Northfield, Minn. – If 110 minutes of regulation and overtime play wasn’t enough, it seemed only fitting that it took extra penalty kicks to decide the 2012 MIAC Playoff Championship on Saturday. In a back-and-forth battle between Gustavus and Carleton, neither team was able to muster a goal in regulation or the two overtime periods. With the tally knotted up at six penalty kicks apiece, Zach Brown (So., Eau Claire, Wis.) stepped to the line and buried the Gusties’ seventh penalty kick in the back of the net. On the ensuing try for Carleton, goalkeeper Brett Ylonen (So., Lake Elmo, Minn.) sprawled to his right and knocked the attempt over the end line to raise the Gusties to victory and the MIAC Playoff title. It is the program’s fifth playoff championship, and the first since 2007.
“A stellar performance from the lads,” remarked head coach Mike Middleton on Saturday’s win. ”They worked their socks off. Carleton certainly certainly battled, and you can see why they have such a good record. It was really a great game.”
With two of the top defenses in the nation battling it out, offensive chances were difficult to come by on Saturday afternoon. Neither team was able to mount a dangerous opportunity in the first half. Carleton had a corner kick with under :30 seconds to play, but a header by Jordan Cammarota missed wide right and the two teams went to the break in a scoreless tie.
It was much of the same in the second half until Zach Brown was taken down in the box and the Gusties were awarded a penalty kick. Grant Steine (Sr., Chaska, Minn.) took the penalty for Gustavus, but Carleton goalkeeper James Neher made a diving stop to keep the 0-0 tie in tact. The rebound kicked out to the left wing where Steine again had a chance, but hit the crossbar and the Knights avoided disaster once again. From there, the two teams played to a 0-0 tie as the final seconds of regulation ticked off the clock.
“It was a really tough game for both of us,” stated sophomore goalkeeper Brett Ylonen. ”It was back and forth the whole game; we had our chances, they had their chances, and neither of us could really take advantage of those opportunities.”
With the 0-0 tie, the two squads headed to overtime. The Gusties’ best chance came at the 92:14 mark when Zach Brown took a left-footed drive from the point just outside of the 18-yard line, but Brown’s attempt sailed high and another crisis was averted for the Knights. Carleton was unable to mount any sort of offensive opportunity for the remainder of the first overtime and the game headed to a second overtime all knotted up at zero.
Carleton had the first opportunity in the second overtime when Branden McGarrity took the ball down the right side and seemed to have a clean shot on net, but Lucas Thompson (Sr., Sioux Falls, Minn.) came flying across the field to deflect the shot wide of the goal and keep the game scoreless. The Gusties had their chances late in the extra period. David Lilly (So., Maple Grove, Minn.) gave it a go from the point but missed high. Later, Gustavus had a corner kick opportunity that led to a header, but it missed wide, and the game ended in a 0-0 tie.
With a birth to the NCAA Tournament at stake, penalty kicks were required to determine the automatic bid. Each team sent five players to the shootout. When each of the five players scored, extra players were required to determine a winner. With the shootout tied at six, Zach Brown stepped up and found the back of the net to take the 7-6 lead. On the ensuing Carleton chance, keeper Brett Ylonen dove to his right and got just enough of the Carleton shot to deflect it away from his goal and keep the Knights from scoring. The scene that followed can best be described as bedlam. The contingency of Gustavus fans stormed the field in celebration.
“Seven successful penalty kicks, the lads were cool as cucumbers. What mental strength,” described Middleton. ”The fans and families were terrific and very noisy. The scene at the end of the game was marvelous; all the players and their support rushing the pitch in spontaneous collective exuberance, what a great scene.”
With the win today, the Gusties solidify their place in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. More information will be available following the NCAA Tournament selection on Monday, November 5th at 1:00 p.m.
“It’s a great experience for all of us,” mentioned Ylonen. ”We are a young team that is led by our core group of seniors who have taken it upon themselves to get us here. It’s a great feeling, I can’t even describe it.”