Ramapo, back in form, advances to county quarters by Cory Doviak of northjerseysports.com

EMERSON – Ramapo was throwing everything it had at the Pascack Hills goal and had nothing to show for it during the first 38 minutes of Sunday’s Bergen County Round of 16 match at Emerson High School. Andrew Fuhrman, whose long throws are a weapon from just about anywhere inside the midfield stripe, took so many of them that he was in danger of running up against the pitch count rule designed to protect high school baseball pitchers. The midfield tandem of Sebastian Varela and Matthew O’Shea took turns setting each other up with nifty short passes that kept getting the other free for shooting opportunities.

But through the determination of the Pascack Hills defense to keep playing and Cowboy keeper Jack Torre throwing himself into every pile and devoting plenty of effort to the geometry of cutting down angles, the underdog was still all square just a couple of minutes shy of the much-needed halftime breather.

“We were knocking on the door the whole first half,” said Varela, Ramapo’s senior center mid. “We missed some chances, their keeper made some saves and we just couldn’t find the finish.”

That was until Varela made a little adjustment in his approach and made the game look a whole lot different with one swing of his right foot. O’Shea and Varela exchanged passes in the midfield to gain ground and then did it again a little closer to the 18. The second time they connected resulted in Varela getting in with space in front of him and time to pick a spot. He chose the right side of the next around the hard-charging Torre to give Ramapo no more than it deserved less than two minutes before the intermission.

Pascack Hills keeper Jack Torre helped keep his team in the game for the whole first half and beyond.

“That goal did really open the game and calm us down. We were able to move the ball as a team and concentrate on other aspects of the game,” said Varela, who will play at Lafayette College next season. “That goal was crucial.”

Pascack Hills, which earned its spot in the Round of 16 with a preliminary round win over Cresskill on Wednesday, hung in there as long as it could, but Ramapo’s relentless pressure was too much in the end. The Green Raiders, with superior ball movement and a dominance in possession, put three more in in the second half and advanced to the quarterfinals with a 4-0 victory. Ramapo will play Tenafly, an upset winner over No. 6 Bergen Tech, at Mahwah High School in the quarterfinals next Sunday.

Ramapo, which went undefeated last season while winning county, state sectional and Group 3 state titles, was nationally ranked in the preseason before starting 0-2 this year. It was a shocking development and an early story line, but looks to be completely in the rear view mirror now. The Green Raiders (8-2) have won eight straight games.

“I made some mistakes as a coach that led to that [0-2 start], but the kids have stepped up,” said Ramapo head coach Evan Baumgarten. “Now we are playing soccer because it is a fun game to play.”

Andrew Fuhrman scored twice and had an assist for Ramapo, which will play Tenafly in the quarterfinals next Sunday.

The Raiders certainly looked like their old selves as they dominated the midfield against Pascack Hills and closed down quickly to force changes of possession. The constant barrage finally paid dividends in the second half even after Pascack Hills adjusted to the pressure and started to win back some of the play early after the break.

It was on a counter attack that Ramapo doubled its lead. O’Shea was in the middle of it again as he got in down the middle of the field, angled to his left and brought the defense with him before rolling a diagonal ball to Fuhrman, who hammered a shot back across the face of goal and in. That same duo switched roles as Fuhrman set up O’Shea on the doorstep to make it 3-0 and then reverted to the earlier formula when O’Shea got deep on the right and set up Fuhrman, who made it 4-0.

O’Shea finished the game with a goal and three assists.

“Today we struggled in the first a little, but in the second half we started going down the sides more. This team is all about being unselfish so the assists that I have are a part of that,” said O’Shea, who gave his thoughts on the turnaround from an 0-2 start to eight wins on the bounce. “In the beginning of the year I think we had our heads a little too high after last year. Now we have been humbled and we are just going at it every game just one step at a time.”