As the rain fell onto the Mansion Park turf, Penns Valley and Bishop Guilfoyle bunched together into respective huddles.
While each team stood 30 yards apart on the field, nothing — not 35 shots, 18 corner kicks or 100 minutes of play — could separate the two sides on the scoreboard.
To decide who advanced in the District 6 Class A boys’ soccer championships, the Rams and Marauders went to penalty kicks.
Before his selected kick-takers trotted out to midfield, Bishop Guilfoyle coach Alan Gburek had a message for his team.
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“I told them that penalty kicks is the worst way to win and the worst way to lose,” the coach recalled. “So at this point, I don’t care. What happens, happens. Just go out there and put it on frame.”
The Marauders did more than that, converting when the Rams couldn’t on their way to a 2-2 (6-3) win on Tuesday night to advance to the semifinals. The Marauders advance to play top-seeded Westmont Hilltop on Thursday, while the Rams’ season is over.
For Penns Valley coach Scott Case, who finished his 19th season at the helm, it was the first time his Rams have been in a penalty-kick shootout in nine years.
The ending was improbable.
But what was perhaps more unpredictable was how Penns Valley even got there.
Time was winding down in the second half, and Penns Valley prepared for what appeared to be its last opportunity to equalize.
With 1:10 left on the clock, the Rams lined up for a corner kick and whipped the ball into the box, which careened out of bounds.
Another corner for Penns Valley.
“One minute remaining,” the Mansion Park PA announcer bellowed.
Penns Valley scurried to the corner spot. The trailing side packed the box. Rams goalkeeper Jared Kines even raced up the middle of the field to join his teammates.
Yet again, the ball swung into the box, and this time, there was connection. Penns Valley defender John Statham put his head on it and watched the ball spin into the right corner of the net.
With 44 seconds remaining in regulation, the Rams had life.
“I had confidence,” Case said. “I knew we could do it. But it would have been wonderful to not wait until there’s 44 seconds left.”
Though it didn’t look like the Rams would have the opportunity at overtime. The Marauders led for most of the second half.
Just four minutes into the second frame, Kines stood, bent over at the waist, with his orange and black gloves on his knees. Meanwhile, the ball rested at the back of the net, as Bishop Guilfoyle celebrated.
It was a fluky play, a clouds-touching kick, looking more like a cross than a shot. Gburek said the goal-scorer, Alex Gburek, tried to shoot through the laces, but the ball slid off the outside of his foot.
It wasn’t what the senior midfielder had planned to do, but it worked.
“I tell the kids all the time, put the ball on frame, you never know what’s going to happen,” the Marauders’ coach said.
The coach was impressed with Gburek, who also scored Bishop Guilfoyle’s earlier goal. But he was also pleased with his goalkeeper, Nathan Frank.
Diving, blocking, jumping and even crawling, Frank, catching everyone’s eye with his highlighter yellow jersey, was everywhere.
And he had to be. Penns Valley had ratcheted up the pressure.
Shortly after conceding the opening goal, the Rams had one of two options: fall back on their heels and likely give way to another score, or pump up the tempo.
They did the latter. With 18 minutes left in the first half, Penns Valley midfielder Stephen Gover shot it from close to 30 yards out. It looked like it’d be wide right, deflected off a Marauders defender, and spun wildly left. But Franks was caught leaning, fell, and tried to crawl to the ball as it spun into back of the net.
It was a needed equalizer, but that strike, and the second-half header wasn’t enough for Penns Valley.
Still, Case had a smile on his face after the game.
“This is the youngest team I’ve coached ever,” Case said. “I wasn’t hopeful for a great season at the beginning, but it turns out that they’re a stellar bunch of young men…And they won some games.”
Does that have the coach confident in his Rams moving forward?
“Oh my,” Case said. “Yes.”