As mist rose from the surrounding hillsides, Port Allegany goalkeeper Ben Edgell stood on his goal line in the gathering gloom, waiting for one final DuBois Catholic shooter to approach the soccer ball sitting just 12 yards away from the net.
After 80 minutes of regulation and another 30 of scoreless overtime – much of it played during a downpour that turned portions of Port’s field into a slick, treacherous expanse – Tuesday afternoon’s District 9 Class A quarterfinal was deadlocked 2-2, sending the match to penalty kicks. Moments earlier, after saving one DCC shot and watching the second sail high while his fellow team captains Sam Kysor and Scott Brookens converted their opportunities, Edgell had drilled his own attempt off his counterpart’s hands and in to give the Gators an almost insurmountable 3-0 lead. If the Cardinals didn’t score here, Port would win.
Edgell leaped at contact, then watched the ball fly over his outstretched hand, skim the crossbar … and go over, dropping harmlessly to the ground behind the net. And as his teammates raced toward him to celebrate the Gators’ first playoff victory since 2008, he sank to his knees in the wet grass.
“I guessed wrong, but it still went over,” he said. “And when I saw it go over, it was just relief, and then the realization that we had won our first district game. I can’t really describe it more than that. It was the best moment ever. I don’t think I’ll ever forget it.”
Knowing that his third-seeded Gators came one unfortunate bounce away from ending their season while No. 6 DCC moved on, Port coach Aaron Clark echoed his keeper’s relief afterward.
“There were periods of that game that were awful. We just did not do well,” he said. “During the first half, defensively, we were atrocious. Even through periods of overtime and the second half, we were lucky they didn’t put more goals in. Ben made some nice saves.
“Some of our defensive weaknesses showed, but we were kind of able to overcome it. Their team came to play – I don’t know what lit a fire under their butt after the first game (a 9-3 Port win in last week’s regular-season finale at DuBois), but they had a tremendous game.”
DCC jumped out to an early 1-0 lead on a goal by Tom Boyer and dominated possession for a good part of the first half, ringing two more shots off the left post before Tyler Kittilson lasered a direct kick into the top corner of the net from 25 yards out to level the score just 1:19 before halftime.
Kittilson struck again at 36:23 on a cross from Brookens, who sped past the Cardinals’ defense to nab a misplayed ball to the right of DuBois keeper Zach Marshall, to give the Gators a 2-1 lead. But with just 5:57 remaining, Boyer netted his second score to send the match to overtime, with both teams barely missing chances to end the game with a “golden goal” in overtime.
Marshall finished with eight saves while Edgell recorded 21, perhaps none bigger than the first DCC penalty kick in the shootout.
“That’s a big goal to protect, so you pretty much try to memorize how they were playing before and then guess a side, and you stick to that side and you go. And I just guessed right today,” he said. “It was really great saving that first one, but I knew personally if I got excited I’d get out of it. So I had to just blow that off and reset. But looking back at that, that was the best save I think I’ve ever made. It just felt really, really great.”
As did his coach.
“I started feeling a little better at that point,” Clark said. “A one-goal lead in a penalty shootout is huge. It’s hard to overcome that one-goal lead so long as you have your scorers put the ball in the side of the net. This is something that’s really built for the shooters, and building that one-goal lead right at the beginning of the shootout … They put themselves in a hole, and you could see their kickers were pressing. They were trying to kill the ball, get all three goals on one shot.”
So while the Cardinals end their season at 10-8-1, the 16-3 Gators wait to find out who they’ll play in next week’s D-9 semifinals. And after achieving both of Clark’s preseason goals (winning the division title and a playoff game), it’s time to set a new one:
“Go to the district finals. That would be a really nice outcome to the season,” he said. “Win or lose, going to the district finals would be a great end to the season. Chances are we’re going to play a really good team next whether it be Karns City or Coudersport, but it’s nice to be able to get to the point in playoffs where we’re going to go to a neutral site. We’ve never played in the playoffs on a neutral field, so it would be another new experience, something we haven’t done.”