Paramus rallies for overtime win to earn first sectional title by Sean Farrell of The Record
PARAMUS – The impossible dream became a reality when Nick Sallemi scored the easiest goal of his life.
The ball landed at his feet with a title to shoot for and an open net to shoot into and the Paramus senior didn’t miss. Sallemi scored in overtime as the No. 1-seeded Spartans earned their first sectional title with a 4-3 win over Ramapo in Thursday’s North 1, Group 3 final. It was an instant classic between Big North Freedom rivals and ended with Sallemi’s hat trick goal sending dozens of home fans onto the pitch.
For a senior class that cycled through three coaching staffs and three losing seasons, this was truly hard to believe.
“If you told me freshman year that we were going to come this far and win, I would put money against you,” Sallemi said. “It’s so much of a turnaround.”
John Christopoul, Aidan Bennett-Jones and Colin McKenna all scored for Ramapo, who grabbed an early two-goal advantage. But Paramus (17-3) bounced back with two regulation goals from Sallemi and one from Tyler Dipopolo. Sallemi forced overtime with a brilliant strike in the 72nd minute.
“It shows how you can turn and go from nothing into something,” senior Justin Behnke said, with tears brimming. “You can go from zero to 100. We went real quick in one season. It’s just amazing.”
The Spartans face Millburn in the state semifinals at Livingston High School on Tuesday at 5 p.m.
The final goal came about two minutes into the first overtime on a play started by Dipopolo. The Spartan mid beat his man down the right corner and launched a low cross near the goal. The Ramapo keeper dove to get a piece of the ball, which deflected to Sallemi who was left alone.
“Blank,” said Sallemi, of his reaction. “I don’t know. I don’t think it hit me yet. It’s so much to take in, how far we’ve come to be here.”
What it means
The same Spartan program that finished 6-12-2 a year ago and went eight years without a state win can call itself a champion. The lack of postseason experience didn’t seem to bother Paramus, who battled through adversity along the way. It fell behind to Montville in the last round and fought back from a 3-1 hole against Dwight-Morrow. The final step came against Bergen County’s premier program, the returning finalist led by the legendary coach Evan Baumgarten.
“We’re not the best team in this area, but we have the most heart,” said Sallemi, who started the comeback with a penalty kick. “It’s that simple. We want this so bad.”
The Spartan win guarantees that the Group 3 tournament will include a Bergen County school for the eighth straight year. The region has developed an excellent track record with four local finalists and three state champions during that span. The last group winner came two years ago when Ramapo ran the table during a perfect season.
Without a doubt, Sallemi was the difference-maker with his speed and elusiveness. He leads the Big North in goals this season and ranks No. 1 on Paramus’ all-time list. His heroics have changed the course of Spartan soccer and put him in the conversation for the program’s best player.
“If not, I don’t know who would be,” coach Rob Auriemma said. “The kid definitely shows it. The kid is unbelievable.”
By the numbers
►Paramus’ senior class won more games this season than in its last three combined. The Spartans haven’t had a winning record in nine years and last reached the .500 mark in 2011.
They said it
“We’ve done this every game lately. Come back from one or two goals down. At no point do we fear. At no point do I think that we’re out of this game.” –Paramus coach Rob Auriemma