EMMAUS - The District 11 Class AA field hockey championship game seemed headed to overtime.
Two perennial district contenders played over 58 minutes without a goal. But with 1:28 left in the scoreless game, Southern Lehigh scored on a controversial play that gave the Spartans this year's title with a 1-0 win over Northern Lehigh, which was trying to win its first district field hockey crown in school history.
Spartan junior Elizabeth Thom scored the game-winning goal, but it wasn't confirmed as a goal until after a stoppage of play and a referees' conference.
Her shot had bounced off the cage and back to her. Not hering the whistle, Thom fired it back into the goal. The officials got together and decided the first shot, which appeared to have hit the post before bouncing back out into the circle, had gone in, giving Southern Lehigh the 1-0 lead.
"It hit the post and it came out, so they blew the whistle and ended the play," Northern Lehigh head coach Jess Frew said. "And they kept playing on. It's clear that goal shouldn't have counted."
Video evidence seems to prove the shot did not get into the net, but bounced back off the post. The officials, which do not use video evidence to make their calls, ruled the first shot was a goal, giving Southern Lehigh its third straight District 11 title.
The game-winning play started when Spartans' senior Emily Marshall dribbled toward the Bulldogs' cage and found Thom on the right side.
Thom and her teammates are coached to keep playing unless they are 100 percent sure a whistle has stopped play.
"I didn't hear the whistle, so my kids kept playing," Southern Lehigh coach Adrienne Searfoss said. "I told them to make them blow it twice if you're not sure you heard it. So they kept playing and were able to finish it.
"Lizzie Thom stepped up and made things happen. Fortunately, we were able to get a couple of shots there and finish strong."
A similar circumstance worked against the Bulldogs in the first half. Northern Lehigh posted a 4-0 edge in shots in the first half and was able to put one of those shots in the cage late in the half, but the goal was disallowed.
The play started with a Bulldog corner, one of their two in the first half. With 3:42 left in the first half Northern Lehigh's Erika McKay took a shot just within the circle. It deflected off of Northern Lehigh teammate Jessica Olewine's stick and got past Spartan keeper Shelby Drissel to the top shelf in the back of the cage. But the officials didn't allow it.
"Apparently, it was too high," said Frew with a sigh.
The Spartans turned the tables in the second half and sported a 7-0 edge in shots.
The loss marks the third time in the last four years that Northern Lehigh has suffered heartbreak at the hands of the Spartans in the district playoffs. Southern Lehigh ruined the Bulldogs' chances of playing in the championship spotlight last year and in 2010 by knocking them off a game short in the semifinals, 1-0 in 2012 and 3-0 in 2010.
That's why Frew expected a challenge from her Colonial League foes once again in district play.
"You have to bring yoaur A game," Frew stressed. "They're a good team. We did beat them twice this season, but in playoffs, it doesn't matter who beat who.
"It matters who finishes and, at this point, they finished. When it came out, it counted I guess."
Regardless of the heart-wrenching setback Thursday night in Emmaus, Northern Lehigh has another chance to continue its season. The Bulldogs will now travel to Central Columbia High School tomorrow for a 3 p.m. showdown with District 4 runner-up, Lewisburg.
"We're looking forward to being in atates," Frew said. "Again, that's something that we haven't ever done before. So, it's an opportunity.
"It's another bracket to look at and it's a good opportunity for them. Hopefully, we can work through the bracket and make our presence known for Northern Lehigh."