When Justin Bautista buried the game's first goal with 21 minutes left to play, it was like a metaphor for the Washington Township boys' soccer team's season.
Everyone in attendance could feel that success was coming. It was building. It was obvious.
The Minutemen looked as if they were in control of their destiny. And they were.
Washington Township topped Morris Knolls, 2-0, Saturday night at Kean University to capture the Group 4 state title.
"Honestly, I've never been a part of a group of people who were as much a team as we are," said Bautista, a defender who scored the first goal of his career. "We play for each other. We love each other. Everyone from the crowd to the bench to the [players on the] field worked hard for this."
The win caps a dominant season — and extends a dominant era — for a Washington Township team in one of the best runs in South Jersey history.
The Minutemen entered this game having won the previous five South Jersey titles. They advanced to the state title game in 2014 and 2015 and won both times.
This was their first appearance in the state championship since that last win. And throughout the game, Washington Township's momentum built slowly.
Baustista's goal was an open shot just in front of the net off a feed by Ryan Jobes. From that point on, it was all Washington Township. Gianluca Lockhart buried a rebound off a shot from Chad Yates with 13 minutes left to put an exclamation point on the win.
The Minutemen (25-1) entered the game as a heavy favorite against a Morris Knolls team that was something of a Cinderella story. The team sported a 16-9-2 record and was the 14th seed in the North 1 Group 4 tournament.
It was obvious, throughout much of the game, that Washington Township was a heavy favorite. Even the fans seemed to recognize it.
In the first half, the Morris Knolls fan section was increasingly energized with each minute that went by without a Washington Township goal.
Though both teams had chances in the first half — and both goalies were forced to make big saves — the Minutemen largely controlled the run of play and generated the half's best opportunities.
Nine minutes into the game, Arturo Serano, charged the net off a throw-in by Brett Guetens. He had an open look just in front of the net punched away by Morris Knolls keeper Stevie Genung, who arrived just in time in what was the most impressive save of the game.