WILLIAMSPORT - Before Wednesday's District 4 Class A girls soccer semifinal, East Juniata coach Lori Goodling told her girls to pursue their dream.
Midway through the first period, it seemed instead the Tigers were in nightmare territory.
It finished more like a roller coaster ride, with the most unlikely goal of the game - East Juniata's McKayla Goodling sent a ball across the goal from deep in the corner, only to see it ricochet off the far post.
East Juniata's girls soccer team piles on McKayla Goodling to celebrate her game-winning overtime goal while Millville players, from left, Bree Milich, Emily Laubach and Madison Bower dejectedly walk off the field Wednesday at Balls Mills. East Juniata won the semifinal game, 4-3.
But instead of turning out, it went in - lifting the Tigers to a 4-3 overtime victory over Millville, and clinching a state playoff berth. East Juniata still has one more game to play in the district, Saturday's final against Loyalsock, a 1-0 winner over Southern Columbia.
"We needed it and it happened, and that's all you can say," East Juniata coach Lori Goodling said of the unusual goal. "Usually it's something a little different - but hey, we'll take the goal any way it comes. It's a great victory for them - they got past their little hurdle."
The Tigers have been stunned in this tournament the last few years, losing on penalty kicks and in overtime - and have seen the number of qualifying spots dwindle from four to two, meaning this one was a must-win.
*East Juniata plays Loyalsock Saturday
Early on, it seemed that Millville was set on winning it. The Quakers got the early lead when Madison Bower sent a free kick into the box, and sister Maci turned the ball into the net with her head just three minutes in.
In the 17th minute of play, Madison Bower made it a 2-0 lead when she found the ball at her feet at the top of the box, just astride the arc, and delivered a stinger that Tiger keeper Zetta Zettlemoyer was able to touch but not stop.
"We shut it down for the most part but the direct kicks and those kind of things hurt us," Goodling said. "We had our highs and lows. Let's hope the next game we go out and just play a whole 80 minutes of good solid soccer, and we'll be set."
To that point, East Juniata's chances were limited - the Tigers weren't getting anything dangerous, and were getting beaten at their feet despite better passing. They were fighting a team that was devoted to winning the possession battle, giving up only one good shot before the 2-0 lead, a Molly Scholl effort that was blocked out.
"I don't know if it was the wetness, or just worrying they needed to get by to get to states," Goodling said. "We received the ball well, but there were times we'd go to kick the ball and it would just spin off our foot. At times I thought we passed the ball well, and at other times I thought we kind of gave it away."
Kayla Hoke had the next best chance, midway through the first, but Quaker goalie Madison Henrie punched that one away.
Henrie never had a chance at the next one - on a back-and-forth move after a Tiger corner, Hannah Scholl crossed the ball past Henrie, and Michelle Mease headed it back into the net.
Millville had a quick drive in response to that, but East Juniata began to take control of the game, and just inside the 14-minute mark Scholl played helper again, this time from outside the box, giving the ball to Kasi Horning, who sent it straight in to tie the game.
Although East Juniata was in control of the play after that, and had most of the chances before the break, the tie stood after 40 minutes.
And the roller coaster started up the second hill just minutes into the second half when Madison Bower was all alone at the top. She beat the defense, then beat Zettlemoyer for a 3-2 lead.
She nearly added an insurance goal midway through the half, again capitalizing on a direct kick opportunity. The kick, from nearly 40 yards out, almost went in, but Bower was there for the rebound, and would have scored but for the goalie's best friend - the ball caromed off the post and was cleared.
Five minutes later, the game was tied when, on the play McKayla Goodling probably was trying in OT, Brooke Maneval curled one out of the corner to Kayla Hoke, who tied the game.
East Juniata had two chances to win in regulation. Maddie Trego set up an open Goodling, who slipped on the ball. And another dinged the cross bar in the final minutes.