Despite leading throughout the first half, Blazers lose in golden goal overtime
The Blair Blazers (8-4-2) boys' varsity soccer team suffered a 2-1 loss to the Churchill Bulldogs (8-4-2) in the first round of playoffs Thursday. Blair held a one goal lead throughout the first half, conceding a goal in the second and a goal during the first overtime period.
The first real opportunity for either team came in the 11th minute of the first half off of a shot by junior midfielder Francisco Morales which was deflected by a Churchill defender. The bouncing ball was struck cleanly on a volley by senior midfielder Austin Kokkinakis, jetting into the lower right corner of the goal and putting the Blazers up 1-0.
Churchill began to advance into Blair's defensive third as the half wore on. Senior defender Alex Sarri-Tobar cleared a low Bulldog shot in the 15th minute, and senior goalkeeper Ricky Benitez was forced into his first action of the game in the 23rd minute when he saved a low shot off of a Churchill breakaway.
Blair got close to a second goal when senior midfielder Jordi Long sent a long free kick to senior midfielder Keva Chawla, whose header was saved by the keeper. The final action of the half came in the 36th minute when Benitez made a diving one-handed effort to keep a Churchill shot out of the lower right corner of the net.
According to Sarri-Tobar, the team's level of effort was what gave them the upper hand through the first half and during the regular season. "We never really gave up," said Sarri-Tobar. "We knew we might not be as great as we were last year, but we still tried our hardest, worked hard in practice, we got a good amount of wins in, and we fought hard in this game."
The second half opened with another opportunity by Morales, a long bouncing shot dealt with easily enough by the Bulldogs. Churchill began to pour on the pressure, forcing two quick saves by Benitez in the 50th minute. Blair stayed on the defensive, keeping the opposition out of the goal but not sparking any attacking force of their own for much of the second half. In the 68th minute, the ball fell to a Bulldog striker just yards outside of the Blair goal, sending it sailing just over the crossbar.
In the 70th minute, Benitez came out to stop a point-blank shot from the sideline, surrendering a Churchill corner. The kick came in from the right side, sailing over the players who filled the box, and sneaking into the far right corner untouched and tying the game at 1-1. Three minutes later, another Churchill shot was saved off the line by Sarri-Tobar, forcing the game into overtime.
According to Long, the team gave their all throughout the game. "During that last game, and during the whole season, we really played our hearts out, gave it our all," explained Long. "We didn't leave anything at all on the field. At the end of the game, I was gassed."
The overtime period was largely uneventful, with neither team gaining any ground until a breakaway by Churchill in the 95th minute. A cross came in from the far post, and an unmarked Bulldog striker took it in stride and slotted it into the corner, sealing a 2-1 golden goal victory and ending the Blazers' season.
According to Kokkinakis, the team accomplished more on the season than they ever thought they would. "Honestly, coming into the season, we didn't really expect much," said Kokkinakis. "We ended up winning eight games, which is more than we ever thought, we really came together towards the end of the season. We were playing as a team, playing as a unit, we really started to gel more. It was a great season."
Charles Lott. My name is Charlie, and I'm the features editor for Silver Chips Online. I enjoy reading, using Oxford commas, and playing frisbee for Blair. More »