RED LION — As the minutes slowly ticked off the clock in the second half of Thursday night's York-Adams League girls' soccer title game, the tense final moments of the scoreless contest seemed to favor one team more than the other.
The Fairfield Green Knights, the reigning Division III champions, were known all year long for a nearly unstoppable attack that saw them outscore teams 146-12 in 18 games.
The Central York Panthers, meanwhile, had nine of their 10 wins, before Thursday, decided by 1-0 scores. Nearly all of the Panthers' matches on the year were decided by a single goal.
So, the 0-0 deadlock was unfamiliar territory for Fairfield, while it was business as usual for Central.
Sure enough, in the 66th minute, Chloe Carns delivered a low shot that ricocheted off the inside of the left post and bounded in. That resulted in the game's only goal, giving the Panthers the surprising 1-0 win over the Knights and the team's third Y-A League title in program history.
"Two would be nice," Central head coach Eric Webb joked about his team's knack of playing in one-goal games. "We're comfortable in playing organized in the back. We're pretty organized in the back now and the girls played hard. We have some depth that we can run girls up top and wear teams out. Fairfield is good. I hope they win the district championship. I hope they win the state tournament. They have some really special players, up top especially."
Even with the Panthers' ability to wear down teams at the back with their depth, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before Fairfield (18-1) would be the team to score the first goal.
The Knights dominated possession throughout much of the contest, only allowing Central (11-9-1) brief moments to attack, but quickly returning to the offensive. However, for as much as Fairfield looked in control, it could never find that one scoring chance that would put it ahead.
When the Knights did send chances toward the goal, they were either always blocked part way to the net by a stingy Panthers' back line or stopped by Central keeper Rachel Szczypinski.
"I think we did really well," Szczypinski said about her defensive unit. "I'm glad that we stayed really organized in the back and we knew how to shut them down really quickly before anything could happen."
On the rare occasions that a ball did get all the way to the goal, Szczypinski was there to make one of her seven saves, none bigger than when she kept the game scoreless by making a huge kick save on a low attempt from in close by Knights' forward Annabel Anderson. She was also bailed out by the crossbar once on a long drive by a Fairfield midfielder, the only bit of luck she needed on the night.
She stood tall just long enough for the Panthers to finally escape their own end for a few moments, which was plenty of time for them to steal the winner, despite it coming completely against the run of play. The Knights had a couple of chances to clear the ball, but when one of the opportunities fell at the feet of Carns, she didn't hesitate to let loose a shot. It wasn't the hardest attempt, but it was well-placed and sent the team into a state of euphoria.
"We were working together trying to keep possession and we just got one in," she said about the goal.
After Carns broke the deadlock, the Central defense probably played its best stretch of soccer of the night, never letting Fairfield come close to equalizing, a task easier said than done against such a strong offensive unit.
"We knew coming in that they had scored five goals on York Catholic and we knew that (York Catholic) had a good back line," senior defender Lynnae Swanson said. "So, we just knew that we had to cover and man-mark. We knew they played three up top, which we knew coming into it, so we knew we wouldn't be able to make runs as much, so we knew we just had to cover."
When the clock finally hit zero, the Central team stormed onto the field and celebrated its improbable league title.
By the program's lofty standards, the 2016 season wasn't a stellar one. The team floundered below .500 through much of it, but it was a formation change about a month ago that improved the team's defense and led to more victories. So, even though the Panthers entered as the No. 3 seed in Division I, they were playing their best soccer of the season, and it showed against the Green Knights, which was held scoreless for the first time all season.
"Our motivation and drive to just keep going and keep fighting. That's what I think changed a lot," Szczypinski said. "That's why we got here."
Reach Patrick Strohecker at firstname.lastname@example.org.