The Oglethorpe men's soccer team advanced to their second SAA championship game in dramatic fashion Friday night in front of a record crowd of well over 1,000 people at the Oglethorpe Track and Field, getting a golden goal from sophomore forward Gabriel Alvarez in the 99th minute to secure a 2-1 SAA semifinal victory over No. 4 seed Berry. The top-seeded and 24th-ranked Stormy Petrels had a 1-0 lead into the final 10 minutes before the visitors scored an equalizing goal, sending the contest into overtime. With the win, the Petrels improved to 15-2-1 on the season.
Finding themselves in golden-goal overtime after controlling the run of play for the vast majority of the contest, the Petrels had to regroup, and they did so early in the extra period. They outshot the Vikings 3-1 over the course of the extra frame, but it looked as though the game would head to a second 10-minute overtime period, with time winding down in the initial 10 minutes. However, Oglethorpe was able to start a break in the 99th minute after a Berry defender fell down under pressure from the Petrel attack. The home side got the ball into the penalty area, and Alvarez got on the end of it to fire a wicked initial shot that Berry goalkeeper Connor Oakes made an outstanding save on. Oakes was unable to parry the ball out for a corner kick, however, and Alvarez got another try from a more acute angle. He buried his follow-up shot into the upper-right corner of the net, sending his team to the final and setting off a wild celebration at the Oglethorpe Track and Field.
The Petrels had a 1-0 lead for the vast majority of the second half and were playing well defensively as they looked to secure the victory. The Petrels outshot the Vikings 9-4 in the second half of play and seemed to have things in hand, but Oakes was keeping his team in the game, making a pair of saves in the second half and four total for the game. The Vikings won a free kick in the 81st minute, and were able to convert on their only shot on goal of the contest, tying things up at 1-1 with less than 10 minutes to go. Both teams had chances to score in the final two minutes of regulation, with senior defender Jordan Locke getting a header cleared off the line by a Berry defender and the Vikings just missing a game-winning goal in the final seconds.
The first half started out somewhat slowly, but the Petrels eventually settled into the contest and carved out several chances as the half wore on. They outshot their opponent 10-1 over the course of the period, and broke through in the 32nd minute, when junior forward Nash Wagnon sent a beautiful ball into the box and fellow junior forward Ryan Marcano got onto the end of it. Marcano slotted it past Oakes for his 11th goal of the season, giving the Petrels a 1-0 lead. Oakes made a pair of saves in the period, though, keeping his team in the contest headed to the halftime break.
For the game, Oglethorpe outshot Berry 22-6 and put seven shots on target to just one for the Vikings. The Petrels took eight corner kicks to two for Berry. Alvarez fired a game-high seven shots and put two of them on target.
"I think Berry did a very good job of staying organized and compact, making things difficult on us," said Oglethorpe head coach Jon Akin. "We controlled most of the game, but they scored a late goal against the run of play that gave them a great deal of momentum headed into overtime. Full credit goes to our guys for turning the tide back in our favor, continuing to believe in themselves, and getting the result in the end. We've obviously got some things we'll want to improve on headed into the final against Centre on Sunday, and we'll look to do that. I think that if we play our game, I like our chances versus whoever we're playing against."
The Petrels will now get set to take on No. 2 seed Centre in the SAA championship game at 1 p.m. on Sunday from the Oglethorpe Track and Field. The two teams tied 1-1 in their regular-season contest, played at the same venue on Sept. 22. The Colonels defeated No. 6 seed Millsaps 2-1 in Friday's first game, taking a 2-0 lead in the first half and holding on for the one-goal victory late.