Now you see them, now you don't.
St. Anthony's boys soccer team has been so dominant this autumn it seemed to make opponents disappear, outscoring them by an amazing 71-3 margin.
No wonder venerable coach Gene Buonaiuto called this a "magical season" after St. Anthony's defeated St. Francis Prep, 2-0, Monday on second-half goals by T.J. Butzke and Nick Cestaro at Belson Stadium on the campus of St. John's University to win the CHSAA state championship.
"We put a lot of pressure on. That's just the way we play. T.J. and Nick are the engines that make us go. They've been doing it all year," Buonaiuto said after watching the Friars' offense generate many scoring opportunities in outshooting the Terriers 26-8.
The defense did its part, too, forming an impenetrable wall in front of goalie Josh Weiss, allowing him to comfortably add to his school record with his 21st shutout of the season. Weiss had to make only one easy save.
Not that St. Anthony's (22-1-1) needed any help, but it received a gift when St. Francis Prep's best player, midfielder Brandon Silva, was given a red card for kicking Justin Carfora in the 24th minute, forcing the Terriers (14-4-2) to play the remaining 56 minutes a man down.
It was nil-nil at the time of the "serious foul" infraction, but it was obvious that was going to change. "Even before the red card, we had opportunities," said Carfora, a senior midfielder who acknowledged he should have scored on several close-in chances.
Of the red-card incident, Carfora said, "I might have pushed him [Silva] a little late -- I didn't hear the whistle -- but I was surprised when he kicked me. At that point we knew we just had to keep our composure and we would score."
Butzke, a junior midfielder with excellent ball skills, finally broke through for the Friars five minutes into the second half with a dazzling sleight of foot. On a free kick from 28 yards out, Butzke beat the keeper with a drive just inside the right post.
"Normally, from that distance, I try to put it to the net for a header, but I saw the goalie cheating a couple of steps and I thought I could sneak it inside the post," Butzke said. "With our defense, I had the feeling one goal would be enough."
Just to be certain, Cestaro converted in the 68th minute on a two-on-one break. "I knew I had a chance to split the defense," said Cestaro, a senior midfielder. "The goalie came out and I slid it right past him. Then I knew we had clinched a state championship."
Though most of St. Anthony's players have been part of club-team championships before, Cestaro said this title was extra special.
"To win something for your school means so much more. We're a part of history now at St. Anthony's," he said of the school's third state title and first since 2008.
"When you get that plaque on the wall," Butzke said, "there's no better feeling in the world."