BUCKTOWN >> It could have been a deflating moment.
Owen J. Roberts saw its chance for a regulation-time victory over Strath Haven dashed when the Panthers forced a 2-2 tie with five seconds left in their District 1 Class 4A playoff game Tuesday. Instead, the Wildcats did what they had done since the game’s 64th minute: Forged ahead for a 3-2 victory at Wildcat Stadium.
Josh Fonder’s second goal of the night was the difference-maker. The junior midfielder headed a cross from Gavin Zorn into the net, ending the sudden-death affair at the 3:28 mark in overtime to move ahead in the postseason.
“It burns a lot,” Fonder said of seeing Strath Haven force the contest into overtime that close to the end of regulation. “It’s hard to see them score with five seconds left.”
It was just as hard for Strath Haven to see their two comeback goals not result in an opening-round victory. The Central League representatives twice answered the Wildcats within five minutes of the locals scoring their regulation-time goals, but they were unable to forge ahead in the 12 overtime minutes played.
“This was a game where both teams had waves of attacks,” Panther head coach Ryan O’Neil said after seeing his 17th-seeded club finish the year with a 12-7 record. “That’s the way a lot of good playoff games go.
“It was kind of back and forth. That’s playoff soccer.”
The win continued Roberts’ successful run since the seventh game of the season. The 16th-seeded ‘Cats (11-6-2), whose last on-field action was an Oct. 12 game with Spring-Ford, are now 10-1-2 after losing five of their first six games.
But Owen J. showed the rigors of that extended layoff. Though having a 6-4 edge on Strath Haven in shots on goal, and a 3-2 advantage in corners, in the first half, it wasn’t able to break away from the Panthers until Matt Pron connected off a free kick with 16:20 left in the second half.
“I think we looked scared,” head coach Eric Wentzel said. “I told the kids since our start, every game has basically been a playoff game. In the second half, I thought we played well.”
“The two-week break was the difference,” Fonder added. “It’s tough to go from practices to a big-time game like this.”
The OJR defense — headed by the play of seniors like Pron and Gavin Delahaye in front of goalkeeper Ryan Walker, and Graham Pugh in the midfield — collaborated with Walker on limiting SH to 10 goal shots and three corners. It had a shutout going until the 11:35 mark in the game, when Luke Mutz angled a shot into the net from the right side.
The Panthers’ other goal came from Josh Mason, who converted from the left side after the visitors were unable to capitalize on a situation where Walker was out of the net trying to make a stop with 40 seconds left.
“The leadership of our seniors … that put us back in the district picture,” Fonder said.
Gavin Zorn set Fonder up for his two goals. His boot on the free kick was dead on the goal, putting Fonder in position to convert.
“Those were two great assists by him,” Fonder said.
For the game, Roberts outshot the Panthers 14-10 while both teams had three corners apiece. Walker had 11 saves in goal while Strath Haven’s goalkeeping tandem of Brett Burns and Noel Atsaves combined for 11 stops.
“I’m super proud of the kids,” O’Neil said. “Tying a game with five seconds left is not easy.”
The Wildcats face an even more imposing challenge in Thursday’s second round. They visit Conestoga, the district’s top seed and defending state champion, which has been dominating the opposition this fall.
“It will be exciting to go into that venue and try to see what we can do,” Wentzel said.
“We want to beat the top team,” Fonder added. “You can’t win the district without beating the top teams.”
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