Northwestern boys soccer coach Dom Wren tells his team in overtime games there will be two chances, one at each end.
In overtime Thursday night against Riverside in the second round of the Class AAAA state tournament, Northwestern scored its offensive opportunity, and then denied Riverside’s clear-cut scoring chance in the last minute of the game to cling to a 2-1 win.
“This is the fittest team I’ve ever had at Northwestern,” said Wren, whose team is 3-0 this season in extra time. “So when it went into overtime I was confident in our guys, and I think that’s the reason we’ve won those three games in overtime.”
The Trojans (19-1-1) advance to the third round and will face Irmo on the road Saturday. It could just as easily have been the Warriors (13-6-1) making the trip.
“That was a great game,” said a disappointed Riverside coach Kevin Brabham. “Credit to them. We had a chance at the end there and just couldn’t put it away.”
After the two sides finished 1-1 in regulation, Northwestern struck with four minutes left in the second 10-minute overtime session. Bailey Woolley knocked a ball into the area that fell at Julian Welborn’s feet inside the six-yard box. When the junior tried to round Riverside keeper D.J. Baker, the goalie deflected the ball loose leaving Dylan Davis to sweep home into a yawning goal for a 2-1 lead.
With less than a minute remaining, Riverside’s chance was presented on a sterling serving dish. After a foul near the halfway line, Baker came all the way upfield to pump the ball into the box. His towering free kick evaded the first line of jumpers and fell right to Riley Halloran, who stumbled but still rocketed a shot into Trojan keeper Cody Jones’ chest from a couple yards out. Jones stonewalled the shot, and Northwestern desperately scrambled the ball clear.
“He stumbled so I dove early,” Jones explained. “And then he used his left foot right into my stomach. Just reactions; took a guess, he hit it right to me.”
It was relief for Jones, who didn’t look as convincing when Riverside took a 1-0 lead with 17 minutes played in the first half. Kristian Sharp was given acres of space in the middle of the park and he let fly a screwy shot that bounced right in front of Jones’ dive and into the goal via the keeper’s hand.
It was a weird goal that caught the hosts off guard, but they showed gumption to react within two minutes. Erwin Salazar got his head to a Trojan cross and though the ball didn’t find the back of the net before it was thumped out by a Warrior defender, the ball was judged to have crossed the line, tying the score 1-1.
Riverside played some brilliant stuff in the middle of the park, patiently building through possession, while Northwestern bullied the Warriors with pace and strength.
Despite losing leading scorer Austin Newman to a dead leg, the Trojans started the brighter of the two sides in the second half, Manny Lozano’s tantalizing free kick from the wing somehow skipping untouched through a crowded penalty area, and Devin Young blasting over from close range after meeting Salazar’s cross firmly.
With 12 minutes left in regulation, Riverside had a reasonable penalty kick appeal waved away when the impressive Grayson Raynor, easily the best player on the pitch Thursday night, appeared to be tugged down in the box. The play was consistent with a game that saw seven yellow cards and a red shown.
Neither side had a chance in the first 10-minute period, before the game raged to life in the second. Raynor took on the Trojan defense by himself, before unleashing a dipping shot that flew just over the bar.
It was a costly miss; a minute later Davis slammed into an open goal and the Trojan sideline went crazy with delight. Three minutes after that, Jones denied Halloran and it was the Riverside sideline’s turn to erupt, but with disbelief instead.
As Wren said with a nod to Jones, “He’s won us the game with that.”
Forty-five seconds later, the final whistle blew and Northwestern’s postseason dream made it to Friday intact.
Bret McCormick • 329-4032. Twitter: @BretJust1T