Late goals lift Northwestern
Northwesterrn soccer coach Nathan Hunsicker said he never lost faith.
But Hunsicker admitted that his Tigers definitely pushed that faith to the limit during the quarterfinal round of the District 11 Class AA playoffs on Thursday.
Despite dominating the game statistically and having a huge edge in possession, top-seeded Northwestern trailed almost the entire game.
Hunsicker's faith was finally rewarded, however, as a pair of late goals lifted the Tigers to a 2-1 victory.
"That was definitely too close for comfort," said Hunsicker. "We had a lot of opportunities after we spotted them that early goal, but we were having trouble capitalizing.
"It was starting to get pretty late, but I know how resilient our kids are so I was confident that we were going to find a way … although it took a little longer than I hoped."
After a Zach O'Toole wind-aided goal from midfield just minutes into the game gave the eighth-seeded Crusaders a 1-0 lead, Northwestern applied constant pressure.
The Tigers hit a post and a crossbar despite going into a fierce wind in the first half.
In the second half, with the wind at its back, Northwestern rarely let the ball cross midfield. But despite that, a combination of outstanding goaltending by Notre Dame's Timmy Gallagher and some missed opportunities on set plays, kept the Tigers scoreless.
"The wind was a huge factor," said Hunsicker. "It was almost impossible when you were going into it, and even when it was at your back it made it tough to control free kicks, corner kicks and shots.
"We struggled finishing plays and when we did get the ball on net, their goalie made some big saves."
But with its season hanging in the balance, Northwestern finally broke through.
The tying goal came with just 12:02 remaining when Brandon Herb took a perfect cross from Kyle Willis and directed it home.
"Brandon could have been one of our top scorers this year, but we moved him to defense after an early loss to Saucon Valley," explained Hunsicker. "He really solidified our defense.
"But with about 25 minutes left in the game and us still needing a goal, we decided we had to get him forward. Obviously, the move paid off."
Just over two minutes later, the Tigers' Keegan Coffield got the game winner when his shot from 20 yards out glanced off a charging Notre Dame defender and carried into the upper right side of the goal.
In a game in which it enjoyed a huge 23-5 advantage in shots, it was two of the very last Northwestern shots that proved to be the difference.
"We told our kids at halftime that Notre Dame was probably going to pack it in defensively and that we would have to find a way to jam a goal in there," said Hunsicker. "Fortunately, we not only got one, we got two."
The Tigers advance to the District 11 semifinals on Tuesday against Salisbury.