WALL TOWNSHIP — Zach Tarantino played the role of hero Monday night as the senior scored the game-tying and game-winning goals as Wall Township avoided a scare at the hands of Vernon in the NJSIAA Public C quarterfinals at Jersey Shore Arena.
Tarantino’s wrister from just inside the blue line found twine with 10.4 seconds remaining in regulation to force overtime before banging home the game-winner 10:46 into sudden-death to ensure second-seeded Wall would live to play another game with a 5-4 victory over 10-seeded and upset-minded Vernon.
The Vernon Vikings took control of the matchup early with two goals in the first period, leaving the home crowd stunned and facing a 2-0 deficit after one period of play.
Junior Shane Brennan found the back of the net twice, each assisted by senior Patrick Graham, before Eric Loughren scored on an early power play set up from Jack Bokun as Vernon skated out to a 3-0 lead 2:45 into the second period.
“We were flat-footed too many times coming out of our zone,” Wall coach Mike Dianora said. “Their breakout – we knew how good it was, but we still got caught twice.”
That lead would quickly evaporate, however, as Wall would score three power-play goals before the expiration of
the second period, knotting the game up 3-3 heading into the third period.
“I told them to keep faith and relax,” Dianora said. “We had this experience last season. We have had many games this year where we lay an egg early, but we always find a way to battle back.”
Sean Kiewe put Wall on the board less than two minutes after Loughren hit to make it 3-1 and give the Crimson Knights some life.
Moments later, Vernon than took two penalties on the same play giving the Crimson Knights a full two-minute 5-on-3 and a chance to climb back into the game and Larry Hooper and Bobby Seelinger didn’t disappoint as each capitalized 52 seconds apart to knot the score up at 3-3 after two.
Loughren regained the lead for the Vikings with 2:17 remaining in the third period to push Wall to the edge but that only set the stage for Tarantino to shine.
Tarantino notched his team-leading 40th goal of the season in the waning seconds of regulation before connecting again for his 41st in sudden-death.
After 11 minutes of back-and-forth hockey, Tarantino showed why he is the leading scorer in the state with 90 points as he took a puck thrown at net by Hooper and stuffed it home to send Wall back to the state semifinals for the second straight season.
Tarantino registered two goals and two assists while Hooper finished the game with a goal and three assists. Logan Beattie made 22 saves in the victory for Wall.
Graham led the way with three assists for Vernon, which also got two goals from Brennan and a goal and an assist from Loughren. Ozzie Deluca stood tall making 39 saves in between the pipes for the Vikings, which see its impressive season come to a close at 14-10-1.
After making a run to the NJSIAA Public B championship game last year as a 10-seed, Wall improves to 20-3-2. The Crimson Knights will look to make it back-to-back trips to “The Rock” when they take on Chatham on Wednesday Feb. 28 at 4:30 p.m. from Codey Arena in West Orange.
“I was joking with them, ‘What seed are they?’ They are the 10-seed,” Dianora said. “We were the 10 last year and we went through.
“We have a lot of guys back from that team and that has been great for getting these kids experience for this season,” Dianora added.
Written by Casey J. Krish / @CaseyKrish
Special to HockeyClan
Photos by Jessica Rabstein / @JRabstein
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