MILLERSTOWN - Juniata point man Jose Lopez drove to the net with time running out in overtime period.
The path he followed was not an east one - picking off a pass from a Greenwood defender and then maneuvering his way through the crowd before tickling the twine, picking up a hard-earned goal and an exhausting win.
After battling through regulation and a 2-2 tie, the Greenwood and Juniata boys soccer teams fought tooth and nail in a game that was a back and forth struggle in a postseason atmosphere at Greenwood Monday night.
Sentinel photo by LARRY?YOHN
Juniata’s Jose Lopez, right, drives past Greenwood’s Cody Cauffman on his way to the goal Monday. Lopez scored the overtime game winner on this play.
The fact that Juniata won the game, 3-2, added a playoff element to the contest - the Indians may have played spoiler against Greenwood, but for their intracounty rival, depending on the outcome of two more games to be played this week.
Both teams statistics were as close as two teams could be despite not ending up in a tie. Each tallied 14 shots and had two corner opportunities in the extra-session contest.
"It's a big win. We needed to send a statement if we were do anything in the Tri-Valley League. (Greenwood is) one of the teams we will have to knock off," Juniata coach Clint Brackbill said. "We've been playing yo-yo ball up and down and up and down. We came out and we played well and they played well. We stepped it up when we needed to."
After a first half that saw a lot of close calls on both ends of the soccer field, the opening period ended the same way it began - a 0-0 stalemate.
All of that would change just minutes into the second half.
On the Wildcats' first possession of the half, they worked the ball down into the Indians' end and got the ball to Hunter Wirth as he smoked one to the back corner of the net, picking up the unassisted goal at the 38:13 minute mark.
Before fans could even blink their eyes or Greenwood fans could savor the lead, the Indians worked their way down field and tied the contest on a Chantz Imes shot from the left side and pushed it past the Greenwood goalkeeper, tying it at one.
Minutes later, the Wildcats weren't going to let the sudden game tying goal faze them. Greenwood's Tyler Fegley put his name into the scorebook, blasting a shot with 36:20 still remaining in the final stanza.
"It was an entertaining game. It took us 20 minutes to get going but once we got going we got the ball kind of went up and down the field. Both teams had numerous chances especially in the second half," Greenwood coach Tom Magill said. "It was a fun game."
As the minutes began to tick away, the Indians tied the contest on a blast from almost midfield by Brennan Paden that thundered its way into the net to tie the game once again.
As the clock ticked down, each second that passed off the clock the intensity level of the game built up to what would be a frenzy of trips up and down the field, looking for that winning goal.
From there both defenses tightened back up and played like they did in the first half, forcing the game go into the extra stanza and adding to the already building drama.
In the overtime period, both teams had their chances but were stopped by each other's tightening of the passing lanes and the ability to not allow the other team a clean look at the goal.
However, after getting a pass from a teammate at the midfield mark, Lopez drove the ball down field and had a shot blocked back to him as he looked like a man possessed determined to get to the goal. His shot crossed to the right side and hit the bar and bounced backward into the goal, giving the Indians the victory.
Juniata travels to East Juniata Wednesday; the Tigers temporarily gain an edge in the standings on Greenwood thanks to Juniata's win. An East Juniata win that night would set up a showdown between the Tigers and Greenwood Saturday in Millerstown that would be a must-win game for the Wildcats, who tied East Juniata in their first meeting. Juniata could throw another wrench in the machine with a win Wednesday, potentially making Saturday's game - and the second cycle games - even more crucial.