By GREG KEIM
THE GOSHEN NEWS
Just in case fans at the Class 2A high school boys soccer sectional at Concord didn’t see enough overtimes and penalty kicks in Wednesday evening’s semifinals, Northridge and Concord decided to treat them to some more in Saturday night’s championship.
The Raiders and Minutemen remained scoreless through two 40-minute halves and two seven-minute overtime periods before the Raiders (13-3-3) finally emerged as a 1-0 winner when junior goalie Philip Keller stopped Concord’s penalty kick in the seventh round.
“Keller is playing with so much confidence right now,” Northridge coach Todd Woodworth said. “He is really good at reading kickers, but Concord buried some of those kids.”
“This is a tough one to lose when considering how banged up we are,” Concord coach Shawn McCuen said. “We were missing three starters and we played Northridge scoreless and lost it in penalty kicks. We were playing without our top two scorers.”
“The kids have nothing to be ashamed of. We learned some life lessons from this one that no one can ever take away from us and there are times that is more important than a sectional title.”
The Minutemen were missing senior Drew Wysong, sophomore goalie Anthony Saleh and junior Henry Zelaya.
“We knew Shawn would have Concord ready to play,” Woodworth said. “Concord played a physical game. You talk about a team leaving it all on the field. That is just what Concord did tonight.
“We did not play as organized as we cold have in the first half. We turned that around in the second, but couldn’t finish things off.”
Each team made five of their first six penalty kicks. Raider junior Ryan Haarer made his team’s seventh leaving it up to the Concord shooter and Keller to try and decide things. Just as he did on Wednesday Keller made a diving save to secure the win and send his team into a regional semifinal on Thursday at Baker Park in Mishawaka. Northridge will face either Penn or South Bend Adams in the first semifinal at 5 p.m.
“I study kickers and try to learn their tendencies,” Keller said. “I watched the Concord kicker on Thursday and I have also seen him during travel leagues. He has a tendency to go left to right.
“In a situation like this there is more pressure on the kicker. He has to make the shot to keep it going where if I make the save we win or if I don’t we go on to the next round.”
The goalie is living up to the family’s reputation established by his father — Joe Keller — the legendary Northridge boys and girls swimming coach.
What makes the sectional victory more amazing is that Northridge lost several players they had expected to count upon this season either to transfers or not coming out for the sport.
“We lost two starters, including our goalie that had started for the last two seasons,” Woodworth said. “We didn’t know who our goalie was going to be. But they say when a door closes another opens.
“We had some things to work through. This may not be the most talented team we’ve had a Northridge, but this is the one that plays the most to its potential.”
Woodworth credited his five seniors — Jake Baylis, Corbin Bullock, Steven Hooley, Micah Miller and Max Price — for helping with the transition of adjusting to the lose of the players.
“The seniors have provided tremendous leadership,” the coach said.
“Winning like we did after losing those players shows you can do anything you put your mind to,” Keller said.
Despite the closeness of the contest the confidence of the Raiders never wavered.
“We knew we were going to win, even if it went to penalty kicks,” Hooley said. “We did not finish some chances we had or we could have ended it in regulation.
“We have a lot of confidence in Keller. We had some kids that didn’t come out this season, but we weren’t going to let that stop us.”
The Raiders had several shots hit the goal post in the second half and several more that were either wide of the goal or over it.
“We knew we could win from the start and we never stopped thinking that,” Baylis said. “For awhile we played to Concord’s level, but in the end it came out they way it should have in regulation.
“Penalty kicks are all mental. We have as much confidence in Keller as we could possibly have. At the beginning of the season we didn’t know who our goalie was going to be. Keller is a young leader and he covers our tails when we don’t finish things off on offense.”