By Matthew Snyder
Drew School head boys soccer coach Daniel Philpot needed a few moments to collect himself before his post-game interview on Tuesday.
Given what he’d just witnessed, you couldn’t really blame him.
Drew junior forward Richard Leon scored two all-important goals – the first just minutes before the end of regulation to force overtime, the other in the second period of sudden-death overtime – to power the Dragons to a 2-1 victory over Bay School in the Bay Counties League Central semifinals at the Crocker Amazon Soccer Fields.
The win gives the second-seeded Dragons a spot in Thursday night’s BCL Central championship game, where they will face Leadership.
Leon, who missed Drew’s first game against Bay this season (a 2-0 Dragons victory) and was held scoreless in the second meeting (a scoreless tie), finally opened his account against the Breakers.
“It took 77 minutes in order to get [that equalizer],” Philpot said. “We were just pushing and we kept working hard. Then you get to overtime and it becomes a crapshoot. We had the momentum heading into overtime and momentum is an amazing thing. We were able to keep fighting and put one in.”
Leon’s heroics saved Drew (10-6-1, 7-2-1) from becoming the second BCL Central team to be upset on Tuesday.
Moments before Leon punched in the game-winner, Gateway, the league’s No. 1 seed, lost 4-3 to fourth seed Leadership in the first period of overtime on a game played on an adjacent field.
Philpot said he worried that the Dragons might struggle to remain focused against the third-seeded Breakers, with a championship game on the line and their potential opponent playing in plain sight.
Bay (7-4-6, 4-3-3) took advantage of Drew’s slow start, and scored just 13 minutes into the game.
Bay junior Andrew Kaminsky met a crossing pass from sophomore John Ludeke in the middle of the penalty area and swept a right-footed volley past Drew goalkeeper Alexander Williams.
Despite conceding the early goal, Philpot told his team to remain patient and keep looking to create chances from their dominant possession.
“We’d been in this situation a couple times before, where we’ve had to come from behind and it’s served us well,” Philpot said. “We just came from the perspective of, ‘Be patient, and let the opportunity come.’”
Drew suffered a scare early in the second half, when Leon limped off with an apparent left ankle injury, but he re-entered play less than 10 minutes later.
The Dragons finally got their goal when Leon latched onto a loose ball and coolly slotted a shot past Bay goalkeeper Martin Mancini in the 76th minute.
After a cagey first period of overtime between the two teams, Leon gained possession of a through ball and poked home the game-winner early in the second overtime.
He’d repeatedly thrown up his hands in frustration throughout the game, but this time Leon crossed himself and celebrated with his jubilant teammates.
Smith was upset with the loss, but praised his team’s performance against the Dragons.
“We’ve always had a good battle with them,” said Bay head coach Blair Smith. “Obviously, tonight we were on the losing end, but I’m proud of my boys. We only lose two starters next year, so even though it’s disappointing to lose this one, we’re looking good next year.”
Boys Soccer: Leadership 4, Gateway 3 (OT)
Only two weeks ago, the top-seeded Gators crushed Leadership 6-0 in their final regular-season meeting, which made the Griffins’ semifinal victory that much more stunning.
Leadership senior Jonah Tuchow scored the game-winning goal on a header off a corner kick in the first overtime period to send the Griffins (4-5-2) to the BCL Central championship game.
Leadership held a 3-0 lead in the second half, but Gateway (10-6-2) rallied to score three goals in the final 25 minutes of regulation, including the game-tying goal from Jonathan Gural in the 75th minute.