No amount of time was going to decide Monday’s crucial Neuse Six 2A Conference matchup between Spring Creek and North Johnston.
Not 80 minutes of regulation, and not 20 minutes of overtime.
In the end, the Gators upended North Johnston 3-2 in a penalty-kick shootout and emerged victorious in their conference opener.
“I’m ecstatic for them. I’m glad things turned out in our favor,” Spring Creek head coach Miguel Torres said. “I think overall if you look at the whole game, we deserved to win.”
Spring Creek (3-2-1 overall, 1-0) controlled the pace of play early, and just five minutes into the game, Oswaldo Escudero fed a great ball to Alex Carmona Morales, who tucked it away.
“I thought we were going to keep it up, especially the way we came out,” Torres said. “We maintained possession of the ball, and we maintained the ball in their half. We just have to get confident in front of the goal, and we’ll work on that.”
It appeared the first half was going to end with the Gators holding onto the 1-0 lead, but in the 38th minute, Maksimo Navarro’s header off a corner kick from Brayan Bedoya tied things up at 1-1.
“I think there was just some miscommunication there when it came to the corner kick and marking up,” Torres said. “It’s something we’ve got to work on, but I think it was just a miscommunication there.”
The Gators continued to control the game throughout the second half and the two overtime periods, but they could not find the game-clinching goal despite firing off multiple shots on goal.
“All I tell them is ‘keep shooting and don’t let your confidence get down,’” Torres said.
So, after the teams battled to an exhausting 1-1 draw through regulation play and two 10-minute overtime sessions, the horn sounded for the final time, and the referees instructed both teams to lineup their five penalty-kick shooters.
Exiquio Emmanuel Reyes turned back the Panthers’ first two penalty-kick attempts, while Fernando Trejo and Adrian Tavera both converted their penalty kicks to put the Gators in command 2-0.
“We practice the penalty-kick shootout in training, but there’s nothing that can mimic the pressure and the feeling in a game,” Torres said. “It’s something that we practice all the time, so it was just time to do it in a game.”
However, the Panthers connected on their next two attempts, and the Gators could not convert their next two shots, which tied the shootout tally at 2-2
Escudero then stepped into the box and connected on a shot that bounced off the right post and slipped into the back of the net.
Reyes then denied North Johnston’s Jaylen Sumler a chance to keep the Panthers alive, and the Gators celebrated their hard-won victory.
“He (Reyes) has done it in practice, and all the boys love to practice their penalties against him because they know it’s tough to make them on him,” Torres said.
Spring Creek continues Neuse Six 2A Conference play today against Princeton (1-8-1, 0-1).