Winning never gets old. Just ask Herkimer County Community College coach Pepe Aragon.
“It gets better and better every year,” Aragon said Sunday after the Generals defeated Maryland’s Montgomery College 1-0 in overtime for the program’s ninth NJCAA national championship, “and it’s addicting.
“When it stops being fun is when it’s time to hang it up.”
The defending champions repeated for the first time since 1999 and 2000 and won for the sixth time under Aragon. Craig McCabe, a second-year midfielder from Scotland, scored off a rebound after the team had played 105 minutes of scoreless soccer.
“We were tired. They were tired,” said McCabe, the national tournament’s most valuable player. “We just needed one more run. I got lucky.”
Aragon said afterward that he was almost ready to replace the tiring McCabe, one of his captains. “We were literally one minute away from subbing for him.”
That left just enough time for McCabe to emerge as the day’s biggest hero.
“Craig scored two goals (against Bunker Hill Community College in Friday’s semifinal) to get us into the championship game,” Aragon said, “and what a way to finish his career here.”
McCabe was also a member of last year’s championship team.
“As a freshman it was the best feeling in the world,” he said, “and to do it twice means so much to me. It really does.”
Freshman Michael Pope put a hard shot on goal and McCabe was there to knock home the rebound after Serigne Baba Gaye’s initial save.
“I was just trying to get myself in front of the ball and get it in front of the net,” said Pope.
The Generals controlled the pace of the game through the first half as Montgomery sat back defensively. The Raptors moved another attacker to their front line in the second half and shifted the action to the Herkimer end of the field.
“In the second half they put a lot of pressure on us,” Aragon said. “We lost possession for a good majority of the second half (because) the switch with three up front gave us trouble.”
Freshman goalkeeper Triston Henry directed the Generals defense and Herkimer kept intact a streak that saw no goals scored by its opponents through the regional and national tournaments.
“We just kept working hard,” Henry said. “and all that hard work paid off.”
Henry made four saves to Baba Gaye’s three despite a 14-4 Herkimer edge in shots. Three of Henry’s four saves came in overtime.
“I was very confident in overtime,” Henry said. “We’ve been in this position twice before and I knew we could pull it out.”
Page 2 of 2 - The Generals defeated Genesee Community College 1-0 in overtime, also on the Wehrum Stadium turf, in the Region III title match two weeks earlier. They beat Brookdale Community College 1-0 on a goal late in the second half in Thursday’s national quarterfinal.
Henry, Korab Syla and Peter McAvoy were selected from Herkimer for the tournament’s all-star team and Aragon was honored as the coach of the tournament.