Rochester, Pa. - The Nittany Lions pulled off a miraculous comeback road win in the semifinal round of the Penn State University Athletic Conference men's soccer playoffs at Penn State Beaver. Beaver had won the two teams first matchup back in September and looked to be in command of Monday's game, but the Lions responded from a two goal first half deficit to get themselves in contention. Hazleton tied the game just moments into the second half and it was game on as both teams made runs for a chance to get to the title game. The squads traded goals in the final 40 minutes, then were blanked blanked in two overtime periods, sending the game to penalty kicks with the game tied 4-4. Facing a distinct disadvantage, freshman goalkeeper Brandon Yocum (Bloomsburg, Pa.) made three incredible stops and Hazleton attackers made good on their attempts to send the Nittany Lions to the PSUAC Championship game by the final score of 4-4 (3-0 PK's).
The Nittany Lions started off the game with a solid attack and advantage in possession, earning a number of early chances that sailed wide of target. As the half progresses, Beaver became more aggressive and in the 20th minute of play, struck first as Anthony Voss settled a cross in the Hazleton box and as the defense shifted, fired back across the 18 finding the right side of the net to put Beaver up 1-0. Just minutes later, Beaver increased their advantage to 2-0 when a Nittany Lion defender fell on the slick turf, freeing up Logan Ridgely for a shot from 25 yards out in the center of the field. Blank's shot sailed just below the crossbar leaving Hazleton trailing with 19 minutes to play. In the 35th minute Hazleton finally connected, turning over Beaver and pushing forward on the attack. A long pass downfield found freshman Moussa Diouf (Carteret, Nj.) who tapped the ball to junior Steven Principe (Jim Thorpe, Pa.). Principe directed the ball to the streaking sophomore Ben Pasukinis (Benton, Pa.) who fired on target for the goal, cutting the score to 2-1 at the midway point.
Hazleton came out determined, and just seconds into the half, Moussa Diouf tied the game. The freshman fired a shot from the right side of the box, curling past the keeper to the upper right 90 and the game was on. Play resumed for 17 minutes in which Hazleton continued to control the tempo. Steve Principe played a ball to Pasukinis through the box and as Pasukinis shielded his defender, the Beaver keeper came forth to make the stop. Pasukinis made a touch past the diving goaltender and tucked the ball in the left corner to give Hazleton its first of the day.
But that lead was short-lived as Beaver returned the favor just eleven minutes later. Beaver's Zachary Petey chased down a 50/50 ball in the Hazleton box. Keeper, Brandon Yocum attempted to make the pick up, but failed to beat Petey to the ball. With Yocum out of position, Petey neatly tied the game with a ground ball to the open net.
Fans had a brand new game on their hands once again and in the 84th minute, Beaver fell victim to an intentional hand ball in their box. Senior Kyle Venditti (Berwick, Pa.) took the penalty kick to the top left corner of the goal giving Hazleton what seemed like a game winning score as Hazleton led 4-3 with just six minutes and change on the clock. All Hazleton need do is keep Beaver off the board, but that would not be the case. Hazleton earned a throw in ball on their side of the field and chose to toss the ball back to the keeper. Unable to clear the ball downfield, Yocum faced pressure from Beaver's Romaine Thompson, who wrestled the ball away from Yocum, leaving a clear shot on goal. Romaine's miracle play rescued the hopes of the Beaver faithful, sending the game into overtime.
Overtime and Penalty Kicks
Just several minutes into the first overtime period, Hazleton was served good fortune as a Beaver defender was sent off with a red card. Both teams suffered near misses in the overtime periods, but neither found the goal despite Hazleton's one man advantage. With that, it was off to penalty kicks where Hazleton would be first to try.
Sophomore Tyler Wyllie (Benton, Pa.) had the honor for the Lions and made good on his first attempt, beating the Beaver keeper to the lower left side of the goal. Dom Dimino went next for Beaver and also went left, but Yocum dove for the stop, deflecting the ball off the cross bar for the save. Pasukinis kept the pressure on Beaver, scoring on his attempt and was followed by Beaver's John Valiga, but once again Yocum denied the shooter, this time with a dive to his left. Moussa Diouf followed with a nice conversion to put Hazleton up 3-0, forcing Beaver to score. Zachary Petey stepped to the line and fired to the left, but as if he knew the ball path before it was struck, Yocum was there once more to make the stop and send the Lions to the Championship.
An amazing finish has the Lions feeling great about their chances in the PSUAC title game. They'll have one more hurdle to jump before they can claim a championship. That game will come against Hazleton's only other PSUAC defeat in the form of Penn State Brandywine. Brandywine defeated Penn State New Kensington on Monday, 2-0 and will give Hazleton all they can handle when the stakes are highest. The two foes will square off for the PSUAC Championship on Wednesday, November, 2 at 4:00 p.m. on the west campus sports field at University Park in State College, Pa.