Using a tight-checking, in-your-face style of play, the Muskie boys’ soccer team overcame the odds and upended the favoured Dryden Eagles 1-0 in the NorWOSSA final here Saturday afternoon.
And that will be exactly the style the black-and-gold will have to use this weekend in Marathon if they hope to win the NWOSSAA crown and advance to the all-Ontarios next month.
“The intensity made a difference in the game,” said Muskie assistant coach Jason Kabel. “It took [Dryden] off their game.”
“I think the intensity is what carries this team. We need to play with intensity,” echoed veteran keeper Jordan Roy, who was instrumental in preserving the win.
Playing to a 0-0 draw through regulation play and two 10-minute overtimes, the slim victory over the Eagles—their first in three tries this season—came in dramatic fashion when Colin Wielinga scored the third Muskie goal on their fourth penalty kick.
Roy then stopped the Eagles on their last attempt to give the black-and-gold the 3-2 victory in penalty kicks (but officially recorded as a 1-0 win) without having to take their final shot.
Both teams played a tight, defensive game without allowing the other a quality scoring chance through most of the first half and well into the second. But the black-and-gold were given a boost when the Eagles were handed a red card with about 15 minutes to play.
The Muskies made full use of the man advantage, and carried most the play left in regulation. They also had two of the best chances to win in the two 10-minute overtime sessions.
Daniel Ribeiro, the Muskies’ leading scorer this season, had a glorious chance to score when he drilled a shot from about 20 yards out, only to be stymied by an outstanding save by the Eagles’ keeper, who dove to his left to knock the ball away.
Then in the second overtime, Terry LaBelle beat the keeper cleanly with a shot only to have the ball deflect off the left goalpost, forcing the game to be decided with penalty kicks.
And the drama didn’t end there.
After the Muskies scored on their first two attempts (Adam McTavish and Josiah Morris), Dryden beat Roy on their third shot to slice the lead to 2-1.
Dryden’s initial shot on their third attempt missed the goal but referee Claude Gagnon ruled Roy had left the goal line before the shot was taken (the second time he was called with that infraction during the penalty kicks), giving the Eagles another chance, which they promptly cashed in on it.
Roy was miffed that Gagnon made the call—not once but twice—at such a key point in a pressure game. But Kabel defended the referee.
“It was a very good call that probably would not have been made in most cases,” he said. “If Jordan left the line, then I’m glad Claude made the call because then he won’t do it in NWOSSAA.
“It was good the game was won in penalty kicks because then it didn’t give [Dryden] an excuse for losing,” he added, referring to the red card handed out in the second half.
Then after Ribeiro missed on his attempt, shooting directly at the Eagle keeper, Dryden tied it at 2-2 on their fourth kick before Wielinga’s winner and then Roy’s game-winning save.
Andy Hallikas, one of the defensive stalwarts for the black-and-gold, felt the win against Dryden was “their best game” of the year.” And he figured they’ll have to continue to play that upbeat style this weekend in Marathon.
“As a team we’re starting to gel but [Thunder Bay] stomped us two years ago so we’re going to have to continue to play our defensive game,” he stressed.
The Muskies opened play last Friday morning with a 3-0 win over Rainy River, then they were beaten 2-0 by Dryden that afternoon to finish second in Pool ‘A.’
That put the black-and-gold into the semi-finals against Beaver Brae (Kenora) on Saturday, earning a 1-0 victory in another hard-fought, intense game.
Ribeiro netted the game-winner on a first-half penalty kick.
Dryden advanced to the final with a 4-0 shutout over Sioux Lookout in the other semi-final.
The NWOSSAA final will feature the Muskies, host Marathon, and the Thunder Bay champs (which has yet to be determined) in a one-day, round-robin affair, with the winner moving on to the all-Ontarios.