“Tigers making history” was the sign that was held aloft by the Fort Hamilton H.S. soccer team during the pep rally held on the steps of the school the day before the PSAL AA Conference title game against Madison. For the Tigers, this was the team’s first ever championship appearance since its inception. Under the leadership of 12-year coach Boris Khodorovsky, this would be the science teacher’s first trip to the finals after reaching the semi-finals last season.
The Tigers reached the finals this season with a 10-0 record in the Brooklyn South Division and then advanced in the playoffs to face the top-seeded and undefeated M. L. King team from Manhattan in the semi-finals. According to “Coach K,” going into the contest the Tigers were clearly the underdogs but were confident that they could keep up with a top 10 nationally ranked team. That confidence translated to a close game where the team’s leading scorer, Duran Pepic, scored twice to beat the undefeated MLK team by the score of 2-1.
For the championship, the fifth-seeded Tigers met the 11th-seeded Madison Golden Knights, who advanced to the finals after they beat Stuyvesant H.S. 3-2 in their semi-final. From the opening whistle, the Knights dominated play in the Tigers’ end but were not able to score. Then late in the half and alone in the left corner, Pepic gained control of the ball after keeping it inbounds. Dribbling the ball towards the net past two defenders, Pepic found a seam to shoot the ball between the goalie and the right post for the first score of the game.
Going into the second half, Fort Hamilton’s 1-0 lead did not last long as Madison’s Lenny Arbitman scored on a rebound to tie the game at 1-1. Arbitman’s goal was followed by Semir Markisic’s dash down the right side to score on a lead pass for a 2-1 Madison lead. With time winding down, Pepic was fouled in front of the Fort Hamilton bench and that set up a free kick from the left sideline. After lining up his kick, Pepic “pinged” the ball for 30 yards. It sliced high above the wall of Madison defenders to tie the game at 2-2.
With the score tied, a 10-minute overtime was put up on the scoreboard where neither team could find the net. Still scoreless, a second overtime period was again put on the board along with the same scoreless result. Finally, the championship was decided by a penalty kick shootout. By the fourth round, Madison was leading in penalty kicks 4-2 and once the Tigers’ last kick attempt was stopped from reaching the net, it was a Golden Knight victory for the AA title.
Having come so close to the top, “Coach K” told his disappointed team to be proud of their “history making” season as the first Tiger team to come this far. In particular, he noted the play of some of the team members who kept the squad playing at such a high level. First, he cited Pupic who was the PSAL’s third-leading scorer with 20 goals and five assists. Also, he noted the leadership of senior captains defenseman Lenan Pupic and goalie Juan Carlos. Junior captain defender Alex Fotak and fellow defender Brian Arias also did an outstanding job to protect the box, while midfielder Simon Poje controlled the game at midfield.
Summing up this season’s accomplishments, Khodorovsky told his team that although they did not reach their destination, they had to be proud of the journey that they had accomplished.