PINE GROVE - Tamaqua finally broke its scoring drought against Blue Mountain, and the Lady Raiders were looking for smooth sailing ahead.
Instead, it opened the floodgates in the Lady Eagles' favor.
Blue Mountain exploded for three goals in a three and a half minute span to rally for a 3-1 victory Wednesday night for the District 11 Girls Class AA soccer championship at Pine Grove's Cardinal Stadium.
The win advances the Eagles (14-6-1) into the PIAA State playoffs on the road against a District 4 representative, while the Raiders had their season ended with a 16-4-1 mark.
It was the third meeting of the season between second seeded Tamaqua and top ranked Blue Mountain, which was previously 1-0-1 against the Raiders en route to the Schuylkill League Division I and overall titles.
The key to the Eagles' success has been their ability to shut down the Raiders' high-scoring attack, which averages 4.5 goals per game. Blue Mountain posted a 3-0 win in Orwigsburg on Sept. 11, and the teams played to a scoreless deadlock in the rain in Tamaqua on Oct. 6.
"Our key has been defense," said Blue Mountain coach Mike Burcik. "We gave up very few goals this season. We don't have just one girl who can score but we have a number of girls who can score for us."
In the first half, Tamaqua was able to match the Eagles defensively, as neither side found the net. Blue Mountain held a 6-2 advantage in shots, but Raider goalkeeper Chey Bates registered saves each time.
Raider senior Lauren Mateyak had a couple of chances, but Eagles' keeper Allison Ebling turned her away point blank on a rush, and Mateyak missed wide in front of the net on the other attempt.
Early in the second half, Mateyak finally cracked the Blue Mountain defense when she took a pass from junior Kayla Hope to the left of the net and booted the ball past Ebling in the 47th minute for a 1-0 Tamaqua lead.
Mateyak's goal snapped a scoreless streak against the Eagles that had lasted over 226 minutes, but it also put the Raiders in position to capture their third straight District title.
"When we finally broke through, I really thought we had it," said Tamaqua coach Clem McCarroll, whose squad was playing in the D-11 championship game for the fifth straight season.
As the clock ran down under 20 minutes remaining, Burcik admitted he was ready to push his defense, including Ebling, upfield in a last ditch attempt to put pressure on attempt to put pressure on the Raiders.
Before that move, however, junior Marla Muncy took a pass from junior Lexi Towne and was able to kick the ball up just under the crossbar with 12:51 remaining to tie the score at 1-1.
Muncy's goal energized the Eagles, and with 11:06 to go, Towne stole the ball at the 40-yard line and scored on a roller past Bates to give Blue Mountain its first lead at 2-1.
Not long after that, the Eagles sealed the deal when senior Allie D'Innocenzo scored in the 72nd minute for a two-goal difference against the stunned Raiders.
"It was an important five minutes," stated Burcik. "We finally got the momentum. We were about two minutes away from making changes, so that allowed us to go back to what we started the game with."
"They put a late rush on us," said McCarroll. "Our defense had played great up until that five minute span when they came flying at us and broke through."
The Eagles ended up with a 12-5 edge in shots and had six corner kicks to the Raiders' two.
This was the final game in a Tamaqua uniform for six seniors, including two starters in Mateyak and Allison Updike, the school's all-time leading scorer with 88 goals. Other Raider seniors include Natalie Davison, Brianne Curvey, Hailey Arnold and Rachel Confer.
"We have to be the youngest varsity team around," said McCarroll. "We start 6-7 sophomores, so for us just to get to this point is incredible. After the talent we lost from last year, no one expected us to be in this situation. We have nothing to be ashamed of."