Steinert-Nottingham CJ III soccer war harkens back to township glory days

Dylan Kotch hits a header for the first of his two goals while Frantzley Petit (20), Wild Jeff Fileus (28) and Zac Given (16) surround the Spartan (Photo by Amanda Ruch).

By Rich Fisher

Oct. 30: All that was missing was Jack Bell and Paul Tessein.

Long-time Hamilton Township soccer fans still recall with great passion, the legendary battles between Bell’s Hamilton West teams and Tessein’s Steinert squads in the 1970s. Both schools were state soccer powers and their memorable clashes often seemed to be played on wet, muddy fields (both fields were mostly dirt) in front of massive crowds.

And, of course, there were great players making memorable plays.

Back then, Nottingham was still a junior high so East vs. West was THE local game.  

Steinert’s Justin Brunow dribbles through space as Nottingham’s Colin Douglas (14) and Wild Jeff Fileus (28) try and close in (Photo by Amanda Ruch).

But on Oct. 29, with the Northstars playing a starring role, the township got to experience a taste of those old-time wars during the Spartans’ 2-1 win in an NJSIAA Group III Central game at Steinert.

The match was intense from the start, the weather was drizzly and gray so the field was slick and unpredictable. The enthusiastic but well-behaved crowd was lined from one end of the fence to the other, the stakes were high and each side had the aforementioned great player making great plays.

For Nottingham, it was goalie Pat Luckie. For Steinert, it was Dylan Kotch, who was the only guy to beat the nearly impenetrable Luckie with two headballs. The second goal came with four minutes left, providing a thrilling ending.

Considering the teams are separated by a 4-mile strip of Klockner Road, it truly had all the elements of the glory days, including a Tessein.

The celebration was underway after Dylan Kotch scored the game-winner with four minutes remaining to give Steinert a thrilling victory in memorable state game (Photo by Amanda Ruch).

“I’ve seen some great pictures from when my great uncle (Paul) was coaching here and my dad and my other uncle were playing at West,” Steinert coach Anthony Tessein said. “You’d see people all around the field, like 2,000 people. And you’d look at the field and it was just a big old mud bowl. That’s what I had in my head the whole day; old school, knowing this field was gonna be trashed.  

“You barely ever see a game like this anymore because most places have turf and we just had a lot of rain. Back then there weren’t sprinklers; no one knew how to maintain fields. It all adds to it, for sure.”

Even the losing side, while not happy with the loss, admitted to being part of something special.

“That was a really good game,” Nottingham Principal Frank Ragazzo said.

Steiner’ts Mike Garafolo (right) and Nottnigham’s Kemoy Pink battle for possession (Photo by Amanda Ruch).

Stars AD Jon “Big Dawg” Adams, agreed, calling it “a great state tournament game.” 

Kotch was loving every minute of it.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “It was very intense, a lot of fans. It was just very fun.”

Some parts were less fun than others, particularly four minutes into the second half when some pushing and shoving resulted into expanded pushing and shoving. That began a litter of yellow cards, although the Stars were worse off in that category as they had seven and the Spartans had two.

“I’m really proud of my guys for not degenerating into that,” Tessein said. “Especially in the state tournament, with a muddy field in a rivalry game. It was a great atmosphere but a tense atmosphere.

Nottingham’s Pat Luckie makes one of his 14 saves against Steinert’s Dylan Kotch, who had better luck with his head than his foot against keeper. Jared Rodriguez looks for a potential rebounds (Photo by Amanda Ruch).

“It’s great, I love that the rivalry is rich. I’m really glad my guys were able to pull it out.  Most of the time when we play them and West, the games are always close, just like this.”

An exception came earlier this year when Steinert beat the Stars, 6-0, at Veterans Park. Tessein knew that score would not repeat itself, despite the fact his team was seeded third and Nottingham was No.14

“I was not happy,” the coach said of his first reaction to the seedings. “It’s hard to beat teams twice. The first game we really took it to them and that can get in the back of people’s minds. And I’m sure that they, on the flip side, were thinking ‘We’re not gonna let that happen again.’”

And because they didn’t, a new chapter was added to the rich soccer history of Hamilton Township.   

About The Author

Rich Fisher has been around the Hamilton Township sports scene for so long that he actually got Rich Giallella’s autograph when Giallella was still a player! Proud product of Hamilton YMCA and Lou Gehrig baseball leagues and former teammate of Jim Maher on a very average Barton & Cooney rec basketball team, Fish graduated from Nottingham Junior High and Steinert High school and has covered township sports since 1980. His goal in life is to convince Maria Prato that Jersey tomatoes are at least 100 times better than California tomatoes.