HILLIARD — Rick Collins and his Liberty Patriots knew they were in for the fight of their lives once they advanced to the Division I State Semifinal, but the Beavercreek Beavers found out just how much fight the Patriots had in them.
Liberty scored an equalizing goal in the final two minutes of regulation and survived two overtimes and 14 rounds of penalty kicks for a 2-1 victory over the previously undefeated Beavers Tuesday at the Hilliard Bradley High School Sports Complex.
“Honestly, I’m running out of adjectives to describe these guys,” Collins said. “Every time we go down in a game, we battle back. We find a way to get the equalizer, we continue to push.”
“It’s unreal,” sophomore Thomas Gullo said. “We’ve been working so hard all season, and to get here just feels so great.”
Liberty (15-2-3) advances to the state final to face Cleveland St. Ignatius (21-1), winners of two of the past three Division I state championships, at 7 p.m. Friday at Columbus Crew Stadium. Beavercreek finished at 21-1-1 on the year.
The first half proved to be filled with action, but not around the net. Both the Patriots and Beavers were highly active in the first 40 minutes, with the Patriots taking command of the match early in the half, getting the better of the possession.
But Beavercreek’s defense allowed Liberty virtually nothing, and was able to use long balls and solid possession in the Patriots’ defensive half to get chances on goal. Still, both teams had three shots in the half, with Liberty a 3-2 edge in shots on goal, while Beavercreek held a 5-1 advantage in corner kicks.
Beavercreek turned up its pressure and attack in the second half, allowing Liberty virtually nothing in its end while coming up with solid chances themselves. But the Liberty defense was there every time, with the back line and junior keeper Anderson deAndrade turning away everything they could give.
But the Beavers broke the scoreless deadlock with 18:08 left in regulation when Jacob Butman played a ball to the left side to Matt Carnes, who then made a perfect cross into the 18 to freshman Tristan Lyle, who headed the ball past deAndrade.
Liberty had trouble getting into the Beavercreek end all second half, but in the last minutes, its tenacity paid off. After getting a decent shot opportunity just two minutes earlier, a pass into the box from the left side pinballed between Liberty attackers and Beavercreek defenders before Gullo intercepted the sphere and sent it low into the left corner for the tying goal with 1:34 left in regulation.
“Someone served it in from the left side and it took a couple of weird bounces,” Gullo said. “I just ran in unmarked and hit it with my right foot into the side netting, and it just felt so good.”
“With three minutes left, I still thought we could score,” Collins said. “We kept working and kept getting the ball in the box, and even though they kept packing it in, we were able to get that equalizer.”
The first overtime didn’t decide anything, despite plenty of good action and aggressive play, but Liberty got two good opportunities down low in the second, the last off the foot of junior Kyle Baum that a Beavercreek defender lifted over the crossbar. Still, the second extra session couldn’t break the tie, and the game went to penalty kicks.
Supported by the Liberty faithful, including a loud, raucous student section, the Patriots were able to send their first 13 kicks past Gill, but in turn, Beavercreek got their first 13 past deAndrade.
“The fans chanting your name puts a lot of pressure on you,” deAndrade said. “You get pumped, but you know their hopes are on your shoulders and you have to perform for them.”
In the 14th session, junior Sam DeRoy put his ball past Gill, but the Beavers’ Josh Molter sent a ball to the left side of the goal mouth, and deAndrade blocked the ball down, putting Liberty in the title game.
“I decided to go right because I’m more oriented to my right side,” deAndrade said. “I was able to dive better to my right and I thought I’d have the best chance at saving a ball to my right.”
“We’ve worked on PKs every day in practice since the tournament started,” Collins said. “Every single day, we pick five for each side, and tonight it took 14 PKs, so I guess it worked.”
Beavercreek finished with 19 shots to Liberty’s 17, but Liberty had 13 shots on goal to the Beavers’ nine. Beavercreek had 10 corner kicks, Liberty had four. deAndrade finished with seven saves for the Patriots, while Gill closed with 11 for the Beavers.