For a moment, it looked like another game was going to slip through the grasp of the Tuscarora boys soccer team on Thursday night.
The Titans — who had lost to Middletown by a goal in the final 30 seconds of the season opener and to South Carroll by a goal despite dominating possession and producing the better chances — were on the verge of letting a berth in the Central Maryland Conference championship game get away.
But then senior goalkeeper Guillermo Romero somehow got a hand on a point-blank header by Thomas Johnson’s junior striker, Galo Cappelletti, in the final minute of the first overtime session to help preserve a 1-1 tie for the Titans.
“All of the pressure,” Romero said. “If that goal went in, everything would have dropped to me. Honestly, that save, it pumped me up. My energy went up, the momentum went up. It seemed like anything was possible.”
The tie sends Tuscarora (7-3-1) into its first CMC championship game next Saturday at Hood College because the Titans have one fewer tie than Thomas Johnson (7-3-2) in the Spires Division.
Romero was called upon again in the closing seconds of the second overtime for a save that was much more straightforward than his previous effort.
“[Guillermo] came up absolutely huge for us,” Titans coach Todd Knepper said. “You know, we would have loved a shutout, but we’ll take a game-saving save like that. That is just something that he’ll never forget. It’s a season-[changing] save for us. That save alone changed the [makeup] of next Saturday’s conference finals. So it’s a huge moment for him.”
TJ needed a fantastic shot by Cappelletti, who ran onto the ball and tucked it inside the far post from about 20 yards away, to pull even with Tuscarora in the late stages of regulation.
The Titans, after generating numerous quality chances in the first half, struck in the first four minutes of the second half, as senior striker Tyler Sims added the finishing touch to a pressure sequence for the one-goal lead.
“We are certainly disappointed falling short of one of our season goals, which was to get into the CMC championship game. But to pull off 200 minutes, giving up only one goal this week, is quite an accomplishment,” TJ coach Jim Reigel said. “I can’t be upset about it. I can’t be disappointed [in the team’s effort].”
TJ, which enjoyed more possession over the course of the game, really cranked up the pressure after breaking through for Cappelletti’s goal.
Knepper conceded that it looked like the Titans were just packing the defensive end and playing for the tie, which was all they needed to get into the championship game, as opposed to TJ, which needed a win.
“But there was really nothing we could do,” Knepper said. “TJ was playing really well and had all of the momentum.”
The Patriots also thought they had the game-winning goal with under two minutes to play in the first overtime.
Junior defender Ryan Barkdoll sent a nice cross into the Tuscarora goal box. Cappelletti rose into the air and got his head on it. But he did not get all of it.
Still, the ball looked to be heading into the goal until Romero reached out and got a hand on it to stop its progress. Cappelletti got another chance on the rebound. But, once again, he didn’t catch it flush and the ball bounced just wide.
“I was just trying to get a hand on it,” Romero said. “With a little bit of help from God, anything is possible.”