West Deptford keeper Brendan Gill faced a single penalty kick in regulation against Cinnaminson in the South Jersey, Group 2 title game Monday—a single penalty kick that whipped by him on the right and put the Eagles in a hole with just minutes left in the game.
After the Eagles and Pirates battled to a 2-2 tie through two overtimes, though, Gill wasn't about to let that happen again.
The Eagles keeper would go on to make two critical saves, and his teammates were perfect on the other side through four shots as No.9-seeded West Deptford won, 4-1, on penalty kicks to capture the sectional crown.
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Far from being shaken after giving up the PK goal in regulation, Gill said it gave him some insight into how things might play out in the end.
“I knew where they were going to shoot toward,” he said. “When that kid took the PK, usually you don't switch where you're going to go.”
Though Gill hesitated and was beaten on the first shot after overtime, he wasn't fooled again, diving to his left to smother a shot from Cinnaminson's Jarret Bowers and leaping right to snare a shot from Mark Staudenmayer, which put West Deptford up 3-1 in PKs.
“In my heart, I knew it was going to come down to PKs,” Gill said. “I knew I was going to have to make a couple big saves to win us the game.”
From there, it was all up to Hunter Holmstrom, who blasted in the fourth goal to the right of Cinnaminson keeper Luke Garvey, who guessed wrong and was diving to stop a shot to the left.
“Obviously, I was nervous, but I tried to stay confident,” Holmstrom said. “I knew exactly where I was going—didn't hit it that well—but when I shot and it went in, I just went crazy.”
Holmstrom was almost immediately buried under a scrum of his teammates, with Gill the first to pile on, and the celebration was on for the Eagles' first sectional title since 1999.
Gill might never have had his chance to redeem himself, had it not been for Dan Devine's free kick with literally seconds left in the game—his shot curled in above Garvey just before the scorekeeper called out, “One!”
“That just shows it was ours for the taking,” first-year head coach Steve Jakubowski said. “To see us come back, it really showed it was our day. I'm normally not speechless, but I'm pretty speechless now.”
Devine's goal the second time the Eagles clawed back to tie the game. After Cinnaminson's Kevin Sotell slipped a perfect shot around a sprawling Gill midway through the second half, the Eagles answered back just three minutes later with Lew Hunter's strike.
The defense had to step up throughout, as Cinnaminson sent in long pass after long pass, trying to give Sotell and Staudenmayer the chance for a quick strike. Zach Kaestner was one of several members of the back line who looked like they'd run a marathon by the end of the game, after clearing more balls than they could count.
“We had a lot of trouble with (Sotell)—we had to lock him up,” Kaestner said. “It was pretty scary the whole way through—I was shaking the whole time.”
The Eagles now move on to the state Group 2 semifinals with a shot at winning the program's first state title since the 1985 Group 3 championship.
Having gone on the road and pulled off upset after upset through the South Jersey bracket—including taking down top-seeded Haddonfield—Jakubowski said the sky is the limit.
“All the hard work, all the effort these guys put in starting in August really paid off and was really worthwhile—we're at the point right now where anything can happen,” he said. “These guys are ready. They're definitely ready.”
His players are just as confident, pointing to those wins in the playoffs as evidence they're not intimidated, no matter what the seeding.
“We have a lot of heart...we don't give up, we just play with our heart,” Gill said.