Pearl River clinches Gulf South District Championship in overtime thriller
Dylan Dunaway - PRCC Sports Information Director
ELLISVILLE, Miss. — It hasn't been an easy season for the Pearl River men's soccer team, but the Wildcats proved Sunday night that it's not always how you start but how you finish.
The Wildcats could have hung it up after starting the season 1-4, but never stopped pushing forward. PRCC went on an incredible run, which included 13 straight unbeaten matches, and made it a 14th by defeating archrival Gulf Coast in the Gulf South District Championship 3-2 in overtime to advance to the NJCAA National Tournament.
"This feels great. We've worked through so many things this season," head coach Drew Gallant said. "How about Ian Graham stepping in at center back? He hasn't played there all year. Even more impressive is Joel Morales going to right back. I don't think he lost a one-versus-one all night. We've had so many moving parts throughout the year, and those guys doing what they did tonight epitomizes what this season has been."
Gallant talked about his team's ability to weather the storm all season long.
"Our resilience just has to do with how we operate this program. I don't think we have the most talented team," Gallant said. "We reevaluated our program in 2017. It's taken years to grow this culture. It isn't the play and the talent. It's working for each other and being good people at the same time."
The tournament will be hosted in Tucson, Arizona Nov. 12-18. The complete bracket will be announced by the NJCAA on Tuesday. More information about the tournament will be made available soon.
HOW IT HAPPENED
Gulf Coast (13-3-2 overall) punched Pearl River (11-4-3) in the gut nearly as soon as the match started. Nine minutes in, the Bulldogs settled a ball outside the box and fired it into the net at the near post to take a 1-0 lead.
Christopher Dommer (Copenhagen, Denmark; Øregård Gymnasium) squared the game right back up. The attacking midfielder settled a pass from Tiago Honorio Jr. (São Paulo, Brazil), moved to his right to create some space, and fired a left-footed shot into the right and past the diving keeper, 1-1.
The Wildcats took the lead in the 30th minute on a play that began on the defensive side. Dommer put in a tremendous slide tackle to take away the ball from an MGCCC player and sent a pass down the left side of the pitch to Honorio Jr. He dribbled inside and looked to have lost possession of the ball, but it rolled across to the middle of the field where Kristoff Graham (Clarendon, Jamaica; Clarendon College) was standing for an easy tap-in goal, 2-1.
Gulf Coast tied up the match in the 62nd minute when a ball played forward hit off the foot of a Wildcat center back, which allowed enough space for a shot, 2-2.
The chances continued for each team over the remaining 28 minutes, but neither team could get another goal into the net, sending the contest into overtime.
PRCC was awarded a corner kick in the 95th minute and made sure to make it count. Noah Fazal (Vaerloese, Denmark.; Gladsaxe Gymnasium) trotted over to take the setpiece, raised his left hand, and delivered a beautiful ball into the box. Pearl River team captain Aden Smith (Biloxi) moved forward and headed the ball past the goalkeeper for a 3-2 overtime stunner victory over Gulf Coast.
"As soon as I saw it go into the air, I knew I had to get after it," Smith said. "I missed one in the first half, and I just had to make up for it. This is an insane feeling. It's hard to explain."