Time was getting tight, and it looked like overtime was calling once again.
It would be typical for the State College and Hollidaysburg boys’ soccer teams. Two years ago the Tigers won the District 6 final in double overtime, and the year before it was the Little Lions winning in extra time.
But Joe Thomas had other ideas, and he wasn’t about to let his teammate from his club team stop him.
Thomas scored with 2:50 left in regulation — his third goal of the evening — to give State College a 3-2 win over Hollidaysburg in the district Class AAA finals at Bald Eagle Area’s Alumni Stadium.
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“I felt we had enough chances during the game to win it,” Little Lion coach Dan Orton said. “I was glad we finally got one more at the end.”
Eric Miller and Zach Franks both scored long-distance goals for the Tigers (13-4-1), who also lost to State College in last year’s final.
It is also the team’s fifth district crown in the last eight years and 10th in the last 15 seasons.
“It’s not a forgone conclusion,” said Orton, in his first season as head coach. “We have to work hard for these things. We had to tonight. It was a good game, an exciting game, almost like overtime would have been — people would have needed Valium or something like that.”
The Little Lions head back to the PIAA tournament — they fell to Upper St. Clair in last year’s semifinals — for a game next Tuesday against the runner-up from District 3. Cumblerland Valley, Carlisle, Wilson and Hempfield are all alive in that tournament, with their district semifinals tonight.
With plenty of action in the midfield and few rushes at either net over the previous 20 minutes, State College finally got a break and cashed in.
Will Edwards sent a through-ball straight up the middle, threading a needle between a pair of defenders, to Thomas, leaving the senior one-on-one with keeper Justin Hann.
“I have to give all the credit to Will,” Thomas said. “He gave me such a great ball. He slid it right to me and I just had to touch it and put it in the back of the net.”
The hat trick — Thomas’ second of the season to go with one against Mifflin County earlier this month — gave Thomas 12 goals on the season.
“Tonight was his game. That’s what he can do,” Orton said, then added dryly, “and he missed another breakaway. He could have had four. I’ll talk to him about that later on.”
Thomas also succeeded on a breakaway which gave State College a 2-0 lead midway through the first half. Connor Gest had launched a 40-yard bomb down the sideline, and as Thomas was running onto the ball he put a move on defender Todd Azeles, which left him one-on-one with Hann.
“With such a wet ball it slides right onto you,” Thomas said. “You put a hard pressure on the defender he’s libel to give it up and that’s what happened.”
Hann and Thomas play on the same Classics club team, and it gave the Little Lion a little inside information on how to beat the keeper.
“I’ve been one-on-one with him a lot,” Thomas said. “I kind of knew I could slide it past him if I put it low. I got lucky with that one.”
Jake Garrigan had set up the first goal, sending a cross into the box to Nick Christie, whose shot was blocked by Hann. But the rebound bounced right to Thomas, and the Little Lions were on the board 4:22 into the game.
Hann finished with seven saves. Nate Davis and Ty Leway each played a half and had one save apiece for State College.
Hollidaysburg rallied with a pair of 35-yard rockets, with Franks converting with 9:26 left in the first half and Miller finding the net 6:51 into the second half.
“We’ve got goal-scorers n this team,” Tigers coach Craig Shale said. “There was no way we were going to get shut out. We’ve got some kids that can strike the ball.”
That Hollidaysburg could convert from long range came as no surprise to the Little Lions.
“We spoke about the fact that they’re dangerous from outside the box,” Orton said. “They scored two goals because we didn’t close people down. We put ourselves in a bit of a hole.”
“It definitely helped that it was so windy and wet,” Thomas said. “The ball was silk and you could just rip it from (midfield). I was behind those shots and they flew and curved right through the air. They were great shots.”
The Tigers didn’t have one more in their arsenal, however, and had to watch the Little Lions celebrate at the end — before they got to overtime.
“It’s disappointing to lose like that in the last three minutes when we had gotten ourselves back in the game,” Shale said. “We gave them two goals. It really could have been anybody’s game. I honestly thought it was going to go overtime.”