WAYNE – It was simply a thing of beauty.
Immaculate Heart passed the ball around with precision to set up a corner and the first of two goals in roughly a minute span.
The game had turned in an instant and gave the visitors all the momentum in the showdown between returning state champions.
But DePaul found the answer – and seemingly out of nowhere in front of its largest home crowd of the season.
Leah Bolson lobbed a pass down the middle and sophomore Jasmine Ouatu ran onto it for a breakaway goal in the 72nd minute. It was her second straight game with the winner and lifted the top-ranked Spartans to a gutsy 3-2 win over No. 4 Immaculate Heart on a drizzly Wednesday night at Alumni Field.
"For such a young team that's a tremendous amount of character," coach Steve Beneventine said. "We fought through adversity. I'm so proud of them. They never gave up. I said to (freshman forward Alexis Kochan) welcome to big girl soccer."
DePaul (7-0) is looking to maintain its status as a rising state power with one of the youngest lineups in the game. The Spartans start five sophomores and three freshmen, including goalie Ella Guarini who was credited with 12 saves.
But the latest win wouldn't have been possible without a few savvy veterans like senior forward Tami Adedeji. She lost her voice, but won the Big North United battle with two booming goals.
"It's a real mood booster," Adedeji said, faintly. "I'm sick so I wasn't expected to play well, but I really wanted to play for my team. It's really good that we pulled out with a win."
Beneventine said he wasn't expecting Adedeji to play until finding out straight from the source at a team dinner around 4 p.m.
"It was her decision," Beneventine said. "She knows she's the captain. She knows how big this game is and how big the stage is and it's a conference game."
What it means
DePaul will hold on to the No. 1 ranking and get a chance to regroup before state champion Wayne Valley comes over to this side of town.
For now, the Spartans can enjoy their 11th straight victory and sole possession of first in the Big North United.
The Spartans were once in the shadow of Immaculate Heart (5-2), but have turned the tide in their favor by winning the last six meetings.
"I think we're above them," Ouatu said. "We come out every year wanting to win and wanting it more than them."
DePaul came up with its best stretch of soccer after the opening whistle and showcased its quick-strike ability. Adedeji settled a ball near the top of the box and put the Spartans ahead with a hard shot in the second minute. Immaculate Heart got better as the half wore on, but found itself down two in the 48th minute when the state medal sprinter broke through again.
"I don't know how you can contain (Adedeji) with her speed and she's gotten so much better technically," Beneventine said. "The first two years, she was a runner. She used her speed to run to the ball but had trouble finishing. This year, she's much better."
While DePaul took control with its power up top, Immaculate Heart climbed its way back with a methodical possession game. Dani Osorio knocked in a corner in the 61st minute after an excellent buildup by the Blue Eagles and Alex Barry followed with the equalizer only 63 seconds later.
DePaul appeared to be on the ropes until Ouatu chipped in her fourth goal of the season.
"These kids play at such a high level (of club soccer) that I don't think they are afraid of anything," Beneventine said. "I think they're so numb to it. I don't think they realize."
►Immaculate Heart returns home on Friday to face Bergen Tech. The Blue Eagles host Paramus Catholic two days later in a Bergen County Sweet Sixteen match.
►DePaul will welcome in Wayne Valley for a regular season match on Saturday between the top two seeds in the Passaic County tournament.
Sean Farrell is a high school sports reporter for NorthJersey.com. For full access to live scores, breaking news and analysis from our Varsity Aces team, subscribe today. To get breaking news directly to your inbox, sign up for our newsletter and download our app.
This article originally appeared on NorthJersey.com: DePaul NJ girls soccer knocks off IHA in battle of state champions