BOILING SPRINGS N.C. (www.BigSouthSports.com) -No. 2 Gardner-Webb earned a berth in the Big South Championship game, advancing past No. 6 High Point in the sixth game of the 2011 Big South Men's Soccer Championship Thursday at Greene-Harbison Field on the campus of Gardner-Webb University. The Runnin' Bulldogs will play No. 4 Liberty on Sunday at 2:00 pm in the championship match.
The early going mirrored the chilly conditions inside Greene-Harbison Stadium, as both teams worked to warm up offensively throughout the first half. The Panthers uncorked the first shots of the game, as a shot by Second Team All-Conference forward Karo Okiomah took a shot in the 3rd minute that was saved by Runnin' Bulldog keeper Scott Krotee. Alex Martinez also got a shot off for High Point early in the first half, but his attempt in the 5th minute sailed high.
High Point put pressure on the GWU defense early, but the Runnin' Bulldog defensive third led by First Team All-Big South defender Jon Ole Reinhardsen kept the Panthers and Okiomah from cashing in early. Another shot by Martinez went wide in the 14th minute as High Point continued to put stress on the Gardner-Webb backline.
Okiomah got another good look at the goal on a breakaway attempt, outpacing the GWU defense to gain a scoring opportunity 20 yards out on the left side of the goal. His attempt was saved by Krotee, who grabbed three total saves for the half.
At the 30 minute mark, GWU had still yet to record a shot, as High Point continued to possess the ball offensively, taking six shots in that time frame. The Panther attack continued to press, preventing the ball from entering its own defensive zone.
Gardner-Webb needed a team save in the 41st minute after a corner kick found its way to Panther forward Mamadee Nyepon, who put a shot on frame that was deflected by well-placed Runnin' Bulldog defenders to prevent High Point from jumping out to a lead. GWU was unable to get a shot off in the waning minutes of the first half, as the Panthers finished with an 8-0 advantage in shots attempted in the opening 45 minutes of play.
Physical play picked up during the second period of play, as the teams fought to secure the coveted remaining spot in the Big South Championship game.
Gardner-Webb keeper Krotee stepped up to record key second half saves in order to keep the Runnin' Bulldogs in the game. Krotee, who finished the second half with seven saves, and the GWU defense held a relentless Panther offensive attack. Shots in the 53rd and 65th minutes by Shane Malcolm and Martinez were saved by Krotee.
Gardner-Webb got its first shot attempt in the 54th minute from midfielder John Seargent, whose shot went wide to the left of the goal. GWU's Richie Wall cut through the defense in the 64th minute to give the Runnin' Bulldogs a scoring chance, but his shot was saved by Panther keeper Michael Chesler.
Both teams increased their physicality as the second half stayed scoreless. The foul count continued to rise to the final combined count of 25.
The Panthers kept attacking thanks to great runs by Okiomah, whose seven shots and four shots on goal both were game highs. The GWU defense, led by Krotee, Reinhardsen, and freshman Eric Yeager kept the match scoreless to force overtime.
GWU turned up the pressure itself on the offensive end as a shot fired by Seargent in the 99th minute threatened to break the scoreless tie, but Chesler blocked it to force a 2nd overtime period.
In the second overtime period, GWU's Denzel Clarke found some open ground in High Point's defensive backfield, but his shot attempt went wide. Okiomah found room in the 104th minute in the GWU defensive third, but the defense was able to close quickly and his shot was blocked. Both defenses held their ground late to force penalty kicks.
During penalty kicks, GWU keeper Krotee was able to block the first Panther attempt. After a GWU make by Chris Davis, High Point's second attempt sailed wide, putting the Panthers in a hole. After Jordan Day's attempt for the Runnin' Bulldogs hit the crossbar and missed, High Point's Shawn Sloan GWU's Seargent connected for a 3-2 Gardner-Webb advantage entering the final two attempts. The Panthers' defensive specialist Fejiro Okiomah continued a strong night by connecting on his attempting, forcing one final shot for GWU with a Big South Championship berth on the line. Gardner-Webb's Jovan Ivanovich stepped in and put his attempt into the back of the net to help the Runnin' Bulldogs advance 4-3.
The Panthers held a final shot advantage of 22-5 for the match.
Gardner-Webb improves to 9-7-4 on the year, while High Point ends its season at 9-9-3. The No. 2 Runnin' Bulldogs move on to face No. 4 Liberty in the Conference tournament championship match, scheduled to play Sunday at 2:00 pm. GWU defeated the Flames 3-1 during the regular season.
Gardner-Webb Head Coach Tony Setzer
"All the credit to the guys on the other side of the field. We were fortunate enough to hang on tonight against a great effort from High Point. I'm proud of our guys for achieving the victory in getting past such a class opponent, and we are looking forward to playing in front of a home crowd on Sunday."
High Point Head Coach Dustin Fonder
"It's always tough to get beat on penalty kicks, you hate to let it get to that. I thought the boys really played their hearts out and I'm so proud of this group. We put a good hard effort out there tonight but Gardner-Webb is a quality, hard-working team. I felt like we took the game to them the entire 110 minutes, but unfortunately, in part because of their good defending and part because of our unlucky finishing, we couldn't find a goal."