YORKSHIRE - Sure, maybe I-Prep was a little bit faster, a tad more skilled in the art of the shoulder feint left or the shoulder feint right and maybe it was slightly more adept at the step-over dribble and the maradona; but sometimes, all the finesse and speed in the world can't overcome good, old-fashioned determination.
And on a chilly Saturday night, as the snow flurries fell at Pioneer Central School, the Maple Grove Red Dragons had that quality in spades.
So with the game knotted at one goal apiece and headed into overtime, none of the Red Dragons lost hope.
Maple Grove’s Erik Olson celebrates after scoring his game-winning goal. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Rob Tucker
In between each period, as the game dragged on into the 95th minute and beyond, David Meekins forcefully reminded his teammates that it was their game to win, and coaches Kevin Beaton and Jerry Pardue told them to keep working and eventually, they said, the desire and fight they'd shown all game would be rewarded.
Finally, in the 101st minute - midway through the second overtime period - it was.
Dominick Fabrizio carried the ball down the right sideline into I-Prep territory and then changed fields to Nick Hutchinson, who without hesitation sent a pinpoint cross to the far post at a streaking Erik Olson. The Red Dragons' senior did the rest, heading the ball home to lift second-seeded Maple Grove to a 2-1, Section 6 Class C title-clinching, double-overtime victory over No. 4 International Prep.
"I saw Nick coming down the sideline," Olson said of the game winner, "and I knew he was going to pass me the ball, but I didn't know how good it was going to be.
"It was perfect."
The victory secured for Maple Grove its first sectional soccer title since 2010, and vaults it into the Far West Regional next Friday at 5 p.m., against a to-be-determined Section 5 foe at Hamburg High School.
"It feels great," Pardue said of the win. "This team is basically ... a team. We don't have any superstars, we don't have a whole lot of go-to guys, we have just a solid, all-around team. Now we'll get to go to practice on Monday. That's been our motto, 'practice on Monday,' and we are."
Early on, however, a Monday practice - let alone a sectional title - were goals quickly falling from reach.
Just eight minutes into the contest, lightning-fast Mohammed Hussein, who in the sectional semifinal with Randolph had tallied a goal five minutes into play, gave the Presidents' a 1-0 lead when he carried the ball into the area and chipped it past Maple Grove goalie Kyle Richardson just inside the right post.
"When Randolph played them they did the same thing," Pardue said. "They came right out and scored. I told the guys that they were going to come out hard and they were going to come out fast, but I said, 'If they score, they give up goals, too. Don't quit, we can still come back.'
"And that's exactly what happened."
Shocked into action by the quick score, Maple Grove refocused on containing I-Prep's many offensive threats. Defenseman Nathan Saar was dispatched to follow Hussein to whichever side of the field he traveled (Hussein enjoyed precious few solid scoring chances from there on out), and the midfielders began working harder to slow any advance or counterattack.
"Obviously (I-Prep) is a skill team," Beaton said. "We tried to contain them as best we could. They're the quickest team we've played so we really worked on containing - trying not to stab with the feet and trying not to overpursue. And then when our guys came (to the bench) between halves, we just kept telling them, 'Keep going, keep going and wait for the break.'"
Twenty minutes later the first break came, on one of the unlikeliest of plays.
At the 30th minute, a Maple Grove player was fouled along the left sideline some 40 yards from the goal. Olson, seeing an opportunity to put a shot on net despite the distance, drilled a high-arching shot with his left foot that carried and carried until it somehow snuck by the Presidents' goalkeeper and into the net for the equalizer.
"That was a beautiful shot. That's got to be a record," Pardue said, before adding with a smile. "Of course, he is the kicker for the football team so all he had to do was aim a little lower."
The game remained tied for the next 71 minutes, thanks to solid defense and a few diving saves by Richardson, who finished with seven.
"(I-Prep) was phenomenal, they were like Barcelona out there," Pardue said. "But Kyle saved us the game a few times and we denied their key players the ball. They can't score if they don't have the ball."
Now the Red Dragons will look ahead to Friday and the capturing of a victory that could send them to the New York State Public High School Athletic Association semifinals.
"That's the next challenge," Beaton said.