YORK, Pa. — In a game soon to be inserted into Falcons lore, Messiah earned a 4-2 penalty kicks decision against York (Pa.) to earn a trip into to the NCAA sectional final. Messiah keeper Brandon West saved the second and fourth shootout offerings from the Spartans, with his block of Matt Delong’s attempt securing the decision for the visitors.
The wild finish seemed only fitting for the two rivals, though many wouldn’t have expected the shootout ending when Messiah took a 2-0 lead early in the second half. But before Messiah fans could truly appreciate the advantage taken by their team, York scored twice to knot the game at two goals apiece. The wild flurry of goals all ended with an even score at the end of 110 minutes of play, setting up the penalty kicks.
“Our shooters did a good job of executing,” Messiah head coach Brad McCarty said of his team’s shootout performance. “They put shots where we practiced them, and Brandon came up huge for us with two saves. That’s impressive.”
The shootout between Messiah and York ended what was a wild day on the field, as the rivals played scoreless soccer through the game’s first 45 minutes. The Falcons held the majority of possession in the first half, finding a handful of chances to take a lead versus the Spartans. Their closest chances at a score in the first half all came from inside York’s penalty box, as the Spartans managed to turn Messiah away each time. York keeper Jesse Dirksen made two saves in the first half, none more impressive than his deflection in the 17th minute of a shot by Messiah sophomore Mike Kovach. Kovach’s attempt came from just inside the right edge of the penalty box, with Dirksen punching the ball over the crossbar at the last instant.
York also managed few chances in the first frame, with their best being a crossbar-ringing attempt by Cody Pearson in the 34th minute of action.
In the second half, things turned quickly for the Falcons. Attacking down the left side of the field in the 48th minute, sophomore Jack Thompson fed classmate Jeremy Payne in the midfield for a sharp turn to the right side. Payne quickly changed fields to Kovach on the right side, with the sophomore quickly gathering the ball and touching forward to get into the Spartans’ box. With Dirksen attempting to cut down Kovach’s angle to the goal, Kovach fired a shot to the far post for a 1-0 Messiah lead.
Up 1-0 in what many assumed would be a one-goal game, Messiah scored again less than 12 minutes later. The goal again came from Kovach, this time after an attempt from Payne in the midfield was deflected to the right side and to a streaking Kovach—essentially the same situation that led to Kovach’s first goal of the game.
“Both of our goals came from switching fields through Jeremy,” McCarty said of Payne and Falcons’ play through the midfield. “Kovach made the most of those chances, and it shows that our midfield play is really important to us.”
Now trailing 2-0, York did not waste any time closing their deficit. Playing off a long throw-in from near the left corner maker in the 61st minute, York’s Cody Pearson gathered a loose ball near the top of the 18-yard line for a chip to the left side of the goal. His shot went just over the outstretched dive of West, cutting Messiah’s lead to 2-1.
Now pressing forward harder with renewed energy, York found another great opportunity against the run of play in the 67th minute. Capitalizing on a misread by the Messiah defense, forward Antonio Bua attacked down the left edge of the midfield and to the 18-yard line before slotting the ball back to Pearson in the middle of the field. With the Falcons’ still recovering, Pearson touched forward for a strike to the left side of the goal, a game-tying score that sent the Spartans players and fans into celebration.
“York was dangerous before their goals, and they were dangerous after their goals,” McCarty said. “I thought their first goal was a little fortuitous because of the long throw, but they made it happen. Their second goal was well-deserved, but we need to not have that defensive breakdown.”
With momentum entirely swung to the Spartans, Messiah and York traded a few attempts at a third goal with neither team managing to score before the end of regulation.
In the first overtime, Messiah seemed poised to take another golden goal decision against York. Just a minute into the extra session, Payne was played into the left corner from the midfield line. Attacking along the end line, Payne served a low cross to the near post where it was punched out by Dirksen—and right to the feet of Jack Thompson. His shot from 10 yards out was blocked in the box, with another quick attempt getting secured by Dirksen near the left post.
A moment later, York also came close, with Pearson’s cross from the right side being flicked to the middle by the near post runner for a shot from Chris Weaver that went over the Messiah crossbar.
Just when it appeared a second overtime was guaranteed, the Falcons’ Joshua Wood also came close to a game-winning score. Slotted possession from the midfield and into the York box, Wood appeared one-on-one with Dirksen near the right post. His quick strike was deflected, however, sending the ball over the end line and the game into a final overtime.
The second overtime featured two more shots by the Falcons, but will long be remembered for the missed chance by York. In the 106th minute of play, Bua attached behind the Falcons’ defense on the left side, forcing West to come out from the left post. Bua’s quick footwork moved him around West’s slide, as he cut into the goal box where he was met by Messiah defender Josh Kremers. Bua laid the ball back to Pablo Martinez in the middle of the box, seemingly for a shot on an open goal. But Kremers managed to recover laterally, knocking the ball off Martinez and off the cross bar, after which he chested the ball into the hands of West.
“I really think that you make your own fortune on the field, but sometimes you need things to break your way,” McCarty said of that heart-stopping play. “We were inches away from losing 3-2 in overtime a game that we were leading 2-0.”
A few minutes later, the clock ran out again to set up the penalty kicks.
With the Falcons winning the toss and electing to shoot first, Carter Robbins put Messiah up 1-0 in the shootout. Matty Martinez knotted the score at 1-1 for York, with Kremers keeping Messiah perfect with his own goal. Eli Bjerk was up next for the Spartans, with West making a diving save to his right to protect his team’s 2-1 lead. After Payne and Pearson each scored for their respective clubs, Brian Ramirez put Messiah up 4-2. York’s Matt Delong was up next, needing to make his shot to keep the host Spartans alive. But his shot was also blocked by West, sending Messiah streaming onto the field in celebration.
“I know we gave up two goals [Saturday], but our back four and Brandon played really well,” McCarty said of his defensive unit. “They need to keep working for us back there.”
The penalty kick decision was Messiah’s first since their NCAA championship in 2008, a game also in Messiah lore as backup keeper Nick Blossey’s made three PK saves to secure a national title.
“We have to continue to improve, to play better,” McCarty said of his team and the match-up with Scranton. “[Scranton] defend[s] well, and they’re very organized. With a couple of dynamic guys up front, we have to be better tomorrow if we want get through them.”
The loss for York ends their season at 18-2-4, while Messiah improves to 20-0-2.