johnson. “It’s hard to beat a team three times in a season, but we’ll get back to work tomorrow and we’ll be ready for Saturday.”
This is the fifth time Mountain Lakes and Delbarton will play in a TOC final. The series there is split at 2-2 and it’ll be anyone’s game when the state’s top teams meet up once last time in 2019, with another title on the line.
“We know how good Mountain Lakes is and we know they could have won either of those first two games, so we’re not going to go into that game thinking we’re just going to show up and win,” Millar said. “This game will be fun, there will be a big crowd and there will be nerves for everyone. But once the ball is in the air, everyone will calm down and get ready for a big game. Playing Lakes, there isn’t anything better than that.”