Fairfield wins thriller
The host Fairfield Trojans and Mt. Pleasant had played 80 minutes of soccer on Monday night in each squad’s Southeast Conference opener — and nothing was decided. The score was 2-2.
So they played 10 minutes of sudden-death overtime.
And, still, nothing was decided.
Mt. Pleasant had the only shot on goal in that extra frame, and Trojan goalie Brendon Lunsford made the game-saving stop.
So they played 10 more minutes of sudden-death soccer, double-overtime.
And, again, nothing was decided.
It did get a little nerve-wracking for the Fairfield faithful during double-OT.
With 7:44 left to play, the Panthers had numbers at midfield, attacked, and Trojan fullback Jose Rojo rushed forward, gambled, guessed correctly, and booted Fairfield out of trouble.
Less than a minute later, Mt. Pleasant was on the attack again: Jeny Reyes-Cardona, the Panthers’ sharp-shooting forward, took a short, close-range shot — and Lunsford again came through with another game-saving stop.
With 3:57 left, Mt. Pleasant’s best and quickest player, Ryan Hutchinson, was on a breakaway. Then, to Hutchinson’s utter shock, Trojan center-fullback Kolten Webber — seemingly from out of nowhere — appeared on the scene, dove, made a clean swipe, and booted Fairfield out of harm’s way.
“Kolten saved us,” said Trojan forward/midfielder Shawn Spurrier. “He helped us stay pumped and motivated.”
With the game still tied 2-2 after double-OT, it was finally time to decide things once and for all.
Penalty kicks: a treacherous stage for any goalie. The ball is placed 12 yards away from the net. The net is 8 feet high and 24 feet wide. The mathematics alone means most skilled soccer players will make this kick.
“This was different than anything I’ve been in with sports,” said Lunsford, a standout football player and State Meet-qualifying heavyweight wrestler. “You really have to focus, block everything else out. I just tried to see where they were kicking it — and tried to get there.”
He got there.
Of eight penalty kicks from the Panthers, Lunsford stopped four of them, an outstanding accomplishment.
Nathan Rauenbuehler, Mt. Pleasant’s terrific goalie —Panther head coach Neil Schmitz called him “the best goalie in our conference” — also had to face eight shots. Rauenbuehler was very good, too, stopping three Trojan boots.
But five Trojans — Chaysten Titus, Nicholas Frisbie, Adrian Restrepo, Eric Swan and Austin Winslow — each put a shot past Rauenbuehler, and there it was: a 5-4 edge in penalty-kick goals, giving Fairfield a fulfilling, exhilarating victory.
At the conclusion of this contest (with the official final score being 3-2), the Trojan players all raced to the net to embrace Lunsford.
“It was so much fun to watch our team celebrate by jumping on Brendon at the end,” said Trojan head coach Felisto Guezimane. “Fortunately, Brendon is a strong guy and he can handle our whole team jumping on him.
“This was a must-win game for us. To be competitive in our conference, when you’re at home, you have to gut it out and win — and this was a great win for us.”
The Panthers (0-1, 0-1 SEC) drew first blood, Hutchinson tallied with 9:48 left in the first half.
Less than four minutes later, Hutchinson booted a short-range laser, which a leaping Lunsford stopped with one hand.
“Brendon Lunsford is really becoming a big asset to our team,” Spurrier said. “It was unreal the kind of performance he gave us. He really stepped up.”
With 4:03 left in the first half, it was Spurrier stepping up. He made a midfield steal, dribbled past one defender, then another and then lofted a 30-yard on-the-money leading pass to Titus.
“Shawn gave me a real nice pass,” Titus said. “He saw me cutting in from out wide.”
Titus was a marked man by Mt. Pleasant all game. So, 14 yards from the net, off to the right side, close to the end line, while defenders went after him, Titus let fly a winding, whipping blast and the ball found a home in the upper left-corner of the net.
It was one heck of a shot.
“I had full faith in Chaysten to finish that,” Spurrier said. “I’m happy it worked out so we could get back in the game.”
Said Titus, “I put some spin on it and it worked.”
The score remained tied 1-1 until 17:31 remained in regulation play. Fairfield (1-1, 1-0) was awarded a penalty kick.
Titus doesn’t usually take the penalty kicks for Fairfield but Guezimane had a hunch — and he played it.
“I just felt Chaysten Titus was in the perfect mindset right there to make that kick,” he said.
And Guezimane was right.
Titus faked left, booted right, and the Trojans had a 2-1 lead.
“I’ve played with their keeper a lot and I know him,” Titus explained. “So I just popped it in there. I don’t practice penalty kicks that much but I do practice shooting a lot.”
Reyes-Cardona tallied with 12:28 to play, knotting things at 2-2 and, soon after, came two overtimes and penalty kicks.
For the entire contest, including the overtime periods, Fairfield outshot Mt. Pleasant 23-14.
Spurrier and Jordan Guezimane made sure Fairfield controlled the action at midfield.
Start-to-finish, Webber was spectacular on defense. His philosophy? It’s pretty simple.
“My ball,” he said with a shrug. “My ball.”
“Kolten Webber is our anchor,” Coach Guezimane said. “I don’t know what we’d do without him. He’s not afraid of contact, and he is always fighting for that ball. He always goes hard and holds our defense together. He’s a tremendous player.”
Fellow fullbacks Rojo and Swan were also stout all night.
Besides Titus and Spurrier, Leone Gichure-Marira, Restrepo, Winslow, Dallas Peebler and Brayden Miller made sure Fairfield stayed on the attack, applying constant pressure on Rauenbuehler.
“Overall,” said Coach Guezimane, “I was pleased we came through. It’s a big win — a big win.”