For the first time all season, the York College men's soccer team allowed its opponent to score the game's first two goals.
Shell-shocked and reeling in a Capital Athletic Conference Tournament semifinal, and with a little more than 27 minutes left in regulation against visiting Christopher Newport University on Wednesday, the host Spartans appeared on the verge of missing the CAC title game for the first time since 2002.
"At that point you just gotta say 'Hey, we got 27 minutes left. We have to leave everything out on the field,'" York junior goalkeeper Brad Schmidt said. "I think we did a good job re-grouping and coming back out."
The tide turned quickly when the Spartans scored a pair of goals just 38 seconds apart to tie it with just more than 18 minutes to play. The momentum carried over from that point when the game went to penalty kicks following two scoreless overtimes. York would win the best-of-5 PKs, 3-1, thanks in part to spectacular saves by Schmidt.
Unfortunately for Schmidt, his mother wasn't around to see his final efforts. She got up from the stands after the second overtime saying, "I can't watch this."
"That's very typical. It's tough for her to watch the game," Schmidt said.
Appearing in its first-ever CAC playoff game, Christopher Newport (13-5-2) was the only team to take York (16-2-1) to overtime this season back on Oct. 5, when the Spartans won in two overtimes, 2-1. The Captains entered Wednesday tied for first in the CAC in goals scored (49) and have the CAC's top-two scorers in Jalon Brown and Ryan Balfour, both of whom also lead the conference in assists.
"The fact they have five losses or whatever ... they had five losses and two or three of them were to top-ranked teams in the country," York coach Mark Ludwig said of CNU. "They're a good team. They have really good players."
After a scoreless first half, Brown's score with 27:14 left in the second half put Christopher Newport up, 2-0. York, ranked 16th in NCAA Division III in the latest National Soccer Coaches Association of America poll, scored nine minutes later on goals by Chris Saberton and Peter Lundgaard. For the game, Christopher Newport outshot York, 22-19, and had a large advantage in corners, 11-3.
PKs: Ludwig said the five-time defending CAC champion Spartans had last practiced PKs at the end of Sunday's practice.
"They were great at it. And I said 'That's the image you have in your mind,'" Ludwig said. "We just gave them an opportunity. We try not to make it a huge issue. To be honest, it's a bad way to end a game. It's the luck of the draw. It's more about mental fortitude."
Schmidt showed why he had the second-best save percentage (.849) among CAC goalies entering the day by making five saves during action and stopping three of CNU's four penalty-kick attempts, including one by a kick save with his left foot. The game-sealing stop came when Schmidt dove to his right and caught Tommy O'Neal's shot in mid-air.
"I looked over to the bench. Literally everyone was pointing to (my) right," Schmidt said. "(Assistant) coach (Jim) Mustard gave the same signal. He (O'Neal) hit it where I thought he was gonna hit it and I was able to make the save."
Chris Weaver, Daniel Baxter and Taylor Brummitt made three penalty kicks for York.
Title game: The Spartans will now attempt to win their sixth-straight CAC title when they travel to No. 9 Salisbury (17-2) on Saturday. It marks the eighth time York and Salisbury will meet for the conference championship, with the overall series in those title games standing being 3-3-1. (The match-up in 2010 went to PKs). The regular-season CAC champion, Salisbury was the only CAC team to beat York this season, handing the Spartans a 3-1 loss on Oct. 19.
Salisbury was the last team to beat York in the CAC title game when it did so in 2007. A win Saturday would guarantee York a ninth-straight trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
-- Reach John Walk at firstname.lastname@example.org.