RANDOLPH _ Maddison Perna's goal off a deflected shot in the opening minutes of the second overtime period lifted top-seeded Morris Knolls to a 1-0 triumph over Parsippany Hills in the semifinals of the Morris County Tournament on Sunday, Oct. 15.
Morris Knolls will face Mendham, a 2-0 victor over sister school West Morris Central, in the other semifinal. It is the Golden Eagles' first trip to the title game since 2002. The championship game is scheduled for Saturday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m. at Roxbury High School.
Parsippany Hills, the 12th seed, falls to 7-5-3.
A volley by Isabelle Patterne bounced off a Parsippany Hills defender and headed for the right side towards the far post. Perna, who is nicknamed "Bear'' by her teammates, outraced a defender and Parsippany Hills standout goalkeeper Aytana Muschjew to one-time the ball into the back of the net in the 91st minute of play.
"It was there. It was open,'' Perna said. "We were always saying that we had to be at the far post. The balls were getting through but no one was there. I just went for it.''
It was an instinctive play by Perna, a junior midfielder, who saw the deflection and raced to the far post to get her foot on the ball.
"You can't teach instinct,'' Morris Knolls coach Stefan Zdanowicz said. "If I could do that I would be a millionaire. That kid plays with pure heart. Everything she does is 110 percent. That's not something I taught her. That is something her parents instilled in her from a very young age.''
It's been a drought of 15 years since the Golden Eagles last reached the final. Most of the Morris Knolls players were toddlers or younger the last time the Golden Eagles went all the way to the title game.
The top-seeded team, Morris Knolls (11-2-1) advanced to the final by besting Jefferson and Hanover Park in earlier rounds.
"It's a compliment to us that we have a target on our back,'' midfielder Laura Budwick said. "We just have to keep it there.''
Zdanowicz credits the efforts of the six returning seniors with lifting the team to a high level of play.
"They were with the program when we were taking some lumps,'' Zdanowicz said. "They have been taking that personally. They want every second to count. They have been on the other end of it for so many years. They take pride in being on this end of it.''
Morris Knolls and Parsippany Hills played to a 1-1 draw on Sept. 18. The 12th-seeded Vikings (7-5-3) played primarily a defensive game to take advantage of the standout skills of goalkeeper Muschjew, who is very athletic and makes confident decisions. The few saves she was forced to make were stellar, including a blast by Budwick that she tipped over the crossbar with about three minutes left in the first overtime.
The Vikings also tried to get a couple of good shots off counterattacks but it wasn't easy since the Golden Eagles midfielders dominated play.
Bella Patterne, Perna and Budwick play the center of the 3-5-2 formation and controlled the midfield most of the afternoon by regularly redirecting Parsippany Hills' clearing attempts back into its offensive third. However, the Vikings jammed the penalty area so much that many shots were rushed or blocked and very few of them challenged Muschjew.
"I give them credit for being so organized defensively,'' Zdanowicz said. "We have to get better at being more creative in the offensive third. We have to continue recycling things and making things work.''
However, the Morris Knolls players didn't frustrated and eventually prevailed. After so many years of missing the title game, the Golden Eagles are happy to be back in it.
"It feels awesome for my school to do this after all these years,'' Patterne said. "We finally got here.''
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